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Why Older Couples Divorce

Why Older Couples Divorce

3 ways to protect your marriage and keep it strong.


More and more couples are splitting up as they grow older. In fact, a quarter of all divorces now involve those over 50. Reflecting this trend, the New York Times began a new feature on their Sunday Vows page called ‘Unhitched-Lessons Learned When It’s All Over’. Divorced couples are asked to look back at their life together, reflect on its unraveling, and try to understand why their marriage could not be saved.

The trend is puzzling. Many people spend years looking forward to this season of life. They imagine the peace and quiet, lovely dinners in restaurants without tantrums, and trips and vacations to far off places they’ve only dreamed of for years. No more frenzied carpools, no more orthodontist appointments, PTA’s and nights spent chasing the kids to do homework and take baths are but a distant memory. Sounds awesome, so what went wrong?

Our sages advise: "Who is wise? The one who is able to foresee the future” (Talmud Tamid 32a). You can strengthen your marriages now by contemplating about the life that awaits you down the road. Prepare and invest in your tomorrow as you live today.

Lonely in the Empty Test

Couples who have spent years parenting and working hard on their careers through their 20’s and 30’s surprisingly discover that they are not the same people they were when they began their journey together. Over the newly quiet dinner table they find awkwardness. Husband and wife realize that the person sitting across from them seems unfamiliar. Through all the chaos of the ‘wonder years’ we sometimes evolve into different people. We wake up one morning, the kids are gone, and we don’t recognize the intimate stranger with whom we share our life.

Researchers tracking divorce rates wrote about this in a paper called The Grey Divorce. They report that in 1990, fewer than 1 in 10 individuals who divorced were 50 or older. Almost 20 years later, the number jumped to 1 in 4. In 2009, more than 600,000 people ages 50 and over got divorced. If we pay attention to the warning signals, we can try to ensure that we do not become part of these statistics.

Warning Bells

There are signs that we ignore as we go on living ‘the same old same old’. Usually, it is not one devastating emotional earthquake that suddenly rocks a marriage. Instead, there are small cracks along the fault line that ultimately push a husband and wife away from each other. The craters formed become too big a divide. The marriage is now beyond repair. What are some warning bells?

Missed Cues

A husband or wife tries to reach out and signals a desire to spend more time together. He wants to go out more often. She says she’s too tired and besides, she can’t leave the kids at night. She asks to talk together more and tries to communicate her fears or frustrations. He says ‘it’s all good, stop worrying so much’ and does not give her the feeling that he is listening. These are missed cues that keep repeating themselves until a person just grows too weary and stops trying.


When asked to extend oneself physically or emotionally, some individuals withdraw instead. Both men and women find it easy to discover different avenues where they seek a safe haven. Here are some to watch out for: long nights on work projects, after office get-togethers, being consumed with a hobby or leisure activity, child rearing responsibilities, caring for aging parents, too many hours in the gym, community events or intense social friendships. Of course we all need outlets and personal space. But once we use these outlets as means of retreat from a spouse, the danger to future stability becomes obvious.

Loss of romance

With all the stress of daily living, it becomes easy to put off intimacy and romance. Long discussions about paying bills, school issues, and difficulties with the children overtake our conversations. Sentimental walks and sweet talk between husband and wife seem to be part of a past life. Faced with new couple time after years of living all about the kids, this time together can feel strange. It becomes easy for husband and wife to lead separate lives each on their own laptop or iPhone. The empty nest is filled with silence; there is barely what to say to one another. Passion must be rediscovered.


3 Solutions to Protect Your Marriage

I read about one couple whose kids had moved on and now they were on the verge of divorce. They each felt in the other’s way. Their solution was to stay married but live in two separate homes and schedule weekly time together. After putting decades into a marriage, there must be better ways to spend our remaining years together.

