Divorce — 16 April 2006
Why do some long time couples divorce?

It is often surprising when some couples who have been married for twenty-five or more years announce that they are divorcing. Common expectations are that after so many years together pairs have learned to deal with their differences, resolved their ongoing battles and achieved a peaceful and comfortable relationship. The statistics indicate that divorce among people over 50 is rising and studies reveal some surprising facts.

A 2004 survey commissioned by AARP of 1147 men and women ages 40-79 found that, despite assumptions to the contrary, 66 percent of women initiated the divorce compared to 41 percent of men. The dissatisfaction of women in their 50’s with their relationship was found to fester for two to ten years, with older women waiting longer to opt out. It may be assumed that women are the ones who waited for the children to grow up. Actually, 58 percent of men compared with 37 percent of women postponed the divorce for their children. Men’s second reason for delaying the break-up was ‘not believing in divorce’ while women’s secondary concern was their financial security.

Women cited emotional or physical abuse, infidelity or drug/alcohol abuse as the main reason for the failed relationship. Surprisingly, men stated ‘falling out of love’ or ‘having different values’ as the main cause for the relationship break-up.

This survey did not detail what constituted emotional or physical abuse or how men defined ‘different values’ or what led to their ‘falling out of love’. The prevailing themes underlying the decision to divorce, however, seem to be clear: profound disrespect for the partner, being abandoned, conflicts and loss of love. Both genders seemingly felt rejected, devalued and unloved as a result of the treatment they received and thus elected the painful process of divorce over the life they had.

Despite the hard times that ensued the decision to divorce, the loss of family, hardships and loneliness, the study found that 75 percent of women and 81 percent of men in their 50’s found a good committed relationship after the divorce. Many did so within two years while rebuilding their new lives.

These findings support the idea that most people yearn to be coupled. They desire a committed companionship, personal affirmation, sharing, intimacy, and love. Most of all hey want to know that they are special and that they matter greatly to at least one other person.

When one’s personal worth is damaged within the relationship, no history, shared values, children or material comforts can balance the loss of self. Divorce, as painful and undesirable as it may be, becomes an option for those who feel that they are emotionally drowning. Since the loss of one’s esteem is a slow process it may take years to be fully felt. Hope sometimes blinds people from seeing the reality of their disconnected and painful relationship.

Healthy marriages thrive on the presence of mutual appreciation, respect, trust and affection. When each partner feels valued by the other, the years only add spice and security to their bond. When these are lacking, later years only highlight the misery.

The midlife years are times of personal reflection. People become aware that their longevity is finite and thus are urged to assess their happiness. Both men and women awaken to realize that they deserve to be loved and must pursue it now.

It is therefore, not surprising that people over 50 examine their personal satisfaction with their relationship and seek what is rightfully theirs, the pursuit of happiness.

How to prevent a midlife break-up:

• Do not allow unhappy feelings and hurts to fester and accumulate. Resentments are the nails in the coffin of relationships.
• You deserve to have a mutually rewarding relationship. Do not withdraw, despair, give up or suffer in silence.
• Do not become a martyr and live in agony until the children grow up.
• Do not accept verbal or physical abuse, abandonment, betrayal, addiction, criticism, contempt or loss of appreciation and love.
• Speak with your partner about your unmet needs and ways he or she can help.
• If you are unable to help each other, seek professional assistance as early as possible. Most relationship issues are resolvable with the guidance of an able counselor.
• Consider your relationship a treasure worth preserving and safeguarding for a lifetime.
• If you have a good relationship, stay kind, loving and respectful of your mate.
• No efforts should be spared to prevent later life break-up and secure a lifelong harmonious and loving connection.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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