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How to Avoid Gray Divorce: Find Happiness Before it is too Late

You probably never thought that you might be a candidate for "gray divorce"! After all those years together, you thought you would continue to grow and enjoy the next years of your life.

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“Don't worry, be happy"!

Bobby McFerrin

John and Mary had been married for many years. He had a very good job that he had been at for 35 years. She stayed home tending to the house and family. John was now looking forward to his retirement. Luckily, he thought, I have a decent pension that will take care of us as we go forward in life. The day had come and John left for the last time. He was now officially retired.

Mary had not been looking forward to John’s retirement. They had “grown apart”. She wasn’t sure how they would spend so much time together. As the thoughts continued to whirl around, she became resentful that John had a job to “retire” from. Her job would never end. Would he help around the house? Share some of the daily duties? These were all concerns. The longer Mary thought about it, she was getting more and more upset.

The first weeks of John’s retirement were horrendous. All of Mary’s fears and trepidation came true. He didn’t help around the house nor did he share any daily duties. John spent his time sleeping, watching TV, and playing golf with his buddies. She couldn’t take it anymore and finally told him that she wanted a divorce.

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"The only ones that win in a divorce is the lawyers."

Gray divorce refers to the increasing divorce rate for older couples in long-lasting marriages. The most common reason cited is that the couple “grew apart”. We are being sold a bill of goods that divorce is the path to happiness which is completely false. It is almost like consumerism that has trained us to throw away the old in favor of something new.

Over the course of the past thirty or so years, each of us has grown and changed. None of us are the same person we were when we were twenty-something and newly married. In happy successful marriages, the couple grew together as they dealt with life’s many challenges. This required lots of open communication, understanding, compromise, and commitment to each other. Undoubtedly there were rocky periods, yet they forged ahead strengthening their relationship. By the way, I seriously doubt any of them are reading this.

Stay Together or Divorce?

Spending so much time together after retirement, this can become an important discussion point.

Other couples may have chosen to let things slide over the years to avoid potential conflicts and marriage problems. Or they were busy, became complacent, and perhaps even took each other for granted. If they had children, the years would have flown by as they were involved in lots of activities. When the kids grew up and left home, they may have felt somewhat strained with their new-found time together. Mind you, this is considered normal and both were happy enough (at least at that time).

The real shock hits when they retire. They now have endless hours together and it may feel like they have little or nothing in common. Sitting across the table from each other with their morning coffee, they converse about the meaningless tasks each will do that day. Unspoken are the resentments and perceived slights that may have been simmering for years. Each has their own dreams for retirement and are unsure if they will ever see the light of day. 

Feeling of frustration and unhappiness run rampant as each contemplates the next 20 – 30 years together. Arguments may erupt over the most trivia of matters, or they begin to avoid each other. Gray divorce could become a viable option.

Is My Marriage Over?

If you are beginning to question your marriage, you owe it to your spouse and yourself to discuss the matter. It won’t be easy and needs to done in a very open non-confrontational manner. Focus on understanding how they feel, their thoughts and their happiness. Otherwise, they could easily jump to the conclusion of divorce. 

Retiring can be stressful for some, especially if they are struggling with a loss of identity or sense of purpose. Sadly, they may be completely oblivious to any problems in the relationship. Alternatively, they might be equally miserable and not sure how to express it. With all the hype about gray divorce, too many assume divorce is the easy answer without really considering the consequences. Deep down, most of us view divorce as a failure (especially after so many years) and are hopeful we can save our marriages.

Communication

The best way to strengthen or save your marriage is by regular open and honest conversations.

Basically, there are three options:

  • Both partners are in agreement and want to save their marriage. After investing so many years together, it is worth the effort to turn their golden years into the happiest ones. This requires love, trust, and commitment to rekindling passions and dreams. If there are major issues, counseling may be advisable.
  • Rather than forcing a rash decision, some couples will take the time to discuss and think things through. The key is they remain friends with genuine concern for each others well-being. With heightened awareness, they have the opportunity to better determine if their relationship is salvageable. There are concerns that need to be addressed and possible counseling. Over a period of however many months it takes, they make the decision if their marriage will continue or not. They might also choose to coexist as room-mates or they may decide to go their separate ways. Regardless, it minimizes the pressure of a potentially painful and expensive decision.
  • Separation and/or divorce is the final option. Besides growing apart, there may be many other extenuating circumstances that have damaged the marriage. An unhealthy or bad relationship is far worse than becoming single.

Consequences of Gray Divorce

Financial Considerations

Nobody wins in a divorce except for the lawyers! Even straight forward divorce proceedings can drag out for months and cost thousands of dollars. The financial security of a comfortable retirement becomes at risk after retirement savings (for more details, see Baby Boomer Facts), pensions, and the matrimonial property are divided up.

Gray divorce can be financially devastating. Instead of enjoying the golden years, too many are forced back into the workforce just to make ends meet.

Relationships

Relationships with your family and spouse could change causing a strain for everyone.

New Partner or Remain Single

Relationship Change

Even in the most amiable divorces, relationships will suffer. Adult children might take sides or become resentful. Family holidays such as Thanksgiving / Christmas are likely to be strained, especially if a new partner arrives. 

Friends and other couples that you used to get together with become elusive. They knew both of you and are uncomfortable dealing with the situation. Some don’t want to have to choose a side and be disloyal to one of their former friends. As bad as it sounds, many at an unconscious level, perceive divorce as if it were contagious.

In summary, the rising rate of gray divorce is a reflection of our societal changes. Most of the time, divorce is not the path to happiness. Take the time to reconnect with your spouse before it is too late.

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