I became a front line expert on midlife divorce when my own marriage came tumbling down. There I was, in my mid-40s, trying to make sense of the dissolution of a nearly 25-year union that had produced three amazing kids. I’ve also witnessed dozens of midlife divorces in my psychotherapy practice. And most divorcing folks fit the same mold. Whether we push for the divorce or rail against it, we are all – to a person – confused and overwhelmed at best.
The recent stats on midlife divorce are startling. People over 50 are divorcing in higher numbers than ever before. And women are leading the charge – filing in greater numbers than men. The “gray divorce” rate has doubled for this population in the last two decades.
The first thing I know for sure about deciding to divorce in midlife is that it’s an incredibly lonely endeavor. Most of life’s other big decisions – where to go to college, what career to pursue, if and when to marry or have kids – have usually been made with the input of family members, educators, partners, and friends.
But midlife divorce is murkier. Usually, you’ve been married to this person for many years. Perhaps even most of your adulthood. In your marriage, you’ve established a life, a routine, and a supposition that you are in it for the long run. Now, you think, you’re done with all you’ve built. And thinking about dismantling it is likely the most torturous decision of your life. Even the most supportive of friends and family can’t tell you what to do. And no therapist, guru, shaman or life coach can tell you if it’s time to leave your marriage. Only you can do that.
Secondly, midlife isn’t really midlife unless you’re 39. We call it midlife as a way of gently sidestepping the reality that we likely have more time behind us than ahead. So, divorcing in what we call midlife is really a decision based on the hope that there’s a better way to live out the healthy years we have left. Sorry for the splash of cold water, but it’s true. I hope you live to 100 but, fact is, few of us do. If you’ve spent months or years unhappily wondering if your marriage is a happy one, it’s time to take action. Either work on your marriage or don’t – up to you – but do something. And watch the clock.
I also know divorcing in midlife derails the essence of what you thought your life would be. In a sense, your life’s compass, map and GPS have vanished. You’re lost – wandering in the crushing disappointment that the life you promised to live until the end of your days can’t provide you what you need to feel happy and fulfilled. And, in that realization, you’re going to hurt and disappoint the very people you never thought you could. So when you’re choosing to diverge from what nature and biology and TV sitcoms hold as inalienable truths, you may feel like Atlas – dually shouldering a weight-of-the-world decision while planning for the frontier of a whole new life.
Because marriages and divorces are like snowflakes – no two are exactly alike – I’m on a mission to learn more about women’s experiences with midlife divorce. I knew my situation wasn’t unique but I didn’t know where to look for a like-minded community. How did other women make this decision? What finally caused them to pull the plug? Why did they get into their marriages in the first place?
So, I’m in the process of writing the book I so desperately needed to read at that time. And, as part of that process, I’ve designed a brief, anonymous survey for divorced women 40 and over. More than a thousand women have already shared their personal experiences with divorce in midlife. These thoughtful women have openly shared their pain and their joy – and the lessons they came away with following divorce. The survey is still open if you’d like to chime in. I’d love – love! – to hear from you.
I’m excited to share the results of this survey. For you, and you, and you. For all the women in midlife poised on the brink of this momentous and far-reaching decision. And for those of you who have already been there – whether you’re still nursing your battle scars or have long left your divorce in the emotional dust. I realize what others think or say may not change your life – but, at the very least, their experiences may make you feel less lonely. You have a community – a real, feeling, knowing community. And, as the research bears out, you are very, very far from alone. And that, too, I know for sure.