In the United States today, a marriage only has a 50-50 chance of lasting. But it can still be surprising when a divorce happens after a long marriage. Psychologists say divorce is almost always painful, whether it comes after three years or 30. With the number of couples divorcing after age 50 on the rise, it’s not surprising that older men and women experience many of the same reactions younger people feel when the marriage is over. The difference may be in what leads to the divorce.
For couples divorcing after a long marriage, there may have been a gradual decay of the relationship. The problems they experience are frequently not so much characterized by conflict, but by a gradual drift into parallel lives. With a dual income family, both partners may become deeply involved in their careers, leaving little time for each other. In a more traditional setting, the husband may settle into a career pattern, with a stay-at-home mom putting all her energy into the children and their activities. Their separation and eventual divorce are often not dramatic. In many cases, neither partner is surprised, although family and friends may be shocked. It may even be that one or both partners decided to divorce years earlier, but elected to wait until all the children were out of the house.
Children are rarely an issue for the divorce that comes after a long marriage. In most cases, the children are grown or at least in college, and there is no custody issue. That does not mean, however, that the children won’t have strong reactions to their parents’ separation, so it’s important to take their feelings seriously and spend some time helping them adjust to this new reality.
Finances can be huge at the end of a long marriage, since there has been plenty of time to build up monetary assets. Attorneys experienced in divorce after a long marriage can help couples work out such issues as alimony and spousal support, health insurance coverage and the right to retirement and pension accounts. If both husband and wife have worked for years, each is probably capable of supporting themselves. But if the wife has stayed home for the duration of the marriage, finances will be a big priority to settle. She has been out of the work force for years and may find it difficult to get a job that will pay enough to support her. And if this is the case, and the wife keeps the home, the husband may feel quite resentful if he is the one who financed the purchase.
If you’re going through a divorce after a long marriage, it’s crucial to give yourself time. Don’t fight the emotions. Instead, accept you’ll be dealing with painful issues, and know you’ll eventually start to feel better. Numbness and depression are emotions almost everyone feels when going through a divorce. This is especially true when one partner discovers the other is having an affair. Even when no infidelity is involved, it’s common to feel depressed about the end of the relationship. There can be a build-up of years of disappointment and resentment, and each partner will experience many painful emotions. One or even both partners actually may have a sense of relief that the marriage is ending, but there are still many difficult emotions to work through before a sense of peace is achieved.
Don’t hesitate to seek professional help as you work through all the painful emotions. Find a therapist who has experience working with divorcing people. He can first be a supportive listener and then help you develop healthy coping skills. For some people, a short-term antidepressant is also helpful. Many churches offer divorce recovery programs tailored to the needs of both men and women. These programs are a good opportunity to meet and share with others who understand what you’re experiencing.