When people decide to marry, it’s arguably with the intention of sharing a lifetime. And the ideal of lifelong partnership has historically been a social expectation. Although in recent years the upward trend of “grey divorce” (over age 50) has slowed, the highest percentage of marital splits in the US still happens at midlife. What’s happening?
Only in the last century has our lifespan increased by about 20 years and given us “middle years” between youth and old age. For many, these years are a time of reflection. We start to consider our mortality and realize we have less time ahead of us than behind. Not only have we learned a lot, but we still have the time, energy, health—and often freedom—to make changes.
Children have been raised, in most cases, and may have flown the nest. Partners who stayed in it for the kids are finally free to fly, too. Decades of abuse finally take their toll. Different goals and dreams become insurmountable obstacles.
For a woman, the onset of perimenopause and menopause can also encourage a desire to nurture her own dreams rather than taking a back seat to her partner and children. Significantly, as we approach our fifties, we’ve generally (finally!) stopped caring about how other people feel about our personal decisions.
By the numbers
With these changes underfoot, it shouldn’t be surprising that up to 57 percent of annual divorces are granted to people in their forties and fifties, and an additional 15 percent of marriages for people age 60 and above sputter to a finish during this time. Some experts believe that those additional 20 years of life between “I do” and death play a significant role in the demise of marriages after age 50.
Top reasons for midlife divorce
- emotional or physical abuse
- addiction or mental health issues
- communication problems
- no longer in love; nothing in common
Updating your status
Although the stigma of divorce has lost its sting, it can be a difficult conversation in some religious groups, or with parents and children. Experts agree that any children—no matter their ages—should hear the news before you make it public. Be honest with your offspring, but also have boundaries firmly in place about what they need to know.
And while you think that your adult children will accept the news easily, be prepared to parent them through it, especially if they aren’t expecting it. Adult children may have a difficult time with the news and question the reality of their entire childhood. Be available to have some difficult conversations.
Consider working with a counselor, minister, therapist, or relationship life coach who can help you understand your role in the demise of your marriage. You are intimately aware of your previous partner’s role, and unless you acknowledge your own contributions, you will likely make the same mistakes in future relationships.
Take time for yourself
Particularly if the divorce was a long time coming, you might be tempted to rush into the dating pool, but experts suggest taking a pause before testing the waters. Whether you wanted the divorce or not, it’s a troubling experience. Give yourself time to heal. Get to know yourself as an individual after long-term coupledom.
Become clear on who you want to be, how you want to live your life, what makes you happy, and what your dreams are for the years ahead. These are all things that can get buried under the weight of other people’s expectations of you.
When you’re ready to find a new partner, you can do so with a firm sense of yourself, your “non-negotiables” (must-haves and deal-breakers), and your vision for the next phase of your life. The more confident you are about yourself and what you want, the more likely you’ll be to make healthy dating choices.
Although everyone’s needs are different, guidelines suggest waiting one year after the divorce is finalized before considering looking for a serious relationship. Aim to enjoy a birthday and every major holiday on your own before looking for a plus one.
It can be tempting to let loneliness drive your desire to date. Instead, find ways to fill your social calendar through friendships, volunteering, hobbies, and support groups. Who knows? You might meet your next partner while you’re out doing something you enjoy!
If you still have children living in your home, dating can be a tricky thing. Research on divorced mothers has shown that younger children become stressed when mom’s dating relationships end, so consider minimizing their exposure to a love interest until you are confident that the relationship has legs.
Dating isn’t supposed to be a chore. It’s really about learning whether new people complement your life. Best of all? That decision is all yours.
According to online dating service eHarmony:
- 63% of people find love through a friend.
- 53% of people lie on their online dating profile.
- 20% of current committed relationships started online.
- 7% of marriages (2015) started online.