Here are three solutions to incorporate into our lives right now:

1. Constantly get to know your partner

Ask questions about his world, evolving likes and dislikes, nourish her hopes and dreams. Don’t assume that your spouse is not changing or growing. Talk about where you see yourselves down the road. Share your visions for the future. Take the time to listen to each other’s desires and fears.

2. Create time for romance

Be sure not to neglect your intimate life, both emotional and physical. Of course we are all aware of the importance of date night. But how many of us really make it happen? And once we do, how do we make the night come alive?

Is the time spent together having conversations about the kids or rehashing old disagreements? Besides enjoying a couple’s dinner together, nurture your inner selves. Break out of the old routine. Visit a different part of town, take a class together, try a novel cuisine. Don’t live passively. Find ways to explore new roads and ignite a zeal for living. And while you do, don’t forget to speak lovingly and give each other words of gratitude each day. I have found that showing sensitivity and saying ‘I love you’ is the crazy glue that keeps us together.

3. Include your spouse in your life

When you find an activity that inspires you, share your enthusiasm with your partner. Talk about your interests. Explain why this is important to you. Find a way to include your spouse. If you’ve taken up running or tennis, or if art has now captured your attention, ask yourself how you can help your partner feel involved. I have met many couples who have grown closer after one invited the other to attend a Torah class that had sparked a spiritual awakening. The point is to share your passion.

When we care for the garden of young love, the fruits of our efforts will bring us joy and contentment long after our youngest child bids us farewell and we are able to share our lives together with blessing.

Published: August 17, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 18

(14) Steven, December 26, 2014 1:29 PM



(13) Anonymous, September 11, 2013 5:54 PM

Not noble at all......

Thank you for a well written and informative article. I am in my early twenties and my parents marriage was on the rocks from early on. They stayed together for 23 years just for us kids. I grew up in a war zone, no one would believe me if I said how bad things were.... I was so relieved when my parents finally split up, I don't know why they waited for the kids to move out..... So, I think that staying for the kids is a lousy excuse to stay in a lousy marriage. The kids would rather the parents split up, and give everyone some peace and quiet.

(12) Anonymous, August 23, 2013 9:15 PM

on the other hand

I know this doesn't reflect the majority, but there are many couples who wait til this stage to divorce because although they were unhappy together earlier on, they felt it was in their children's best interests to stay together, if they could get along, and not put them through a divorce. Many couples this age have launched their children, and in fact, are now pursuing their happiness. In these cases, I believe it was noble of them to wait.

(11) scott, August 23, 2013 7:29 AM

No taksey-backseys

What you miss was the true cause of divorce for these people.


I see couples treat each other with disrespect every day. Demanding demeaning wives and husbands that use sharp words or more or less emotionally abandon their marriage. Both parties so wrapped up in the unimportant that they lose the most important thing. I can't tell you how many men I've talked to that have told me that the only reason why they stayed married was for the kids. And several of them have exited their marriage only months after the last one left the house. I'm sure it's the same with women, but I've not had that kind of conversation with someone else's wife.

Our daughter is important, but she wasn't around when we got married and she won't be around when she gets married and has kids of her own. She's not the reason for our existence. The business and property is just money. Someday we will sell it. Our parents will die. Our friends have their own lives and may or may not be around in twenty years. Those are the subjects of 95% of our fights. The other 5%...that's probably me being a putz. Can't help that.

The only thing that will linger from these fights about these temporary parts of life is the resentment we have for each other about how we fought and how often. There are no takesy-backseys. The words that come out of your mouth are forever.

When I think about growing old with my wife I think about how my actions right now will affect that time. When the kids are gone and the business is sold am I going to want to spend 24/7 with that woman? And will she want the same?

When I'm really mad or disappointed and of course completely right to be mad (just ask me I'll tell you-really loudly) I ask myself whether or not what I am about to say is the preamble to our divorce decree. And I try control myself and say it nicely. Because our future depends on it.

Bjan, November 18, 2013 2:36 PM

Wonderfully Stated

Wise comment and very true!

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