Starting Over After Divorce at 50: Five Stories on Finding Yourself
Our relationships are powerful elements in our lives, which is a major reason why starting over after divorce at 50 (or any age!) can be such a pivotal moment. Realizing your marriage is no longer viable can make you feel that your entire life is over and that there is nothing to look forward to. But never fear—your life is still yours. There are chapters of your life yet to be written and new people you haven’t met yet waiting to adore you, whether platonically or romantically. You might also find yourself just truly enjoying being on your own after the compromise of a sub-par relationship.
But don’t take our word for it.
The women you are about to meet are living proof that you can still find yourself, even when divorcing in your 50s and beyond. Life after a gray divorce can actually help you recover your vital energy and wisdom, ensuring that you are restored to your true intended path. Let these women inspire you to take confident steps in your life and not waste a precious moment.
One day, quite by accident, Lisa (64) found an email to her husband with a lease document for an apartment. The couple had been married for 32 years, but it seemed he was planning to leave. Soon after finding the lease, Lisa uncovered the proof of his multiple affairs and infidelity. “I think he was a narcissist,” said Lisa. And as she looks back today, she attributes the downfall of their marriage to their combined focus on their son and their very busy careers.
I asked Lisa, a retired Navy Jag living in Texas, what advice she has for other women facing divorce. “Get help,” she said. “Divorce Care, a Christian organization, helped me heal. And I also saw a therapist.” She also added that it’s important to “Get yourself a financial education and be firm about what you expect out of the divorce. Keep going—you can handle more than you expect.”
Lisa’s energy and good humor are clear as she admits that she is happier now than she has been for many years. To hear her tell it, Lisa has found herself in starting over after divorce at 50+ and feels alive to the possibilities in her new life. Recently, she laughs, confidingly, she has met another man on an online dating site Zoosk—and they are in their six month together.
If you are looking for support as a mother, having been married to a narcissist, you will benefit from reading, “41 Things to Remember If You are Coparenting with a Narcissist.”
CJ is an emergency trauma nurse who married at the age of 21 and went on to have two daughters. Her marriage lasted 34 years until her divorce was finalized in 2019. CJ’s husband physically and psychologically abused their daughter, who finally disclosed the truth to her mother. The circumstances were difficult as her Ex was a police officer and she had to counter his angry threats by appealing to the Sheriff’s Office. Their friendship circle included police officers who all stuck by her husband.
CJ is now 61 and happily living alone. She kept working throughout the marriage breakdown and divorce. CJ relied on her close friends and a cousin who supported her through the trauma. She continues to live in the same small community in the upper Midwest, Wisconsin, where she resides in the house where her daughters grew up.
CJ says, “If we had divorced earlier and he had shared custody of my girls, he would have been alone with them,” she said. Her daughters have no contact with their father now, who retired from the police six years ago and so no longer wields such community influence.
CJ says she would consider another committed relationship if she could still have her own place and keep her autonomy. Like Lisa, however, trust is an issue for CJ after what happened. She too benefited from counseling and advises women to: “Be sure you have someone not directly involved (with the family) who you trust to talk with, someone who has your best interest in mind. A lawyer, therapist, advocate, or divorce coach, and take the time to work through all the decisions with them. They will have a perspective that will be invaluable.” CJ, an incredibly resilient woman, had to be so strong to stand her ground against immense pressure. Not only do her girls have a wonderful role model, CJ has found herself on her own terms. CJ’s story is proof that starting over after divorce at 50 can be transformative in many ways.
Jill’s story follows a different dynamic, with another set of circumstances and difficulties. Her divorce came when she was 47, after a year in a foreign country, with the pressures of work and increasing awareness that she and her husband were working abroad “together but alone.”
Jill and her husband had met at university and were married for 19 years. They were parents, colleagues, and best friends, but had “fallen out of love” and were “no longer compatible,” missing intimacy and the hobbies and activities they once had in common. Jill did some difficult soul searching and they discussed amicably what the future held for them. She leaned on friends and family and sought therapy.
Maybe you still love him as a friend. Perhaps he is your best friend. You trust him, you respect him… you just don’t want to be his wife anymore. Consider reading “How to Divorce a Nice Guy.”
She describes her “Aha!” moment when the therapist asked her: “Describe for me the place where you and your husband are happy together?” Jill’s mind went blank. She could not come up with an example. When she asked her Ex the same question, his reaction was similar. They both knew their time to part had come. She had six months of feeling the heavy loss of her partner and best friend after they separated amicably but found it gave her the possibility for a new lease of life at age 50. She has embraced this chapter as a time of recovery and discovery. She is now happier and more in control of her life—her role as a parent, her work in Europe, her friendships, and her love life—and feels better than she has in years. She stepped into the online dating world, and Jill now feels her “true bliss” with a new lover—they are several years into their relationship, and she celebrates her second love story. Jill’s story is a great example of how starting over after divorce at 50 can open new possibilities.
