“Grey divorce” may not be something you’ve heard of, but it refers to people getting divorced later in life. And it’s on the rise. Here’s what you need to know.
What is grey divorce? I’m not surprised that you may not have heard of it.
The ‘grey divorce’ – getting divorced after 50 – has only started to become more well-known, probably because it’s on the rise. The name stems from older people’s hair color and you may also hear it called “silver splitters” or “diamond divorces”.
In 1990 approximately 5 out of every 1,000 marriages over 50 ended in divorce and 2 out of every 1,000 marriages for those 65 and up. In 2015, that grey divorce rate doubled for those 50 and up and tripled for those 65 and older, according to the Pew Research Center. This increase in grey divorces is likely due to many factors.
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Reasons for Grey Divorce
The best way to answer the question of why these divorces are on the rise is to look at the grey divorce epidemic while analyzing the way life at that age affects long-term marriages.
Yes, it may sound cliché for couples to say “we just grew apart,” but that doesn’t make it any less true. With the stigma around divorce diminishing, some couples who grow apart but ‘stayed together for the kids’ may be deciding that divorce is a better option once the kids are gone.
Additionally, if one spouse’s hobbies or preferred activities change and the couple doesn’t spend time together or stops communicating or doing the small things that brought the couple closer, one or both spouses may stop trying and the relationship grows apart.
Better Life Expectancy and Health
Generations prior to the Baby Boomers didn’t have as high of a life expectancy as we do today. Because we have longer life spans, more people are starting to believe that they can find happiness after a grey divorce.
Finances are a major cause for divorce at any age. Struggling with debt, constant fighting about financial matters, overspending and mismanagement, and how much each spouse earns can all be contributing factors.
Lack of Sex or Sexual Difficulties
Changes in sex drives are normal over time and with age. Medications as well as medical conditions can play a part in a decrease of sexual desire for both men and women.
Just as the stigma around divorce has diminished, so has the stigma around infidelity. Older spouses may start finding younger people more attractive, or one or both partners may be ‘bored’ in the relationship.
Unfortunately, even though it’s just one potential factor, infidelity is one of the first things that people often think of when they hear about a couple going through grey divorce.
While there is sexual or emotional infidelity, addiction is another type of unfaithfulness. One spouse may be addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or gambling, and this can cause a marriage to end.
One partner putting their habits or wants above the needs of their relationship or family is the reason many marriages fall apart.
Forgiveness may sound like a tired party line, but it is crucial for a successful marriage. When one or both partners lets resentment build toward their partner, it can – and probably will – destroy the relationship at some point.
Unfulfilled dreams, past mistakes, unforgiven wrongs can all cause resentment that when not dealt with and moved past, can cause a marriage to fail.
Implications of Grey Divorces
Now that you know several reasons why grey divorces happen, it’s important to know the consequences that can result when a marriage falls apart after decades together. Some of these implications are typical for divorces at any age, but can be exacerbated in divorces after 50.
The consequences of divorcing later in life can be substantial, not only for the couple but also for their children and grandchildren. Here are a few to consider.
Kids and Grandkids
While child custody may not be a major factor in divorces at this age, a gray divorce can impact even adult children in many ways. The changing dynamics can be hard to emotionally and physically navigate as they deal with dividing their time in a split family for the first time.
Additionally, children may be forced to choose sides or adapt to their parents dating or remarrying. And custody of grandchildren could potentially be an issue.
Gray divorces have a large impact on a couple’s social support system as friends are asked (or feel they need to) choose sides. For some partners, that can mean the sudden end of decades-long friendships.
Also, each partner will, to some degree, need to make new friends and rebuild a support system as they acclimate to the loss of friendships and their partnership.
Consider joining a support group so that you can walk through the process with the support of others who have been there too.
While all divorcees face financial challenges, older couples who divorce may face additional complications that younger couples don’t:
- Dividing up retirement benefits
- More complicated marital estates to split up
- Confusion over beneficiaries
Dividing up the assets and property from a decades-long marriage can be extremely complicated. Other benefits such as social security, retirement benefits, and investments must also be included.
Further, with many grey divorcees seeing their individual household wealth decline by as much as 50%, the biggest implication that stems from a gray divorce is likely to be financial due to the older age of the couple, according to Bloomberg. There’s simply “less time” to make up any losses incurred during the divorce. And more often than not, women bear the financial burden of the decline in individual household wealth.
Your Will and Beneficiaries
Usually, a person will name their partner as their beneficiary for their will, insurance policies, and other benefits. So if you had a will drafted before getting divorced, you will most likely want to make a new one changing your beneficiaries, powers of attorney, advanced care directives, and possibly the executor of your estate.
Ways to Prevent Gray Divorce
Concerned you might be heading towards divorce? Here are some things you can do to try to help your marriage last.
Nurture Your Friendship
Couples who are true friends in addition to being married partners are more likely to stay together. Nurture your friendship.
Communication is a necessary component to any relationship. Continue to keep that spark alive by talking about a variety of topics together.
Work as a Team
Support each other through the hard times as well as the more joyful times. Communicate about what you need as you go through a rough patch so that your spouse knows how to support you. Navigating hard times together has a way of bonding a couple.
Practice Kindness and Compassion
People often put their best foot forward to other people than they do their own spouse. Pay attention to how you treat those you care about the most.
Complacency can be a cancerous component of a decades-long marriage. Look for ways to get out of that unfulfilling rut by experiencing something out of the ordinary – together.
Divorce can be challenging and emotionally draining at any point in life, but the difficulties are even more pronounced when the marriage has lasted a long time. Grey divorce is on the rise for many reasons and can have many (and long-lasting) implications for the divorcing couple as their friends and family.
If you find yourself feeling concerned that your marriage may be on the line, I hope you find these ideas for saving your relationship helpful.
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