More and more fifty-year-old Americans are divorcing even though it’s difficult to pinpoint a reason.
All marriages ebb and flow over the years, with good times and bad, but more and more couples find that after the kids leave home, their marriage begins to dissolve and they eventually divorce. Call it the quarter-century-itch or the empty-nest-syndrome, something important is happening at that time in many couple’s lives. After staying together for over two decades because of the kids many couples face a quandary: stay together and try to make their marriage work or split and look for new opportunities. Despite their years together, many couples opt for a divorce. According to the Pew Research Center, divorce among adults over 50 has almost doubled in the last 30 years and for couples in their 60s the divorce rate has tripled.
Raising children can be an all-consuming job for a young couple and it’s easy to ignore the growing problems in a relationship when you are focused on the children. Parents become preoccupied with school work, extra-curricular activities, the children’s social life, and helping them get into a good college to give them a head start in life. When the kids leave home for the last time, many middle-aged couples wonder if they will still like their spouse now that they are going to have more time together.
2. Early Warning Signs
Long before the kids move out, there are warning signs of discontent within many marital relationships, but they’re easy to ignore in the press of work, raising the kids, worrying about money, and getting ahead in a career. Moreover, when couples are consumed with their careers and raising children, they don’t notice they are losing a connection with each other. Most of the time, these differences could be negotiated if the couple was able to communicate about their discomfort. However, if the couple tends to avoid conflict and lacks communication skills, they can suddenly face an awful awakening when the kids leave and they consider spending the next 20 years with a spouse they don’t even know. Becoming empty-nesters triggers all sorts of questions about what to do with the rest of your life. The change forces couples to reevaluate their future and decide if they want to stay married.
3. Fixing the Marriage
When a couple faces the prospect of living in an empty marriage after the kids are gone, they can no longer continue business as usual. They need to communicate about their mutual goals and interests and ask how they can help each other reach them if they want to save the marriage. It’s important to look at the following things: discuss how you want your marriage to look in five years; recreate excitement and sexual interest the way it was when you first met; perhaps you need to bring in a counselor to help you discuss these delicate issues.
4. Facing a Divorce
Sometimes when a couple begins to face these issues, they realize that at least one of them is thinking about divorce in the near future. When a couple is unable to communicate appreciation for each other and instead one or both of them show contempt, that’s a strong sign the marriage is likely over. The longer a couple waits to begin communicating about their dissatisfaction with the marriage, the more likely the marriage will dissolve. As soon as the children leave the house, it’s important for the couple to begin discussing their future. Recognize the early warning signs and avoid slipping into denial if you want to avoid divorce.
If the marriage is filled with anger and animosity, divorce is often the best solution. Not all marriages are meant to last a lifetime–almost half of them don’t. Serial monogamy is a natural part of the human condition. Facing the fact that the marriage is over can be healthy for both spouses. Divorce isn’t good or bad, it’s just necessary when a couple has drifted apart and come to not like each other. Don’t think of divorce as a failure, but an opportunity to reinvent your life.