Jill is keen to say to women that the “Hollywood” version of divorce as a shameful, frightening, horrible event is unhelpful. Instead, divorce can be like pruning in winter, hard but necessary, leading to new growth for both of you, and a positive step in your life.
Ultimately, Jill listened to her inner voice, got help and stayed friends with her Ex. She is grateful and has perspective: she feels connected with her youthful self again in a new culture with a new partner. ¡Qué regalos!
The first person in her family to receive an education, Debby is a clinical social worker, teacher and ordained interfaith minister, living in New York City. She met her ex-husband as a 16-year-old and married at 19. Their marriage lasted 50 years. Debby is now 71 with two children and four grandsons.
She describes the main issues leading up to their divorce as relating to different parenting styles, his lifelong workaholic nature, and his diagnosis as being on the autism spectrum, which meant his emotional range was limited. Debby said they have a friendly relationship, live near each other in Manhattan, and get together with family but the marriage was always more a practical arrangement rather than a romantic union. If they were friends, she says, they would have remained married, but they were more like roommates. Debby feels they were never really suited to each other, and if she has one regret it is that she didn’t divorce earlier.
After their two-year legal separation, the couple converted their document into a no-fault divorce (they used a mediator). Debby is grateful that she is comfortable. She lives alone with her two dogs. Her independence was instilled in her throughout the marriage, as her ex-husband would spend long hours at work or away on business, so much that Debby felt she was a single parent. There was no infidelity nor abuse in Debby’s marriage, but she outgrew the relationship largely due to his real marriage being with his career in finance.
Debbie says “I did a lot of work on myself and I’m a lifelong learner,” and would say to other women contemplating divorce or going through one that it is never too late to start again,”there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Debby never pictured herself as a woman starting over after divorce at age 50+, but knows for sure that she is much happier to be on her own, answering to no one. There are, of course, moments of loneliness. But she reminds herself that she felt lonelier in the marriage without intimacy. She acknowledges that ultimately, her divorce was the “death of a fantasy,” and with this comes some sadness that she and her Ex could not grow old together.
For action steps, solid suggestions, and inspirational encouragement rebuilding your life, check out “100 Must Do’s for the Newly-Divorced, Independent Woman.”
I’d like to share my personal family experience to further illustrate the point of this article: you can start over later in life. My mother, Val, separated from my Dad when she was 46 after almost 20 years of marriage. He was 66 at the time of divorce. Alcohol played its part as much as the age difference affecting their respective careers. She told me later she cried in the shower every morning for two years while gearing up to make the decision to leave.
She took me (14) and my brother (13) to Sydney, which was about 100kms away from where we were born. She left the government psychologist job she had held for years and stepped into private practice.
Over the years, moving through and beyond her own divorce recovery, Mum built a thriving business, had a Good Housekeeping magazine advice column, and appeared on television as resident psychologist. Mum was a family therapist and marriage therapist. She dealt with many divorces and separations.
As her daughter, I observed how Mum took the bull by the horns after her divorce. She did meet another man, John, a jazz musician, who moved in to live with us. They traveled together, went to concerts, and generally had an amazing time for five years until he sadly died of cancer. Mum remained single until her death in 2017 at age 83.
Whenever I asked her if she fancied anyone, she said to me, over the years, she’d loved our father and John, and no other man would ever live up to those relationships. On her deathbed, she whispered to me that she loved my father. He had remarried in his late 60s and moved to Sydney to be nearer to us kids. Mum and Dad remained friends over the years until Dad passed at age 78. Mum visited him in his last days.
Starting Over After Divorce at Age 50: Endless Possibilities
If you need to end a marriage, don’t be afraid. You will likely have tried everything. Give it your best shot; that is all that you can do. Your life, God willing, will take a new path (spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically) and your experience will matter down the line. Starting over after divorce at 50 is not only possible, but can be highly transformative.
Here are four important things I want to remind you of:
- It is never too late to start again.
- Trust yourself. You can handle anything, as Lisa says.
- Your work and a good support group can be constants amongst the big changes.
- Love never completely dies.
Sarah Newton-John is a copy editor and proofreader by trade and someone who also enjoys writing. She is an Australian living in Spain since 2018 with her partner, two dogs, three chooks, and a cat. You can connect with Sarah here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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