A popular trend—gray divorce

The NY Times has an interesting piece out on the increase in divorce among older, long married couples. Abby Ellin shares some interesting statistics and the feelings and experiences of a number of women who left their less than satisfying marriages and dove into the frightening unknown because they wanted more and knew the clock was ticking.

Divorce for long married, older couples is on the rise. In 2014, those 50 and older were twice as likely to divorce as that age group was in 1990. And for those over 65, the increase was even higher. Yet divorce among younger couples has actually dropped or remained the same over the same period of time.

Many theories are being floated as to why this is occurring. Second marriages are twice as likely to fail as first marriages and many older couples are in a second or third marriage. Another theory is that life expectancy is a factor—people used to die earlier and didn’t look forward to a new life at an older age. Now they do and if their marriage is stale or no longer meeting their needs, they think about what else might be out there and reflect on the need to pursue it since time is passing. The stigma of divorce is also largely gone, and in the past this often kept couples together long past the “happy” expiration date of their unions.

What may be surprising to some, but if we think about it, not really—is that women are the ones most likely to initiate these later in life divorces. They are the burned out caretakers who very likely put their own dreams on hold to support those of their spouse and to raise children. They don’t want to be caretakers to their aging husbands who may not be in as good shape, have fewer interests and/or be retired and sedentary. Their spouse can feel like a ball and chain as opposed to being a partner they can move forward into new adventures with. Because many women have careers and money of their own, they are not financially dependent, which used to be their primary reason for staying.

With the kids out on their own, even if not happy with their parents splitting up—these women are going for it while they still can. Though it means taking a risk, many women are more comfortable with this than men. They may give up some financial security, but feel the trade-off is worth it. For many, their standard of living goes down, for some even below the poverty line–yet they still take this step into the unknown. But many do work and therefore have their own income and a means to support their new life.

The retirement of spouses also plays heavily into rising divorce rates. When men are suddenly home all day, the dynamics of the relationship change—and what wasn’t good in their relationship is suddenly exposed and highlighted 24/7, with no distractions or escape for women. They decide the risks are worth it as they make the decision to leap into the unknown and to see what is out there as they search for greater meaning and personal happiness.