Divorce over 50: what to expect and how to cope

As Neil Sedaka once sang – ‘breaking up is hard to do’. It’s not particularly easy or pleasant at any stage in life but when you have perhaps been with the same person for 25 years or more and share children, a home and many mutual friends, separation can feel like your very last option.

With an empty nest and one or both of you retiring, you’ve likely found yourselves spending more time together. If this has brought about an assessment of where you are in life and the conclusion is that you can’t bear to spend the next 30 or so years walking down the same road, divorce might be on the cards.

Grey divorce, a term coined in the US around 2004, is a term referring to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older couples in long-lasting marriages. If it has a name and a Wikipedia page, you can take comfort in the fact that you are not the only person at your age contemplating starting over.

There are likely lots of things going through your mind at this point. You know you’re not happy but what’s the alternative? Can you bear to go a on first date again? Will you have to move house? Can you financially support yourself without giving up any of the hobbies or comforts you’re accustomed to?

On the flip side – perhaps you’ll meet someone who shares your passion for golf, someone who likes Indian food as much as you do or someone who can rock your socks in the bedroom department. New is exciting – but it’s also scary.

If you have made the decision to separate, there are a number of things that you must be prepared for. As much as your head tells you that this is the right decision, when a relationship ends, part of you dies – and there is a grieving process. It’s important to accept and understand these steps. Like grief, the feelings ease with time and you should allow yourself to go through the motions.

Guilt

It is often the most amicable of separations that carry the biggest burdens of guilt. Your partner hasn’t done anything wrong, you don’t argue, you have a lovely group of friends and you get on with each other’s families. But whatever you had has gone, and no amount of fanning the embers is going to bring that spark back. You know that your separation is for the best but every now and then a crippling feeling of “I shouldn’t have left them” will sweep over you. Ride the waves and remember that you have set them free to find the true love they deserve. If you weren’t happy, the chances are that wouldn’t have been deep down. Living alone is better than living a lie.

Loneliness

Even if you weren’t too keen to cuddle up to your partner of an evening, there was always somebody else there or on their way home. Whether you are staying in the marital home on your own or are moving into a new place, it can be very lonely for the first few months.

When you have been married for a long time, you likely have a lot of mutual friends. When you separate, you might feel that you don’t have the right to socialise with people that you knew as a couple. Try not to shut yourself away. You will be surprised at how understanding people are. There will of course be some that pick sides but these casualties cannot be avoided. Find new hobbies and join new groups to ensure that you are well placed to meet new people.

Along with friends, your divorce will also impact family members, extending beyond your own children and grandchildren. Perhaps you have regular Sunday lunches at your sister-in-law’s house, visit your father-in-law at his residential home or have season ticket seats next to your ex’s cousin for the football team you both support. Your routine will be shaken up and there might be things that you choose not to do in order to avoid interactions with those you have been close with for the best part of your adult life. You will miss and grieve for these people. Be kind to yourself on the bad days. Offer yourself the same comfort and advice that you would give to a best friend.

Fear

Am I capable of cooking for one or will I live off pre-prepared meals for one until I draw my last breath? Will I be able to change the bulb in the oven or am I buying a new kitchen?! Can I handle the pressure of a first date and is there anyone out there for me? Fear can strike at any point and can relate to financial, emotional or practical stresses. When there has always been someone else to share such worries with, going it alone is a scary prospect. You are a capable adult who was once single and you survived. You did it once, you can do it again!

There is life after your relationship has ended and while it might take a few months to adjust, this can also be a very exciting time in your life.

You’re not alone

As mentioned earlier, the divorce rate in over 50s is on the rise. Many baby boomers will confess that they got married because at the time, all their friends were getting hitched and having babies, they liked each other well enough and it just felt like the right thing to do. Fast forward to 2017 and people and expectations have changed. There are many divorcees going through similar situations.

Start over, on your terms

Be the person you are now. You don’t have to pretend to enjoy Opera, you don’t have to feign interest in football, you can be honest about your wants, needs and desires and become the most genuine version of yourself.

You know who you are and what you want

Being in a long-term relationship has taught you a lot about yourself and what you’re looking for in a partner. You should use this to your advantage. Meeting new people is exciting. Be honest and open and you’re sure to make connections with people you’re compatible with.

New people will enrich your life

You’re going to meet new people and you will do things with them that interest and excite you. By meeting interesting people, you’ll learn more and therefore become more interesting yourself. You’ll try new things, go to new places and do things that you’ve been putting off for years. You might even meet someone who gives you butterflies, someone that makes you feel like a teenager again. It’s perhaps inconceivable to think that you’ll fall in love again, but maybe you’ll find that one person you genuinely cannot live without. Every day brings new opportunities!

Like every relationship is different, so is every break up. Divorce isn’t an easy thing to go through, no matter how right it is for the pair of you. If you need advice or someone to talk to, relationship support organisation, Relate, has some great articles and case studies on its website.