Worth noting: The New York Times has added a new section to an existing vertical targeted at Baby Boomers. Called “Unhitched,” it focuses on stories of those in midlife who are divorced or divorcing.
I think this column comes at a perfect time.
We have indicators that the economy is improving (for some), yet ageism in the employment marketplace continues to be a persistent problem. Add to that the fact that we’re living longer, our society values individual “pursuit of happiness,” and we all want to make the most of the time we have.
Certainly, we’re more able to examine our marriages after 20 years (and the kids are in college), or 30 years (and the kids are out on their own) – wondering where we are and how we got here.
One Divorce Story, More to Come…
As Unhitched reports, “one quarter of all divorces now involve people over 50.”
So why bother to divorce after decades of marriage?
There’s the old standby – midlife crisis – or more specific and painful causes. Maybe we’ve been living in a sexless marriage. Maybe there have been patterns of abuse, infidelity, or other deal breakers we can’t tolerate any longer. Maybe one falls for a young hottie and wants out. Maybe the old cliché – “we’ve grown apart” – is more true than not.
Maybe we don’t know precisely. Maybe we’ll never know precisely.
Perhaps we decide there’s more ahead than what we’ve had and we’re going for it, or like the couple in this first Unhitched article, Ram Samuel (66) and Barbara Samuel (54), their lives are headed in different directions and while marriage counseling was tried, they couldn’t put the pieces back together.
Theirs is an intriguing tale of cultural differences and challenges, a strong family, careers that took them in varying directions, and his one indiscretion that led to a breech in trust (that was irreparable). Is that the entire story?
Hardly. Yet we hear in their own words, in “Lessons Learned When It’s All Over,” how they continue to share a relationship as friends.
It’s interesting that he remarried quickly, and still speaks as though he misses his ex-wife. She, on the other hand, has found a new relationship, but appears to have no intention (or need) to remarry, content with her life as is.
Considering Divorce Over Age 50?
Huffington Post reports on the skyrocketing rates of gray divorce, including referencing the potentially dramatic financial results for one or both parties:
“…ending a marriage after 50 can be more financially burdensome than divorcing at a younger age, particularly because social security benefits and retirement funds come into play. And even though the national divorce rate has dropped in recent years, the divorce rate among baby boomers has nearly doubled…”
The source of the statement on the boomer divorce rate? It’s a study from The National Center for Family &Marriage Research, which states:
“…the divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010. Roughly 1 in 4 divorces in 2010 occurred to persons ages 50 and older… Over 600,000 people ages 50 and older got divorced in 2010…”
“…the U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the world, with roughly 45% of marriages expected to end through divorce.”
“…the divorce rate [for people over 50] has doubled since 1990, rising from 4.9 to 10.1 divorced persons per 1,000 married persons. This pattern belies the overall trend in the U.S. divorce rate during this time period, which was essentially flat at 19.0 in 1990 and 17.9 in 2010…”
If you read the original document, pay attention to the distinctions made between prevalence of divorce and incidences of divorce – important for understanding how the rate of gray divorce is rising.
Wanting Out – Courage? Capitulation?
Opting for divorce at any age? Opting for divorce at 50 or older?
I’d say there’s courage involved – or desperation. Possibly, there’s no choice for one of the partners.
I’d also say that whatever lies ahead is a crap shoot, very much dependent on financial resources and health, or lack thereof. I hope that this new column in the Times offers more complex and varied experiences so we can all, as the section would like, take some lessons.
Single, married, separated, divorced – at any stage we may desire something else – “the grass is always greener” – but looking at our own lives in light of what others are actually living, if honestly told, is valuable input.
What Secrets Could Happily Married Couples Share?
Then again, personally, I would also love to hear strategies for how couples make it work – long-term, and through the obstacles that include ups and downs with children, changes in social status or financial circumstances, dealing with medical or mental health issues – everything that most of us encounter one way or another, whatever our marital status.
Is it hard work? Clearly.
Great communication? We might presume as much.
But what else? Is it an unwavering commitment to their vows as well as to the family unit? Is it giving each other space or maintaining a constant closeness? Is it separate bathrooms? Separate vacations? Luck?
Is it worth it to those involved – in other words, if they could turn back the clock, would they do it all again?
Meanwhile, I look forward to the voices that Unhitched can offer. May we be enlightened by their hard-won lessons.