Older adults face unique challenges related to divorce or working to save their marriage. Let’s talk more about all these challenges starting with factors that lead to divorce and moving to how we can work together if you are an older adult considering divorce or wanting to save your marriage.
For some couples, raising children has kept them together until their children moved out of the home. After children move out, there is a spotlight on the relationship that has been neglected or ignored. In other cases, children have failed to launch, and couples might have tensions about when the best time is to have children move out. Partners might be wondering if allowing adult children to stay in the home longer is a way of avoiding dealing with the relationship.
20-40 % of adults over the age of 50 are divorcing due to extra marital affairs. Sexual desire may be changing at different rates for one partner more than the other. Menopause, medication, chronic illness can be factors. Sexual incompatibility may have become more pronounced over time. In other instances, a partner is bored, and technology has made it easier for them to connect with others outside the relationship.
Work satisfaction and a sense of purpose are diminished and lead to sadness. Rates of clinical depression increase by 40% in the first few years after retirement. There may be more losses of family members, friends, and parents at this time in life. There may be a greater sense of loneliness.
Expectations Don’t Match Up
Couples may enter retirement with undiscussed or unrealized expectations around division of labour that can lead to resentment and frustration. These couples may be asking questions about how they are going to spend their time and what their shared responsibilities are going to be.
Our Partner Becomes Our Employee
Some partners struggle to shift to their new role as CEO of the relationship. Partners may not longer feel as connected and have a difficult time holding a positive perspective of each other. One partner may not want to create change in an environment they have managed for years without their partner’s input or involvement.
There may be questions about when to retire and what the couples’ lifestyle will be like if they retire earlier. Retirement needs may not have been well planned. The couple may no longer be able to work for a variety of reasons. They may no longer be able to spend the way they once did when they were employed, leading to conflict about how to spend retirement funds.
One partner may not be taking care of their health and the other worries about having to become a caregiver. The demands of caregiving may be too taxing. A partner may feel unsupported when needing to take care of a parent with no assistance from their partner. Illness or mobility issues may disrupt lifestyles previously shared and create a sense of distance and disconnect. Resentment about diminished mental and physical capacity can be taken out on their partner.
How I Support People 50+ Contemplating or Learning to Live with Grey Divorce
I have a breadth of experience working with older adults as part of a community mental health team for many years. I am familiar with many of the challenges older adults face and I aim to take my knowledge and skillset and apply this through the lens of Gottman Method Couples Therapy in my private practice.
Here are a few of the ways I can work with those contemplating or learning to live with grey divorce:
I talk with couples about disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss.
Disenfranchised grief and ambiguous types of loss are about hidden grief and sorrow. It refers to any grief that goes unacknowledged or unvalidated by social norms. It is often minimized or not understood by others, which makes it harder to process. There may be many losses at this stage of life. There can be loss of being seen, decreased energy, loss of physical fitness, loss of strength, decreased activity, and the loss of a meaningful career. For these types of losses there are typically no resources or support groups to help acknowledge, validate, and process the loss. Examples of these types of losses include:
• Children growing up and leaving the home
• Not being excited about retirement
• Loss of satisfying sex life or ability for movement, energy, and health
• A partner develops dementia and remains physically present, but psychologically absent
• The death of an older adult is devalued in society because they have “lived a good, long life”
• Opportunities not pursused earlier in life that result in regret
I talk with couples about sex.
There may be new challenges in this aspect of the couples’ relationship. Sometimes couples have never had a conversation about what they like or what feels comfortable for them sexually. Sometimes limitations and additions need to be discussed. There are tools in Gottman Method Couples Therapy to help address issues related to sex.
I talk about dating.
Times may have changed significantly since newly divorce people 50+ were on the dating scene. Key issues related to dating such as how to connect with other singles need to be taken into consideration.
I use interventions to help couples who want to avoid divorce achieve their goal of strengthening their relationship.
I use effective and evidence-based interventions help couples get to know each other’s inner world, buffer stressors external to the relationship, talk about sex and intimacy, learn the underlying reason for conflict, learn how to compromise, and learn how to develop a sense of shared meaning.