In the United States, the average age of divorcing couples is between 43 and 45. That statistic, however, is changing. Welcome to the age of “gray divorce.”
The term “gray divorce” refers to older couples in long-lasting marriages who have decided not to spend their golden years together. The divorce rate for these couples has been steadily rising over the past 20-25 years.
Multiple reasons are cited for the increase in gray divorce, but whatever the reason, divorce in one’s later years carries a unique set of challenges.
For couples who have been married 30-plus years, the ties that bind are often intricate.
7 Connections to Consider In a Gray Divorce
1. Finances and Assets
As the years of marriage pass, your economic connection grows and grows. It might be shared bank accounts and credit cards. You could own assets like cars and homes. What about retirement funds, health and life insurance policies, or old-school cash socked away for vacations? Needless to say, this is a particularly tricky issue in gray divorce.
2. Social Circles
After many years together, it’s not uncommon to share a social circle. Outside of co-workers, you may find yourself most often mingling with neighbors and extended family. Perhaps you spend time with the parents of your children’s friends. No matter what, these bonds run deep — with tangled roots.
The odds are your children are leaving the nest and entering adulthood. Nonetheless, they will be directly impacted by your divorce, probably more than you might anticipate. Your split will change their routines and comfort zones — and perhaps even where they live. Don’t skimp on the time and effort you will need to effectively discuss this new development in their lives.
Middle-age is when many health concerns become more urgent. All of us need a support system as we age. That support system frequently grows out of our marital connection. In fact, gray divorce has been found to lead to mental and physical health issues. Not being there for a former spouse as they deal with an illness is your new normal. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel some guilt and pain.
5. Aging Parents
Just as you and your spouse may be each caring for your own parents, you now have a huge change to factor into the equation. You may even wish to stay in touch with your in-laws but some circumstances make that ill-advised.
6. Routines and Comfort Zones
In many cases, your divorce is flipping your daily life on its head. You rely on each other as a compass of sorts. Now, after all these years, you’re forced to re-invent almost all aspects of your day-to-day functioning.
7. Fear of Being Alone
Yes, fear of loneliness is not limited to any age or demographic. But, for example, a 55-year-old divorced woman suddenly waking up alone might be overwhelmed with fears about her future. Perhaps worst of all, the person she’s been relying on is no longer in her life.
How Counseling Helps You Cope With Gray Divorce
It should be obvious that the unique blend of factors listed above can leave these divorcing couples in a fragile emotional state. As mentioned, it also impacts other family members. Counseling can be a much-needed bridge to facilitate this transition.
The divorcing partners may attend couples counseling in preparation for the split. If the break-up is amicable, this is an ideal setting to discuss new ground rules and expectations. Some couples even learn about other options. For example, choosing legal separation may be a wiser option in terms of managing finances, health insurance, and taxes.
Each spouse might also opt for individual therapy afterward to ease the transition to a strange new life. Also, family therapy is a way for children and close loved ones to find understanding and resolution. Gray divorce can be a little less daunting with strong support and effective guidance.