The Gray Divorce :: Why is it Happening?

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The Gray Divorce :: Why is it Happening?


“My father is seventy and it’s as though he is reliving adolescence,” the daughter shared. “Last month he purchased a new red convertible sports car, and this week he told my mom he doesn’t want to be married anymore. My siblings and I are in shock. We threw them a big party last year for their fortieth anniversary, everything seemed fine. They never had a great marriage, but in my opinion they were a normal couple. Now my dad says he wants a divorce. What is he thinking?” After more than twenty-five years as a divorce recovery expert I’ve noticed a startling trend. More and more seniors—Christian and non-Christian—are choosing to leave their spouse of many years. Even without statistics to prove my suspicions I was so certain that this was occurring that I included an entire chapter on the subject in my book, When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t” –Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce. (David C. Cook, 2008) Recent research supports my hunch. A study entitled The Gray Divorce Revolution by Sandra L. Brown and I-Fen Lin reveals that the divorce rate among adults 50 years and older has doubled from 1990 to 2012.  Approximately one in four divorces in the US are those aged 50 or more. And the divorce rate in that age range was 2.5 times higher for those in remarriages vs. first time marriages. The study also revealed that adults 65 and older report the divorce rate as increasing, and the widowed rate as decreasing. The bible teaches us that gray hair is supposed to be a symbol of wisdom, character, and stability. (Proverbs 16:31, 20:29, Psalm 92:14) So why are Grandma and Grandpa duking it out in divorce court instead? The following insights are a combination of my own observations after years of leading divorce recovery groups, plus results from the study. 1.         We are Living Longer The age expectancy today has increased. That mere fact has inflated the possibility of divorce in retirement years. To put it simply, there are more seniors alive today. 2.         Seniors are More Likely to be in a Remarriage Numerous statistics reveal that divorce in a second marriage is higher that a first time marriage. The complexities are greater the second time around, especially if there are children involved. Many people assume when the former spouse died as opposed to a divorce, that the adult children will instantly bond with a new spouse. This is erroneous thinking. Adult kids often struggle greatly when a parent remarries. This can cause tension and strife amongst the couple. 3.         Kids are Moving Back Home In today’s society it’s not uncommon for mom and dad’s retirement to be sabotaged by kids and grandkids who want to move back home. If the couple was ready for retirement and relaxation it can be a difficult decision. In stepfamilies it’s common for the biological parent to say yes out of guilt, even if he or she knows it’s unwise. This often creates tremendous stress and division for the couple. 3.         Commitment Levels Have Lessened Today divorce is a common occurrence. Saying, “I Do” used to be a sacred promise between a man and a woman—a vow. In our current society including seniors, many people decide to abandon their pledge.  “I’m no longer happy,” or “I never really loved you,” is sited as a reason for the demise. 4.         There’s a BIG Bump in the Rug The daughter quoted probably isn’t aware that one statement she makes may answer her own question. She knows that her parents didn’t have a great marriage. One reason why seniors divorce is that they are tired of the charade. When long term marital issues are never addressed it can prove disastrous. Denial doesn’t dissolve toxic trouble. Instead the poisonous problems brew under the surface until one day they murder the marriage. “I’ve ignored your nagging, abuse, adultery, booze, (whatever) for 40 years and I’m not going to do it anymore,” are characteristic comments. 5.         The Clock is Ticking As we age there is a tendency to grasp onto life even tighter than we did before. For some seniors this means an attempt to re-live their youth (hence, the sports car). This can also result in seeking a new sexual relationship to stir the “tingly exhilaration” associated with adolescence. And to this person it translates into leaving their spouse. 6.         Honey, the House Shrunk In 2006 my husband went through a season of unemployment. All of a sudden we were under one roof 24/7. It wasn’t pretty. He was overwhelmed and feeling discouraged with the job hunt. I was angry and frustrated that his constant presence invaded my space, schedule and routine. During that time I remember thinking, “No wonder so many people break up after retirement. All this togetherness is driving us crazy.” A great resource by Janet Thompson is, Dear God, He’s Home, New Hope Publishers (March 5, 2013) 7.         Less Family Ties People are much more transient today than in former years. This creates less family bonding, and accountability than in generations past. When a person doesn’t have to face the grandkids, church family, or neighbors asking, “Why don’t you two live together anymore?” walking out of a marriage becomes easier. 8.         Religion vs. Faith If a person has settled for religion or going to church, rather than a personal pursuit of Jesus they are more likely to view their marriage vow as breakable. Following religious rules, with no relationship to a heavenly Daddy, leaves us flat, bored, and seeking purpose elsewhere. It also tends to produce self-centeredness and an, “I deserve this” mentality. This deception eases the consciences when abandoning a marriage. In 2007 my husband’s new church job moved us into a very large retirement community. I’ve watched the divorce trend among seniors up close and personal. Aging doesn’t cause immunity from divorce. And it takes two people to marry, but only one to divorce. One spouse can’t stop another from making poor choices. However, becoming aware of the issues which can destroy a senior marriage goes a long way toward protecting it.


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