Are You an Older Couple Contemplating Divorce?
“More than one in three people who divorce in the United States are older than 50”, according to the September 2022 Journal of Gerontology.
CNN reported on 8-5-23 that researchers Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin found that “From 1990 to 2010, the divorce rate in the United States for people over 50 doubled.”
“More Baby Boomers are living alone”, according to CNN. “Even though divorce rates for the overall population are declining, for adults over 65, the divorce rate is still rising”.
CNN says that Brown and I-Fen Lin call it the “gray divorce revolution”.
So what exactly is gray divorce?
Becky Upham on Everyday Health website, reported on June 2, 2023 that the definition of gray divorce is “Couples calling it quits in middle age or older, often after decades of marriage.”
Upham also wrote that according to researcher, Dr. Susan Brown, “Divorce among people 50-64 has now leveled off, but it has continued to climb for those over age 65 as more boomers roll into that demographic”.
As a 65 year old who has been married 43 years; and as a marriage counselor, whose sole focus is saving and growing marriages, this trend really hits home. Even before I became more familiar with the gray divorce statistics, I started noticing more couples contacting me who have been married 30-40 years and one or both spouses are considering divorce.
What are some of the common themes older couples share with me?
1. Decades of unresolved conflict
2. Decades of unmet needs
3. A lack of communication
4. A lack of quality time
5. A lack of affection
All these common complaints can be summed up by a lack of connection. They have experienced unresolved conflict and have grown apart. The kids are gone, they are retired or near retirement and feel like they either don’t know each other anymore or know each other and don’t like what they see.
A common concept used among authors and therapists, is the Marital Bank Account. Couples have a relationship account with each other that is made up of deposits and withdrawals. When a lot of deposits are made, and the balance is full, there is a lot of love and confidence in the future of the marriage. When withdrawals start overwhelming the deposits, the balance gets low and there is less love and confidence in the future of the relationship.
Dr. John Gottman, respected researcher, author and therapist, talks about a negative override that kicks in when the relationship bank account balance gets low. This override occurs when spouses are not feeling good about their marriage, and are less likely to accept deposits from the other spouse and more likely that even a small withdrawal may empty the account of good feeling.
When the balance is low, couples tend to only see the negative in each other and in the marriage. It gets harder to brush off the negatives. The negatives begin to stack up on each other and as resentment builds, hope and desire for a good marriage slip from their grasp.
When the amount of love and confidence in the future of the relationship is low, and Gottman’s negative override kicks in, couples transfer their hope for a good marriage to the hope that divorce will increase their satisfaction with life.
With the loss of connection and the good feeling that accompanies a strong connection, older couples living separate lives wonder if they may as well live alone. With women being less dependent on their husband’s finances, more are breaking loose of their marriage.
Can older couples regain their relationship satisfaction?
I believe with the right efforts and help many couples can.
What do older couples need?
From my experience, they need connection. I have found that many older couples think it is going to take a lot more to be satisfied than what they actually need. They often don’t have high standards for what they need. They just need things to be better than what they currently are.
They need to heal some of their past hurts and work to eliminate those things that are currently causing hurt. This will open the door to more deposits being made.
These deposits may be as simple as spending more time together in shared common interests. It may include being in the same room together even if both are pursuing different interests. It may be a bit more conversation.
This may sound simple, but often it requires someone with expertise who can help change the tide. I am someone with the life and career experience who can help.
Just go to my website at rcochran.com and you can message me or use my online scheduler at the bottom of the page.
There is hope! Let’s work together for a better marriage.