Marriage is tethered to expectations of longevity. Divorce is tied to perceptions of selfishness and failure.
Both are daunting endeavors at any age, but when factors such as fixed incomes, grandchildren, and declining health are thrown into the mix, it makes one wonder: Is it ever too late to divorce?
Though there are practical issues to consider, the decision to divorce at any age comes down to two questions, says family therapist Pandora MacLean-Hoover: Are you happy? And are you worth the pursuit of happiness?
“There’s a common cultural belief that divorce is selfish. The lines between self-care and selfish are often blurred, especially for women,” say MacLean-Hoover, co-founder and clinical director of the? Think-diff Institute ?in Lexington, MA. “The question my clients must ask themselves is, ‘Do I have the right to pursue individual happiness?’”
All marriages go through peaks and valleys; MacLean-Hoover says knowing whether they can truly be happy within the marriage depends first on whether they’re trying to be. “I ask them to sit and think about whether they are parked in the wishing section, or whether they are being present and working toward having what they want,” she says.
While happiness is important at any age, the longer the couple has been together, the more likely they are to be driven by a sense of loyalty, commitment and even fear than individual happiness.
“For many staying married is about keeping the family together, not hurting other people, worrying about what others will think, and financial stability,” she says. One of her clients stayed in an unhappy marriage for 42 years – until after her father died.
“Based on the conditioning she’d had as a child that marriage is forever, and worrying about her parents’ approval, there was no way she was going to divorce and hurt her dad that way,” MacLean-Hoover says.
"Gray Divorce" Is on the Rise
But these aren’t your mother’s “golden years,” and more and more couples are realizing there needn’t be a golden anniversary if there’s no shine left to the marriage. A study on the phenomenon of “gray divorce” done by Bowling Green State University’s Sociology Department found that the divorce rate among adults aged 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010. Fewer than 1 in 10 divorces involved someone 50 or older in 1990; that rate jumped to 1 in 4 a decade later.
“‘Gray divorce’ is not ?necessarily a bad thing, but it's not necessarily a good thing, either,” says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty. “Men tend to think divorce will be a good thing, women tend to dread it. Interestingly enough, the men often find out it was a mistake, and the women? frequently thrive, once they've dealt with the grief.”
A Clear-Cut Case
It’s only been a month since Rita Pickett, 64, filed for divorce from her husband of nearly 26 years, but she already sounds like she’s thriving.