There was a time when every year of marriage was faithfully attached to a specific kind of gift: paper, silver, gold, emerald, or diamond. The tradition not only kept a long list of industries dropping rose petals down the aisle to the bank. It also made metaphorical references to the various stages – and challenges – of marriage. Thirty years, for example, has traditionally been the “pearl” anniversary, representing divinity and wisdom. How ironic, then, that so many couples see it as an endpoint and divorce after 30 years of marriage.
If you are in this position – three decades into marriage and raising a family – are you surprised to be here? Did you quietly see it coming? Did you want it? Or did you do everything in your power to hang on?
What we do know is that the rate of divorce as a whole has been declining, especially among Millennials and younger generations. But for those over 50, the rate of divorce is actually on the rise.
So, what’s going on? What’s happening (or not happening) that’s causing couples who have stuck it out for so long to divorce after 30 years of marriage?
Just as importantly, who is initiating these divorces? And what are the dissatisfactions and unmet expectations that finally reach a breaking point?
When you consider the statistics for gender-based post-divorce life, it really is remarkable that women continue to be the initiators of most divorces. Post-divorce life, after all, statistically doesn’t favor women, especially financially. Why, then, are women initiating divorce more often than men?
The truth is, if both you and your husband or Soon-to-Be-Ex take a fearless look at your marriage, you will most likely come face-to-face with signs that really aren’t so surprising.
It’s easy to slip into believing that, if you have made it this far, you’ll cross the finish line together.
But women aren’t so resigning.
They tend to come to married life educated and informed.
They often have careers before and during their marriages.
They know what women are accomplishing in the world. And they know what they are capable of accomplishing.
They dream, create, invent.
And yet, they continue to be the primary homemakers and caretakers in their families, as if the Betty Crocker era never skipped a beat.
So, should either spouse be surprised that the woman expects more from marriage than just a home and financial security? That she wants emotional connection, communication, balance in caretaking, and equality that actually feels like equality?
She may have done everything in her power to keep her commitment against divorce.
After 30 years of marriage, however, she has had a lot of time to think, ponder…deflate.
She has also had a lot of time to imagine the life she’s not living.
And, given longer life expectancies, she may see a long prison sentence ahead if things don’t change soon.
Add in the predictable way that aging makes people less tolerant of others’ habits and tempers, and it’s understandable how a spouse can seem like a stranger.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The day-to-day responsibilities of raising children can drop a curtain of distraction on the marital relationship.
It’s so easy to see the world through their eyes – to immerse yourself in their needs, their activities, their dreams…
…and to forget your own.
But what happens when their dreams demand to be lived, as they should? (Check out “Divorce and One Woman’s Journey” and see if you identify with this divorce tale.)
One by one the children leave to find life and love – just as their parents once did. And you are left to cheer them on from what has become a lonely, forgotten place.
It happens. It doesn’t have to. But it does.
And that 30 years that once seemed a lifetime away has suddenly marked itself on your calendar.
It also presents itself as a moment of reckoning: What do you have to show for your marriage?
Do you share the same values? The same life vision?
Do you still hold one another in respect, affection, awe?
Do you even recognize one another anymore – enough to say, “Oh, there you are! Let’s get back to the business of us”?
The realization that your relationship has been on the back burner while taking care of “life” and others doesn’t have to mean the end of your marriage.
But sometimes the chasm is too great to bridge with any memory of intimacy or common vision.
In that case, it’s important to go into divorce with your eyes open. Acknowledge the signs you have been living with for years so you let go of what never was and manifest what can be.
And be prepared for the changes likely to come with getting a divorce after 30 years of marriage.
Divorcing in your 50’s and 60’s comes with its own unique experiences and consequences. Do you know what a gray divorce means for you?
If you stayed in your marriage for financial security, for example, you will likely see a decline in your finances and lifestyle.
You may lose access to a growing retirement fund, forcing you to seek financial guidance and closely examine how you spend and save.
You may have to enter or reenter the job market in order to pay your bills. And that can be a daunting experience if you haven’t worked outside the home or in more than a part-time capacity for years.
All these “notes from a cautionary tale” may make the gray in “gray divorce” seem a little grayer. But there is actually a very bright, hopeful chapter at the end of the tale.
In many ways, this time in your life can be the most freeing, despite the circumstances.
Unlike younger divorcées, you don’t have the pressure to remarry and have children (or more children).
You are probably much more comfortable in your own skin and know yourself better than you did 20-30 years ago. So, you are now able to be a better, more accepting friend to yourself than you were then.
You may still have a sex drive that longs for partnership. But chances are it’s not turbo-charged by the same fury of your younger days, meaning that you can make decisions with wisdom and (relative) calmness. Consider this SAS article, “Finding Your Sexy Again After Divorce.”
You are also likely to find much more contentment and satisfaction in the companionship of friends and social connections. And that’s regardless of whether or not romance and/or remarriage are on the horizon.
Yes, there is a lot to think about and learn about life after gray divorce.
But there is also a lot to look forward to in this next chapter that you get to write and illustrate…hopefully with a giant box of crayons. Let loose and listen to yourself. Color outside the lines.
Whether you are thinking about divorce, dealing with it, or recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing.
SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you — and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
*We support same-sex marriages and fluid gender identities. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”