What Is A Gray Divorce?

2018-08-14T15:04:23+00:00

According to some sources, Gray Divorce simply refers to divorce during a couple’s older years after long-term marriages. In other studies “late-life divorce” is defined as divorce for couples in the 50-64 age range, while others described couples 65+ years old, and especially those 65+ who were also retired as gray divorcees. For our purposes today, let’s just say anyone 50+ can be included in our discussion about Gray Divorce.  

But here’s the problem for me: when I think of Gray Divorce, I think of old people. I divorced at 53, and I would have cringed at the time to think I was part of  the Gray Divorce demographic. For one thing, neither one of us was retired; for another, most of the women I know (divorcing or not) would not want to be considered part of any gray phenomena if they were in their 50s or 60s.  

I know that having gray hair has little to do with being in the gray demographic. I’m the only woman in my book club of 60-70 year olds who has actually “let my gray out.” Everyone else is still dying their gray roots every week or two, and many are still working at a job or are as busy as ever with active, fun empty-nester life! So even though most gray divorcees don’t have gray hair, they also don’t consider themselves as old either.  

The Gray Divorce Revolution

Here’s the deal: If you’re part of the baby boomer generation, you’re considered in the gray demographic whether you like it or not. Baby boomers make up the bulk of this age group (as of 2016 – official baby boomers ranged in age from 52-70).  I am at the high end of the the scale. But age is just a number, and I have had women in my RADiCAL divorce recovery groups from 32 to 83.

But there definitely is a “revolution” among us “golden oldies” as far as divorce is concerned. Boomers have always been sort of ‘revolutionary.’ Some of us did the peace protests and took part in Woodstock, and the most important thing was us.  

Many rebelled against our parents and wanted to “give peace a chance,” even though what we wanted most was what we wanted.  It was all about “me.”  And statistics are indicating that when divorce is concerned, it’s still all about me, at least for the person who wants out of the marriage.  

Gray Divorce Statistics

So, especially if you’re part of the gray demographic, you may be asking yourself, “What’s causing all of these divorces after long, mostly good, marriages?” In going more deeply into the Gray divorce phenomena, I discovered more about this demographic. Pew Research has some authoritative data located here.

For one thing, with each passing year we are becoming more comfortable about ending long marriages. In 1990, 206,007 people aged 50+ divorced. In 2010, the number was up to 643,152. If the trend continues, the number of those boomer marriages ending in divorce is expected to rise by a third, or get to about 828,380.  

Gray Divorce Reasons

The deeper answers to that question of “What’s going on with so many gray divorces?” cover a lot of territory. Part of the answer includes the general shift in society where divorce has become more accepted.

When I was growing up, I knew one family who was experiencing that “sad catastrophe.” When I was going through my own divorce in 2000, my son said to me, “Mom, stop worrying so much! Half the kids at my school are from divorced families.” That fact, although close to true, made me desperately sad.  

For one thing, I wanted an intact family and a long 60+ year marriage like my parents had. I was heartbroken that I wasn’t going to experience that. Below are some of the other things that cause or explain the jump in divorce among boomers.  

Finances

Finances are a complicated part of Gray Divorce.  Research comes to all kinds of different conclusions as to how finances play a part. In general, finances tend to cause divorce when one partner either does not work when they are able, or is a bad manager of money.  

Couples who are always in debt are always more susceptible to divorce. If the main “breadwinner” is controlling and makes all of the financial decisions, that usually causes friction, too. If one partner overspends or doesn’t control his or her dangerous money habits, the marriage is less likely to succeed.

One source reported that a rise in a man’s earnings brought more stability to a marriage, while if a woman started earning more, that contributed to more divorces. Another source said divorces tend to go up as the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the country goes down. But that’s only up to a point, where if the economy goes down too far, it becomes too expensive to divorce and couples try to stick it out together.  

Marital Infidelity (Cheating)

Most of the women who come to Midlife Divorce Recovery for help, are here because their ex-husband or soon-to-be ex had or is still having an affair. Part of that increase in infidelity in Gray divorce, I believe, is still connected to that “me first” mentality of the baby boomers.

At the same time, there is definitely more opportunity to stray with sites like Ashley Madison that has as it’s tag line: “Life is short. Have an affair.” That site promised to provide a safe, secure place to arrange affairs not only online, but to foster connecting in person.  

