Did you know that the divorce rates for people over 50 have doubled since the 1990s, and tripled for people aged 60 and above? Well, a Pew Research Centre report says just that. The reason we begin with stats is to tell you that no matter how overwhelmed you might be feeling, you are not alone. Divorce at 50 is becoming increasingly common and we have many famous couples to vouch for that.
Bill and Melinda Gates caused quite a stir when they announced their separation in May 2021. A divorce after 25 years of marriage! In a Twitter statement they said, “We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.” Even a cursory glance at the statement may pull you in at the “next phase of our lives” part.
It’s true! With increased life expectancy, there is an entire phase of your life that you have to look forward to. Among other reasons, this is primarily why divorce has become a viable option for people unhappy in marriages irrespective of their age and the length of their marriage. However, age does make divorce for quinquagenarians and above a different sort of challenge. Let us explore how to survive a divorce after 50 to help better your chances at dealing with it in a healthy manner.
“Gray Divorce” or “Silver Splitters” is now part of common parlance when talking about divorce of people over 50, roughly speaking. That there are more terms to describe this occurrence shows its increasing frequency as well as the reducing social stigma surrounding divorce of mature men and women.
Lisa, homemaker, and ex-teacher, 58, split up with her husband Raj, businessman, 61, much later in life, after both their children were married and living with their respective families. She says, “It was not some deep, dark secret that Raj kept hidden from me or even an extramarital affair. Raj appeared very quiet but has always been extremely possessive and aggressive. Not that he hit me or anything, it was just that he thought he owned me.
“When my kids were young, it made sense to put up with all this. But when I found myself an empty-nester I just wondered why I should put up with it any longer. Besides, we had no common interests. Even if I never found anyone else to share my life with, at least I could enjoy it without someone’s constant glowering and interference,” she added.
People over 50 may get divorced for various reasons. Like Lisa, midlife divorces are mostly the result of loss of love. Marital dissatisfaction or discord, or a low-quality partnership affecting a person’s mental and physical health is universal no matter the kind of relationship– (same-sex/opposite sex), age, ethnic background, region. But there may be various factors affecting the rise in cases of divorce in older marriages. Some of them are:
- Empty Nest Syndrome: If the glue that held a couple together was merely a shared responsibility of raising children, the moment they are gone, a couple may find it difficult to find a reliable anchor to tether them to the marriage together
- Longer life expectancy: People are living longer. They are more hopeful of the remaining years of life, often seeing it as a new phase rather than a grim tale of waiting for the end
- Better health and mobility: Not only are people living longer, they are leading fitter, more active and youthful lives. Hope for the future makes people want to live happier lives, follow adventures, pursue hobbies, alone or with a new partner
- Financial independence for women: More women are financially independent than before. They may no longer “need” a partner for financial stability, making a bad or unsatisfactory relationship more disposable
- New definitions of marriage: There has been a shift in the dynamics of marriage. More people may be coming together in holy matrimony for reasons based in love in comparison to more “practical” or traditional reasons based in patriarchal forward movement of the family structure. Loss in affection and intimacy, therefore, naturally becomes an increasingly decisive factor for divorce
- Reduced social stigma: It has just become easier to find more support for your decision to end a marriage than ever before. Society understands it slightly better. Offline and online support groups for divorce are to vouch for the same
Divorce After 50 – 3 Mistake To Avoid
Dissolution of marriage can be daunting at any stage of life but even more so when you get a divorce at 50 or beyond. Companionship, security and stability are the things people crave the most when heading into the sunset of life. So, when life throws you a curve ball at that stage, starting over is no walk in the park. Yes, even when you’re the one who wants out.
If you are seeking divorce over 50, here are 3 mistakes to avoid:
1. Don’t let emotions get the better of you
Whether you’re the one who wants to move on or the decision has been thrust upon you, getting divorced at this stage of life can leave you feeling overwhelmed with emotion. No matter how taxing this reality feels, don’t let your emotions get the better of you and cloud your judgment. The desire to get it over with as quickly as possible is understandable.
