May 16, 2018
By GARYM. STERN
A couple are in their early 50s, live in Los Angeles, work in the entertainment industry and were married for 26 years. Their two children are now grown and live on their own. Their marriage had its ebbs and flows and uncertainties, but they stuck together, partly for the sake of the kids. Once their two adult children moved out, their marriage started to dissolve and they split up. They divorced in 2016.
Call it the 20-year itch. After the children move out, some couples who have been together for decades face a conundrum: stay together and work things out or split. Despite the many years together, some opt for divorce. Why? Why after 20 or 25 years married, does the relationship dissolve?
According to the Pew Research Center, among adults 50 and older in the U.S., the rate of divorce has approximately doubled since the 1990s and for those 65 and older, it’s roughly tripled in the same period of time.
“Kids leaving home is a major milestone in life,” explained Deb Purdy, author of “Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter & Happier After Divorce.” When the children move away and the couple is left with each other without the offspring, it forces couples to re-evaluate their life and their marriage.
You’re 45- to 55-years-old and realize you won’t live forever, Purdy said. Having children depart triggers a spate of questions such as: What have I done with my life? Am I happy in my marriage? Or do I want to start fresh?
Facing the inevitability of divorce
But sometimes the signs indicate that divorce is on the horizon, suggested Joanne Pedro-Carroll, a Rochester, N.Y.-based clinical psychologist and author of “Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce.” “When couples lose the ability to communicate any appreciation of each other,” that’s often a sign that the marriage is collapsing, she said.
In fact, studies indicate that many couples wait six years before expressing their dissatisfaction, Pedro-Carroll noted. Couples who address issues immediately, however, can often find ways to reconnect, “have fun and talk about what’s bothering them in ways that aren’t destructive,” said Pedro-Carroll.
She advises couples: “Say what you mean, without being mean.”
“The best advice I can give is to recognize early warning signs. Very often people are in denial,” Pedro-Carroll added.
But Purdy notes that sometimes splitting up and divorcing can be the right decision for some couples. “Not all marriages are meant to last a lifetime. In fact, half of them don’t,” she said.
And divorce can sometimes serve as a “do-over that enables someone to reinvent one’s life for the better,” Purdy said.
Pedro-Carroll agrees that divorce is the best outcome when “the relationship is filled with animosity and abusive behavior toward each other. That’s a toxin for children, especially if children are caught in the middle.”
The key is taking the judgment out of divorce. According to Purdy, “Divorce isn’t good or bad. It just is. Reframing divorce from a failure of character to a catalyst to make ourselves better” is key.
Gary M. Stern is a New York-based freelance writer who has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fortune.com, CNN/Money and Reuters. He collaborated on “Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity into a Competitive Edge” (HarperCollins), a how-to guide for minorities and women to climb the corporate ladder.