Most of us remember the panic that set in when the Ashley Madison site was hacked and names of participants were released. Just the same, online hookup and dating sites provide anonymity where people can explore relationships online with less potential to be found out.  

With sexual affairs becoming more common, more people seem willing to cross that line from physical or emotional attraction to sexual infidelity and then on to continued adultery and finally divorce.

Where community or religious values used to keep some of these desires in check, today divorces among “The Faithful” is as common as divorce in the neighborhoods around our churches. It seems as if nothing stands in the way of getting what some boomers wants, regardless of what it does to our family, our community, our church or even our nation.  

Drug, Gambling, Alcohol or Pornography Problems

As my Mom used to say, “there are a lot of ways to be unfaithful.” There are several things that can derail a marriage even if sexual infidelity isn’t present. Any kind of substance abuse is a serious threat to any marriage. Long-term partners may finally decide that enough is enough, and decide they do not want to be in a dysfunctional, addiction-centered marriage any longer.  

Many of the women who decide to divorce, start the process because of the substance abuse of their partner. Alcohol often figures into the demise of a marriage.  For more information, check out the following site: https://www.addiction.com/3003/will-alcohol-abuse-lead-divorce/. More and more people go down, not only the alcoholism road, but the road of drug-related addictions as well.  

The stress these addictions put on a marriage is very hard to overcome. Most spouses decide they cannot have the life they want being married to someone who puts his or her “drug of choice” above the well-being of spouse and family. Another destructive addiction is gambling and the financial catastrophe and relationship damage that usually follows.

The newest threat to marriage is addiction to online porn. Pornography has become an increasingly serious issue in our society. Porn negatively affects what people expect from spouses in the sexual part of the relationship, and if untreated, often eventually leads to divorce.  

Porn causes just as much trauma as an addiction to physical substances like drugs and alcohol, and research is indicating it can be even more addictive and destructive. Once porn addiction takes hold, it requires more and more exposure and more and more dangerous and antisocial images to bring the same level of relief or satisfaction. In 2015, findings from Jeff Logue, PhD. revealed that 40 million US adults say they regularly visit porn websites and 47% of Christians say that porn is a major problem in their home.  

Better Health and Longer Life Expectancy

One more thing that seems to be adding to the increase in Gray Divorce is that we are living longer. We are healthy and have a better physical quality of life longer than our parents and grandparents did. At 50, we figure we still have 30 or 40 good years ahead of us.  

The increase in well-being encourages people who have “drifted apart” to follow through if they are not finding satisfaction in their marriage. If one partner has stayed active and intellectually healthy and vigorous, and the other hasn’t, that usually encourages one partner to look for someone more suited to their interests and activities.  

Another influence in deciding to divorce is that with the rise of viagra and other erectile dysfunction products, many men think that finding a younger woman is possible and will make them even more vigorous and virile and solve their feelings of dissatisfaction. A women who who keeps herself healthy and fit, may stray away from a husband who is “acting old” or not interested in doing things that she might like to explore.

Gray Divorce Problems & Issues

Finances, Investments & Retirement

For both spouses, family financial stability makes divorce more likely if there are other reasons for divorce. Finances make a huge impact on the financial ability to divorce, but also affect what happens after divorce. How well men and women do after divorce has a direct correlation to how the financial settlement turns out.  

Women are almost always worse off after divorce. Men are almost always about the same or better off after divorce. Younger boomer women are more likely to be employed, and so less likely to be in dangerous financial peril after divorce.

Part of how life goes after divorce has to do with the fact that older boomers were part of a trend of getting married early (I was just 21, he was 23). I didn’t get my college degree (until 30 years later!) because my then-husband was accepted to medical school, and after our first child was born, financially (and socially, in my opinion) it made more sense for me to take care of our four children and the home, so my husband could focus more on getting through college, medical school, internship, and residency, followed by three years of military service. I also loved being a full-time wife and mother, and most of my same-age friends had followed the same path.

Even though I always worked doing freelance copywriting and advertising from home through all of this, my work never had to support our family. But if I had known that my then-husband would have affairs and decide he wanted someone else after 33 years, I might have made different decisions. 

In fact, I read somewhere, that “a man is not a financial plan.” That comment always made me mad, because, during our marriage, I did not look at him as a financial plan. I looked at him as a lover, friend and life-long partner who had similar goals of a strong, fun, good, stable family with both of us contributing in different ways. That all changes, especially with Gray Divorce.  

