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Gray Marriage

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We talk about the threat gay marriage poses to the institution of marriage. But what’s happening to gray marriage. Marriage in the over 50 set isn’t as stable as it used to be. A Wall Street Journal spread entitled “Gray Divorcés” points out that,    “For the new generation of empty nesters, divorce is increasingly common.”

The overall divorce rate spiked in the 1980’s and has been dropping ever since. But divorce in couples over 50 is higher than ever. In 1990 one in ten of all divorces happened in couples where the spouses were fifty and older. In 2009, it was one in four.

This is not about more men leaving their wives and looking for younger women. A recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons shows that 27 percent of divorcés cite infidelity as a top reason for their breakup.  That’s about the same rate as in the general population.

You’d think that with maturity and more years to learn to cope with a partner’s idiosyncrasies, we’d see a little more stability in couples this age. Some experts attribute the phenomenon to the fact that people are living longer, with one stating:  ”You can’t divorce if you’re dead.” People who have stayed together for the kids still have decades of healthy life ahead of them after those kids are out of the house. For some, that’s too long.

Most of this increase in divorces occurs in folks aged 50 to 64 — baby boomers.  Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University analyzed census data and concluded that boomers who married in the 70’s did so for more “individualized” and “ego-centric” reasons than in the past. More than ever, spouses were looking for self-satisfaction in separate roles outside that of being a good wife, or husband, or mother, or father, or provider.   Frankly, baby boomers are probably more selfish than previous generations.  As Professor Brown says, many of them have “complex marital biographies.” In other words, they have been divorced before.  This doubles the risk of divorce for couples fifty and older and quadruples the risk to those 65 and up.

Divorce is still really hard on kids, even if they’re out of the home. It still causes plenty of dislocation in the lives of adult children. And sometimes there are unforeseen consequences, especially in a bleak economy. The Journal points out that the family home is often awarded to the ex-wife in a divorce settlement — not such a blessing in a down market.

And, divorcing fathers often see a decline in their contact with at least one of their children when kids are forced to choose sides.

Here’s some advice. Try.  Being an empty nester means some things will change— not bad habits or attitudes regarding one’s spouse? Date her.  Get to know him again.  You might find some things you like. If you do, focus on those.


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