When billionaire philanthropist couple Bill and Melinda Gates announced recently they were filing for midlife divorce after 27 years of marriage, many people both young and “oldish” were likely thinking that if they couldn’t figure out how to make a life-long marriage work, what chance do the rest of us have?
According to a recent AARP Home and Family post, midlife breakups are much more common than they were a generation ago, and even after 30 or 40 years together, more older adults are unwilling to remain in an unfulfilling marriage despite a long shared history.
With greater longevity and modern concepts about marriage, more older couples may find themselves deciding to separate and focus on their own personal happiness. Although infidelity, money problems, poor communication and an empty nest continue to be top issues that lead to divorce, these problems are not just among younger couples. Middle-aged and older adults are more empowered today to take a bold step out on their own in ways their parents and grandparents wouldn’t have likely considered.
Many couples find that after years of hustling to raise children, build careers and care for aging parents, when the dust settles, they have grown so far apart that what held the marriage together simply doesn’t exist any longer. Different priorities and goals for the next phase of life can also lead long-term couples to split after decades together. Others may have unresolved issues that have lingered and even with counseling, it becomes apparent that the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial.
The past year in quarantine with our loved ones has brought many couples and families closer together and helped to bring into focus what is most important. For others, the time of forced connection has led to a discovery about the truth in relationships and in some cases, a decision to divorce or separate.
Of course, not all partners have the financial means to divorce without worry, and many married couples remain unhappily together because of the impact it would have on their wallets. Gray divorce results in a significant drop in quality of life for middle-aged and older adults, especially for women. Because it’s harder to re-enter the workforce as we age, the financial situation worsens for older divorcees. Retirement and inheritance planning are also impacted by divorce, particularly if one or both spouses remarry and new partners rather than children become the beneficiaries.
There is much to consider when divorcing later in life, and using a mediator and financial planner can help take some of the stress and worry out of an already difficult situation. If couples have children of any age, it’s important to take the high road when talking about your ex-spouse. Relationships can suffer for years as a result of how things were handled during a divorce and often it’s better to be generous and keep an eye on the long-term picture.
Find more information about navigating a later-in-life divorce by checking out Author Suzy Brown’s Midlife Divorce Recovery blog “itsovereasy” here.