However, when you lose sight of the bigger picture or long-term stakes, you risk jeopardizing a secure future. It is important to not view your divorce as a war that you need to win. To make sure you have all your bases covered, you have to set aside the brimming emotions and approach it as a calculated business transaction. Even if the divorce is by mutual consent you must prepare yourself to look out for your future.
2. Not negotiating smartly can be a mistake
Divorced and broke at 50 can be the worst combination. By this age, you’re likely to be financially stable and leading a comfortable life, thanks to years of hard work, meticulous financial planning and savings. By not negotiating smartly, you risk losing it all in an instant. After all, finances are one of the most overlooked effects of divorce.
You don’t want to be staring at starting a new career at a time when you’d be planning a retirement. Besides, factors such as medical conditions and ageism can get in the way of your ability to build a life for yourself from scratch. So, make sure you negotiate smartly for a fair division of retirement accounts, social security benefits, assets as well as securing alimony, if applicable.
3. Losing control
All the documentation and legal jargon can be hard to navigate and make sense of. Even so more so, when you’re not in the best emotional state. While your legal counsel or divorce lawyer will be there to guide you at every step of the way, you must not lose control of the process.
Don’t tell your lawyer to handle it all and tell you what to do. Do your research, talk to people, get advice from different reliable sources and draw up a mediation checklist to make sure you know exactly what you’re in for during a divorce proceeding. Let your lawyer be the expert who guides your decision and not the one who steers them.
Once the storm of legal proceeding has passed, you may find yourself struggling to pick up the pieces and surviving divorce after 50. As long as you look at it as a chance for a do-over, you can reclaim your life and steer it in any direction possible. From embracing the liberating new-found independence from a long, stifling marriage to getting back on the dating scene again, the world is your oyster.
1. Allow yourself to grieve
Leaving your husband in your 50s is not easy. No matter how frequent it is becoming, leaving your wife in your 50s is not an everyday occurrence. You have seen a lot and are a tough cookie, we get it! But you don’t need to be hard on yourself. No matter if you were the one who was caught by surprise in the divorce, or the one to initiate it, you are allowed to feel everything that you are feeling.
Recognize your emotions. Fear, overwhelm, betrayal, anger, tiredness, or something else. Ask yourself, “I am divorced and alone at 50. It’s not easy. What am I feeling?” Denial is the biggest disservice you can do to yourself. Recognizing your emotions is the first step to taming them. It’s a battle half won!
2 . Let the bitterness dissolve
If you want to learn how to start over after divorce at 50 plus, you must begin by letting resentments and blame go. If you are consumed by bitterness, you might find it difficult to focus on the inevitable- life after divorce. You can try the following to manage negative thoughts:
- Practice journaling to jot down your thoughts
- Practice gratitude listing. Research has shown gratitude positively affects psychological well-being
- Practice daily affirmations. If you have faith in new age spirituality, find solace in the practice of manifestations and Law of Attraction
- Approach trusted friends or family members and share your feelings with them
- Seek help from a mental health counselor or therapist for guided and supervised release of negative emotions
3. Review your definition of relationships
You must switch your viewing glasses if you are thinking of your past marriage as a failure. There is tendency to see divorce, breakup, or a separation as making a relationship incomplete. This mentality makes it more difficult to let go of the resistance and embrace the new phase that is awaiting you.
Nothing is eternal. You must remember, in one way or the other, everything comes to an end. That it ended doesn’t mean it was incomplete. See your divorce as nothing more than a milestone. A satisfactory end to an important phase in your life and the beginning of a new one.
