It seems ironic, but for the first time in marriage history, your risk for divorce is higher as you age. This is especially true if you're 55 years or older. What's behind this new trend? It's multi-faceted. Millennials are cohabiting and delaying marriage until later in life, which is the reason their divorce rate has lowered. Meanwhile, couples that have been together for 20 years or more are divorcing. Here are a few reasons:
- Second or multiple marriages have a greater risk of divorce. Naturally, as people age there is a higher change of multiple marriages.
- Couples had problems for years but ignored and never resolved them.
- Empty nesters have a higher risk of divorce, especially if their marriage was built around raising their children.
- Death of a child or illness can change personalities and lead to resentment and emotional abandonment of each other.
- Addictions or mental health issues, such as depression, are present and not being treated.
- Couples feels they married too young, went through all the motions, and now fell out of love.
If you're looking at your marriage and wanting to save it from being a statistic, there are actions you can take starting today.
- It's not the number of years together that matter – it's the quality of emotional connection. A divorce doesn't "just happen." It's years in the making. Interrupting those years by talking to your partner, asking them how they feel about things, setting a vision with them, and working together to get along and continue being their partner is important. If you don't know how to start, simply ask your partner how they're doing. Actively listen. Don't wait for them to tell you there's a problem. Ask about it, work it out, and don't push it under the rug.
- Transitions are tough for couples who feel alone. Many older couples divorce shortly after the children left for college. These couples often put all their energy and love into their children, neglecting their marriage. This creates a marriage that is unstable after the children leave for college. Find fun activities just for you and your partner. Remember what kind of couple you were before the kids came into the picture. Don't wait to send that last child to college before you go dancing or take that weekend getaway.
- Physical and emotional intimacy are important. If you're feeling too old to be intimate with your spouse, talk to your health care provider. One of the leading reasons for the "gray divorce" is a lack of intimacy in the marriage. Your sexuality is a predictor of your overall health. It varies in life, but no longer wanting to share intimacy is a warning sign that something is not healthy in your body or emotions.
- Understand what's going on with each other biologically. Menopause doesn't only change a woman's body; it changes her brain chemistry with a drop in estrogen and oxytocin. As the hormones drop, women aren't as nurturing or tolerant. They may clash with their spouse if he's feeling fatigued, depressed, or experiencing sexual problems.
- Make sure you are your partner's biggest fan. Life is tough, and the older you get the more difficulty you have coping with stress. If your partner is withdrawn, critical, or continually unavailable, it's easy to begin feeling unloved and alone. Loneliness is an epidemic in today's face-paced world. If you can't turn to your spouse, you'll turn to someone who will listen, and spouses don't usually think of a therapist. It's not right, but it is a choice to begin talking to someone new. Don't wait for your partner to tell you how alone or unloved they feel. Ask them directly.
The number of years you've been together does not guarantee forever. Marriage takes work. It requires patience, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness – not one time but over and over and over again. The words "I do" are spoken easily but it's the actions of "I do" that help you create a marriage that you're grateful and proud to be a part of.