As Robert Browning said, “Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.”
There are quite a lot of issues like menopause and marriage problems when couples get older.
They call it the “gray divorce,” and it accounted for nearly one in four divorces in 2010. From 1990 to 2010, according to research done by the National Institute Of Health, divorces doubled among couples aged 50 years old and older.
Divorces of long-established couples often catch friends and family by surprise. We assume, culturally, that once someone reaches 50, some things are simply “settled”: career, partnership, home. We don’t expect a lot of dramatic, long-term changes in or after midlife.
As any woman who’s been through perimenopause and/or menopause can tell you: midlife is anything but settled or predictable, beginning with our own bodies. Midlife is a time of change and transition, emotionally, physically, domestically, and everything, it seems, is up for grabs.
Probably the biggest reason mature couples choose to decouple? According to Dr. Barbara Mark, “In midlife we revisit our priorities, values, and preferences.” When we’re younger, children and careers may make it easier to focus on similar goals.
As we age, different goals take priority – travel, hobbies, our health. If we discover our priorities and our partner’s no longer align, we have some decisions to make.
But surely our parents and grandparents went through a reevaluation stage too; why did their marriage last 50 or 60 years, while ours are dissolving so much sooner?
It may seem like the deck is stacked against midlife couples, but don’t panic. You have tools which, though they might be a bit rusty, can help you understand what’s happening and make informed decisions about your future(s).
Communicate with each other. According to Dr. Mark, this may be the most powerful – and the most underutilized – tool in your tool box. After a few decades, we may think we’ve got communication down pat. But are you really listening? Or are you anticipating what the other person is saying, based on many years’ experience? Listen. Question. Discuss. Make time for important conversations about needs, expectations, goals, desires, and satisfaction in the relationship.
Communicate with others. Sometimes it takes third-party eyes to see clearly. Friends and family can help, though they may have too much of their own emotion invested in your relationship, so also consider a therapist, member of the clergy, etc.
Take your time making any decision and don’t jump to action until you have thought through the circumstances. “In midlife, hormones can make people over-react,” Dr. Mark says. “That combined with the developmental task of dealing with one’s mortality, can make for some hasty decision making.”
Self-reflect. Where is this emotion coming from? Is your dissatisfaction in your partner real, or a reflection of dissatisfaction with yourself? If it’s hormonal, is it temporary, or are your hormones allowing you to see something you’ve glossed over until now?
Problem-solve. What are the sources of friction? Is it caring for an elderly parent, an evaporated sex life, or that you really don’t have much in common now that the kids are gone? Talk together about the options you have for making your problems better for both of you. And find new joys to share.
Considering that many women have a significantly lower standard of living and men report a greater dissatisfaction with their lives after a “gray divorce,” it may be worth making the effort to stay together. And if you are able to pinpoint and problem-solve, you may well come through the challenges of midlife stronger than ever.
How have you kept your midlife relationship strong and stable? If you’ve faced challenges, what did you do to overcome them? If you decided to split, what has your life been like since? If you’d care to share, leave us a comment below, or you can join the conversation on Gennev's Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, Gennev’s closed Facebook group.