Gray Divorce, A Therapist’s View of Break-Ups after 50

Gray Divorce, A Therapist’s View of Break-Ups after 50

“Gray Divorce” is a term used to describe couples age 50 and over who end their marriage. This trend is on the rise. The Institute of Family Studies conducted a study in 2012 about divorce. They concluded that divorce is declining among married people 25-39. But the divorce rate for older couples has risen notably since 1990. Being divorced at a more advanced time in one’s life presents some unique problems. 

Why is gray divorce increasing?

Old couple having argument at the home

First, why is the divorce rate increasing in this age group? AARP published a study in 2004 that gives some insight. They found several factors to be significant in explaining why this is happening. 

  1. We live longer

    Life expectancy has increased. More of us reach retirement age when we are still active and healthy. After raising children and working hard, more of us believe we deserve greater happiness. We don’t feel we should settle for a life that isn’t fulfilling.

  2. Kids leave home

    This factor was less significant than assumed prior to the study. Still, it has some impact on the numbers. Some couples “stay together for the sake of the kids.” They plan to stick with an unhappy relationship and leave once they are gone. Even when a husband and wife intend to stay together after the children leave, they may underestimate the effects of an empty nest. If they identify strongly in their role as mom or dad, they may find themselves suddenly unmoored. The challenge is to find new ways to relate to their partners.

  3. Economics

    Couples who own property together or who are more affluent tend to stay married compared with those with fewer means. According to a study at Bowling Green, couples with college educations (in all age groups) are less likely to divorce. Unemployment and financial hardship were major factors among divorcing seniors. While divorce almost always causes economic hardship, it is more difficult for older couples because they are likely to have fewer resources finding work, going back to school, or building a career. 

  4. Division of Property in A Gray Divorce

    By the time older couples decide to dissolve a relationship, retirements are anticipated, social security benefits have been calculated and often wills or trusts are in place. This can make dividing assets complex. If one spouse does not have enough retirement, financial considerations can become problematic.

  5. Second Marriages

     A previous divorce can increase your chances of a second divorce by 30 percent. This is true with older divorces, as well.

  6. Viagra

    Viagra has impacted relationships between older men and younger women because meeting the sexual expectations of a younger wife can be met. Sometimes this empowers an older man to leave.

On the positive side, older couples are less likely to divorce. 

The older the spouses, the less likely the relationship will end in divorce according to all studies mentioned in this article. Older couples who are leaving marriage also face unknown social and family consequences. Just when you should be packing to start your bucket list and visit the grandkids, you find yourself hunting for a smaller place and scheduling separate visits with busy kids. You may have significate financial worries. In our county, there is an agency, “Office for the Aging” that helps seniors with issues of all kinds. Seek out help in your region. 

How to get through a divorce after 50

We see many people of all ages that come to counseling because of a painful break-up. No matter what age you are, it takes time to recover and re-write your narrative. It takes courage. But for older folks, it takes a little extra resolve. When you are younger, you may be reeling from the fallout of a divorce, but most start to rebuild their lives knowing they still have time to recover financially by continuing to work and save or by finding new work or training for a position. These options may be limited for older folks.

Here are three things you can do to help yourself immediately during a break up no matter what age.

  1. Remember you have survived difficult times before. Try to recall when you had to face a really challenging situation and remember that you got through it. This should remind you that you are stronger than you think or feel at the moment.

  2. Reach out to friends or family that you feel are supportive. They will be able to provide some comfort or distraction and needed companionship. Also, listen to any feedback they may have. If you don’t have anyone nearby, then find a way to help someone. Volunteer or help someone with a task. This will take the attention off you and your problems for a while and give you a chance to feel good about helping.

  3. Get out into nature. Notice little things, like the color of the sky, the sound of birds, the color of a leaf. Nature is a wonderful healer.

I hope these will be helpful in moving you towards recovery and a new life. If you want more help, consider our free break-up resilience class. We also have a follow-up class for those who feel really stuck. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at 

Of course, we recommend counseling when it is possible and needed. Check out our article on “How to find a therapist that gets you.”

Myriam Mayshark, LMHC