Kids & Family

Gray Divorce has an impact on children even though many boomers try to pretend that it doesn’t matter so much because they are older.  Of course, there is not the daily or weekly complication of who lives with whom how many times a week with all of the exchanges and moving around younger children have to deal with.

Children of Gray Divorce are usually late-adolescent or early adult children and many have even started their own families. But divorce is often still confusing and complicated. If hidden affairs are part of the picture, especially long-term affairs, children wonder if their whole life was a lie. It often makes every holiday or special occasion complicated. Weddings of children have the added stress of seating, bringing the new love, etc. Holidays and birthdays often are uneasy and awkward events rather than the fun occasions they once were. 

Younger children of Gray Divorce may lose faith in relationships all together. Older children, if they are married, now have not only in-law holidays to work out, but two holidays for their own parents who are now divorced. Everything becomes complicated.

But children of Gray Divorce are also resilient. Since divorce is more prevalent, they often don’t feel the same stigma that boomer children might have felt had their parents divorce. Boomers can also learn a lot from our children about what they need. One such resource is our Parenting Through Divorce program that was created by my son Grady Sullivan who was 14-17 years old when we were dealing with my husband’s affair, the actual separation and finally the divorce.

Nevertheless, the effects of divorce on children exist and are still very real. 

Gray Divorce Support Groups

One reason Midlife Divorce Recovery specializes in divorce at mid or late life is that divorce at this time comes with its own unique issues and challenges. Divorce at younger ages (20s and 30s) has decreased because more and more young people are living together instead of getting married or getting married in their early to mid-30s.  

By the time I was in my mid-30s, I already had 10+ years of marriage under my belt. Another extenuating circumstance is that mid and late life includes other major life changes… like children leaving home (the famous empty-nest period), our own parents are needing more attention and care and may even be dying. Many of us are retiring. Our bodies are changing.  

The best case scenario for boomer marriages is that in a good, strong, healthy marriage allows us to face these challenges together and have the time and money to re-invest in our relationship. The sad fact is that often, one partner decides he wants something totally different and feels that if he doesn’t make a change now, it will be too late.

The fact is that more and more women are taking the step to end the marriage. But that is often because her husband has been having an affair he will not end, or addictions or abuse are part of their relationship. She decides she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life in that kind of abusive relationship if her partner is not willing to get help to make the relationship better.

I am the one in our relationship who filed for divorce. My husband of 33 years would not, or could not, end his three-year affair. It was the most heartbreaking thing I have ever had to do.

Finding women who understand how you’re feeling after a spouse decides to move on without you is difficult. There is usually hard grief work to do especially after a long marriage, regardless of the details of the breakup. None of us got married thinking that at this special time, after our life slows down, that we would suddenly find ourselves alone and often in financial peril as well. Most of us had the hope that we could re-invigorate our relationship now that the years of child-rearing and work were easing up.

People who haven’t been through the end of a long marriage, or the end of a marriage as part of the gray demographic, just don’t understand how devastating, overwhelming and exhausting it can be. Everything in your life changes. And major changes always bring major stress. It’s also often terrifying think of starting over at this point in our lives when we have been a couple for most of our adult lives.

That’s why we make our MDR Community part of all of our programs and resources. It gives women a place to connect, vent, share information and encourage each other..  Our Community is full of women who have decided that one person is not going to destroy us or define our future, regardless of how long we were together.

Try our MDR community today, and I’ll send you a free copy of my Radical Recovery book. Or you can simply join the MDR community on it’s own or sign up for our Master Plan or our Divorce Survival Kit and you’ll receive all of the extra benefits and support of the Community as well.

Regardless of how you access our amazing group of women, do it today! The women in the MDR community have decided that they aren’t going to let one person define them or destroy their future. If you are experiencing a late life or Gray Divorce, don’t try to struggle through this challenging time alone. Life is moving on. Time is short. Join us today and create the life you have deserved all along!

About the Author:

Suzy developed Midlife Divorce Recovery as a safe refuge for people healing and surviving the overwhelm of divorce. Starting her first RADiCAL support group in 2003 she's been helping women navigate the journey of divorce ever since.

One Comment

  1. Lynn Carol August 5, 2017 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Thank you Suzy, I think every single one of us can find ourselves somewhere in your article. Your articles have been part of my healing process.

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