Are you still married? Really? That’s great! It’s apparently also unusual! According to this article in the Kansas City Star, couples our age are engaging in divorce at an accelerating rate. While in 1990, fewer than 10 percent of divorces in the United States were in the fifty and older set, now more than 25 percent involves a boomer divorce, and divorce is not unheard of even among the very old.
Reasons for boomer divorce
So, what’s causing this phenomenon? In short, but not necessarily in order:
- People are much more financially stable and considerably less dependent on each other, even as a couple
- The children have moved out and are on their own – at least, that is what most boomers hope, and there’s no need to “stay together for the kids”
- Matrimonial laws concerning division of property have changed to make divorce somewhat more equitable than it used to be
- One spouse has been stepping out and the other spouse just recently found out
- Lifespans are longer, giving rise to “I’ve had enough of this and I’m grabbing some good time for myself while I still can”
- Women, in particular, are much more able to provide for themselves, and are willing to do so to maintain some independence
- But the largest, and most often-cited reason for the surge in divorce is the perennial “lack of communication”
Despite the fact more baby boomers are divorcing, and the stigma has largely been erased, the process is really never pleasant for those involved. People don’t marry with the vision of eventually being alone, or if they do expect to be alone one day, they are thinking it will be through illness and death, not divorce. Still, most boomers – as in the general population – would really prefer to be divorced than unhappily married. Maybe the 1/3 of baby boomers that are currently unmarried have blazed the way to show that it can be not as bad as anticipated.
When boomer divorce is inevitable, what alternatives exist?
Airing a couple’s “dirty laundry” in court is one of the least desirable ways to accomplish the divorce process, and really should only be employed in a worst-case scenario when there’s no way the two can agree to equitably divide the property. Another alternative would be having the respective lawyers meet and agree on a result, or employing an arbitrator. Couples can even represent themselves in court, though this is certainly not an optimal solution. No layperson really understands all the possible future consequences of divorce agreements that may be made under pressure. That’s what a lawyer is for – not only to represent you in court, but to make certain you understand what may happen as a result of the various scenarios available to you at this stressful time.
Is it possible to avoid divorce?
Of course it is possible to avoid divorce if you are in a happy marriage, but what if, like the majority of the older married population, you are just bouncing along, not really paying that much attention? The advice available is not really different for older adults than it is for younger couples. Among the suggestions are:
- Make a sincere effort to pay attention to each other and respond to problems sooner, rather than later
- Don’t engage in blame-throwing
- Don’t engage in stonewalling, crazy-making, or gaslighting
- Avoid defensiveness when a fault (of your own) is uncovered (nobody said it was easy!)
- Avoid engaging in contemptuous self-talk, either about yourself, or (especially) about your spouse. The exhibition of contemptuous feelings is a high hurdle to get over
- Make your spouse a high priority
- Instead of giving up on your relationship, see if you can honestly engage the assistance of your spouse, no matter how “at fault” he or she is, so you can work together toward a solution
- Don’t forget your sense of humor
Certainly, it can be very hard to follow these suggestions even during happy times. During trying times it can seem to be nearly impossible, but getting and maintaining a handle on these issues can go a long way toward avoiding the sadness and loss that a divorce almost inevitably brings.