Well, you probably saw this coming. The world is going to hell, so why not: grandma and grandpa are getting divorced. So sad. So selfish. So silly. Do they even know what they’re doing? Who put these dopey ideas in their heads?
Well, maybe not your grandma and grandpa. But evidently lots of them, according to a NYTimes article that sniffs out a heating up of post-50 divorce:
Late-life divorce (also called “silver” or “gray” divorce) is becoming more common, and more acceptable. In 2014, people age 50 and above were twice as likely to go through a divorce than in 1990
, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. For those over 65, the increase was even higher. At the same time, divorce rates have plateaued or dropped among other age groups.
This certainly does seem sad to those of us who see elderly couples walking along liver-spotted-hand-in-liver-spotted-hand and go, “Aaawwwww, that’s so sweet.”
And it is most sweet and lovely when people age but their love for each other stays young.
But is their splitting really so sad?
Sometimes. Sometimes one spouse just can’t take it anymore—whatever “it” is in her case—and leaves the other high and dry. He can’t live without her, but she can’t live with him, and he reaps what they sowed.
But older couples don’t exist to look cute for our benefit. And most post-50 divorces are, yes, painful in the short run but not sad at all. It’s never sad to break free of a trap.
And that’s the thing. The absence of divorce in the AARP set wasn’t necessarily a sign of contentment. It was a sign of being stuck in a bad marriage. The marriage people feel they can break free of at 30 has long felt almost impossible to leave at 60. Money issues, lifestyle issues, lack of support from friends and family, lack of role models, no experience handling the things that single people handle (“I always let George/Martha take care of that”).
So all too often we had two people who were just a torment to each other but couldn’t break free from one another. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s the definition of hell.
So when you hear about granny heading for splitsville, don’t jump to sad conclusions. Granny, or gramps, may well be celebrating her or his ability, finally!, to break free of the pain, or boredom, or annoyance, or burden, or imprisonment of life with someone with whom it just doesn’t work any more.
It’s not easy, and if this is a friend or relative they need all your support and understanding. But they do NOT need your judgment or recriminations. In almost every case what they’re thinking is, “Dear Lord, I should have done this a long, long time ago.”
It’s not that senior marriages can’t benefit from couples therapy. It’s been our great joy to help many older couples find their way back to one another, and find a way to live together. It’s just that when a marriage is bad and you can’t make it better, it’s so, so, so much better to find your way to freedom. A new life. And getting acquainted with yourself, with whom you’ve maybe been out of touch for a long time.