It’s been about a decade since Brown’s research popularised the term “grey divorce” to describe this phenomenon – something that used to be a rarity, but now has become much more common.
“Well over a third of people who are getting divorced now are over the age of 50.”
More than one in three people who divorce in the US are older than 50, and one in four in the UK, according to research. I am seeing more couples in their mid-fifties going through this transition, especially after the pandemic.
What’s behind the increase?
- Prolonged Emotional Disconnection
The most significant reason for relationship deterioration I have noticed in my work is emotional disconnection. Over time, couples experience this disconnection due to a lack of communication, unresolved perpetual issues, or gradual drifting apart when starting to live their own lives. Work gets busy and it’s like “passing ships in the middle of the night”. Emotional distance generates feelings of loneliness, dissatisfaction, and a desire for a more meaningful and connected relationship.
- Changing Priorities and Goals
Life transitions in later stages, such as becoming empty nesters, retirement, or as expats returning to the home country which could be different for a couple who met in Hong Kong, can prompt individuals to contemplate their values and aspirations for the second half of their lives. If partners have divergent visions for their future and are no longer connected, it strains the relationship and separation/divorce might be the easier option.
- Perpetual Conflicts and Resentment
Long-term marriages accumulate conflicts, and while about 30% of couples’ issues are solvable, approximately 70% of conflicts are perpetual issues. These perpetual issues arise from differences in personality and fundamental values of what’s important at the core of these individuals and lifestyle preferences. When left unaddressed, they lead to an accumulation of resentment in the relationship, deplete trust and intimacy, and ultimately result in unhappy and unfulfilling marriages.
- Changing Societal Roles and Responsibility
Grey divorces can sometimes also be driven by individuals’ desires for personal growth and self-discovery. After years dedicated to family and career, some may finally get the mental and emotional space to explore new aspects of their identity, think about their interests, or focus on meaningful fulfilment outside the confines of their relationship.
- Financial Independence and Increased Life Expectancy
Older individuals who have achieved financial stability and independence may feel empowered to pursue divorce and decide not to stay in unhappy and unhealthy relationships. Moreover, with longer life expectancies, individuals may seek more meaning and less unhappiness in their remaining years. If their relationship is unsatisfying, divorce may be seen as an opportunity to do something to pursue a more meaningful life.
Avoiding Grey Divorce
Maintaining a long-term relationship requires consistent effort, patience, and work. Prioritising effective communication, emotional intimacy, shared experiences, supporting each other’s life dreams, and being there for one another are key elements in cultivating a strong and meaningful partnership. Recognising when to seek professional help is important because in my experience sometimes when the couples eventually are to come in, the partner who has been asking to engage in working on the relationship for more than 3-5 years, that partner’s foot is almost out of the door and they have given up. Then it is hard for them to come back and get over the built-up resentment.
RED FLAGS “Grey Divorce”
Warning signs of heading towards a grey divorce include emotional disconnection, broken communication, emotional distance, unresolved resentment, loss of shared goals and interests, not knowing your partner’s internal world and a lack of effort and investment in the relationship.
Reviving an Uninspiring Relationship
To reignite an old, flat, unexciting, uninspiring and full of resentment relationship, consider the following suggestions: creating a space for open and honest communication, prioritising quality time together, rekindling romance and passion, and exploring personal growth together. These efforts can help breath new life into the relationship.
Finally, while grey divorces are becoming more prevalent, your marriage doesn’t have to fall prey to this phenomenon. By recognising the warning signs, prioritising the relationship and each other, and implementing strategies to revive the connection, couples can work towards a more meaningful and lasting partnership. Any couples who have come to see me will be familiar with this sentence
“Maintaining a long-term relationship requires effort, and marriage demands consistent effort, patience and hard work.”
If you want things to improve in your marriage you have to prioritise your relationship and invest in it continuously, it requires commitment and understanding. It is your relationship and you are the only two people who know if you should fight for it to future-proof it.
Can we at MindNLife help you? If you need support with marriage, separation or divorce-related issues, get in touch.