4. Rediscover yourself
Ending decades-long marriage can bring with it confusion and disorientation. The pace and tone of life, satisfying or not, does become familiar and comfortable. To tackle that disorientation, you will have to reacquaint yourself with “You”. You will not only need to depend on yourself from here on but you will also be spending a lot of time with yourself. Make sure to rebuild your relationship with yourself before worrying about how to rebuild life after divorce at 50. Try the following ways of self-love:
- Take a vacation
- Revisit an old hobby
- Reacquaint yourself with food that you liked. Individuals in-charge of cooking in the household tend to overlook their personal taste and choices in food
- Try mixing up your wardrobe, or repainting your home
- See if you would like to meet new people
5. Prepare yourself for dating in your 50s after divorce
Talking about meeting new people, you will eventually want to date other people later in life. It is possible that you are not at that stage right now, and think you never will. That is completely normal. It is completely understandable to not want to go through the same ordeal once again after spending a long time with a single person.
But even if you were not looking for romantic connections, you may eventually have the mental bandwidth to forge new friendships. Companionship may even be helpful later in life. Studies have shown that as people grow older they begin to find more value in activities with friends as compared to family members. When dating in your 50s after divorce be mindful of a few things:
- Be wary of rebound relationships: First heal yourself before seeking companionship. Do not try to fill a void
- Avoid comparison with your old partner: Don’t approach people with the same lens smudged by your past experiences. Let this be a new start
- Try new things: The dating scene would have changed by the time you get another chance at it. Don’t be afraid of exploring new venues for dating. There are a lot of options if you look in the right places. Look for mature dating apps and sites such as SilverSingles, eHarmony and Higher Bond.
6. Focus on yourself – health and finance
Surviving a divorce at 50+ in a healthy way is only possible if you vowed to keep your health and happiness in the center. You can enjoy the next phase of yourself if you are physically, emotionally and financially fit to take care of yourself. See your divorce as as the best motivation to get your affairs in order.
Things to do to take care of your health after divorce post 50
- Develop and follow an exercise routine. Visit local gyms and fitness centers. Don’t forget to approach other exercisers or the training staff. Not only do they provide a good company, they also ensure that your follow proper technique. This is especially important as the body ages
- Try other avenues for movement, such as swimming, a weekly city walking group, dancing etc. It may also help you develop a community
- Pay attention to your diet. Visit your GP and get yourself thoroughly tested. Consult a dietician to come up with diet plan that suits your body requirements
- Consider seeking support in online support groups for divorce or offline ones in your vicinity. With your divorce truly leave the miserable husband syndrome tag behind
Things to keep in mind to take care of finances in a divorce after 50
- Make sure you have an inventory of your assets and liabilities as a couple. Don’t forget joint credit card debts. Track your retirement savings and life insurance policies
- Think of the house. Are you keeping it? If yes, will it be financially viable to upkeep it with a single person’s income. Are their mortgages and other associated costs
- This is a reminder. Community property laws in nine US states make one spouse half partner in all debts of the other spouse, known or unknown. Consult a family law attorney to make sure you know what are you a part of
- Check the clause in your health insurance specially if you were sharing it with your spouse until now. Where do you stand now?
- Divorce after 25 years of marriage is difficult. Yet the divorce rate for people over 50, or gray divorce, has doubled since the 1990s and tripled for people aged 60 and above
- Midlife divorces are mostly the result of empty nest syndrome, longer life expectancy, financial independence, reduced social stigma, better health and mobility
- Don’t lose control of your emotions, and the entire divorce process and negotiate smartly when getting a divorce at age 50 or later
- Allow yourself to grieve, let the bitterness dissolve, rediscover yourself and review the purpose of marriage and companionship for starting over after divorce at 50
- Prepare yourself for dating after 50. Keep your health and finances in order
We understand, life after divorce for a man over 50 can be challenging. It can be an ordeal for a divorced at age 50 woman. If handling your gray divorce is becoming too overwhelming for you to manage, consider seeking support from a separation and divorce counselor. Should you need it, Bononology’s panel of experts is here to help you.
This article has been updated in November 2022.