In a recent interview with The Guardian, I delved into the intricate landscape of mature marriages—those enduring 20 years or more or where couples have gracefully crossed the 50-year-old milestone.
Referred to as the ‘grey divorce,’ this phenomenon unveils itself in the counselling realm of my online relationship clinic.
In this post, I explore the reasons behind the breakdown of these enduring unions and the complexities that lead couples to seek separation or divorce.
The tales from my online couples counselling clinic shed light on a prevalent reality that echoes the challenges faced by couples navigating the intricate journey of long-term commitment in the later stages of life.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to this:
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Empty nest syndrome
Once children have left the home, some couples may find they have grown apart and no longer have a shared focus. Because many couples get caught up in parenting and focusing on their children for years on end, they neglect their relationship.
The absence of the roles and responsibilities associated with parenting can reveal underlying issues that still need to be addressed or resolved.
Individuals experiencing midlife crises may undergo significant personal changes and question the direction of their lives. A midlife crisis is often a time of enormous change and emotional upheaval. These changes can strain a marriage, especially if one partner feels that the other is not supportive of their personal growth.
Other individuals may reflect on their lives and realise they no longer want to be married, want to be single or explore other relationships.
Personal development and changing priorities
Many people believe the person they married will always remain the same, but this is a myth. The reality is all people grow and develop over time, and no one remains static. As people age, their priorities and interests may shift.
Over time, couples may discover that they are no longer compatible or have grown in different directions. Their values, interests, and goals may no longer align. Couples may desire other things in their later years, whether new experiences, travel, or different lifestyle choices.
Changing priorities is only a problem if the partner does not support the changing priorities or there’s no interest from the other partner to participate in the new lifestyle choices.
Age-related health issues can significantly stress mature couples. Caring for an ill partner can be emotionally and physically demanding, leading to strains on the relationship.
In my relationship clinic, I’ve also seen many cases of someone experiencing a life-threatening illness or a near-death experience that leads them to re-appraise their life and sometimes realise they no longer want to be married.
Economic challenges, such as saving for retirement or managing a fixed income, can lead to fights about money and stress mature marriages, especially if there are disagreements about financial priorities.
I’ve also witnessed poor financial planning or one partner losing a significant amount of money in a poor financial investment, which can lead to colossal relationship conflict and divorce. Sometimes, mismanagement of money is considered a relationship betrayal.
Over time, communication patterns can become stagnant or deteriorate. Effective communication is crucial for resolving problems and maintaining a healthy marriage.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who have researched couples for over 40 years, determined that couples that regularly engaged in criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling (also known as the silent treatment), or contempt were highly likely to divorce.
Sadly, many couples do not have the skills to resolve conflict effectively. As a result, long-standing unresolved conflicts can fester in a marriage, leading to resentment and distance. These issues may resurface later in life, contributing to marital dissatisfaction.
Infidelity can occur in mature marriages, just as in any other stage of life. It can be especially damaging to long-term relationships, and sadly, many couples do not recover from the relationship betrayal without seeking professional support.
Lack of Intimacy
The decline in physical intimacy can strain a marriage. Some couples find it challenging to adapt to changes in their sexual relationship as they age. Unfortunately, many couples allow physical distance to occur and end up in sexless relationships.
It’s not uncommon for me to work with couples who report they have not had a sexual relationship for anywhere between 5 to 10 years. This dramatically affects a person’s self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, and desirability.
In conclusion, while the phenomenon of grey divorce sheds light on the challenges faced by mature marriages, it’s crucial to recognize that not all journeys end in separation.
Many couples in enduring relationships exemplify the strength found in effective communication, adaptability, and a shared commitment to weathering the storms.
For those encountering hurdles, seeking therapy becomes a beacon of hope—a transformative avenue to navigate difficulties, foster understanding, and potentially salvage the sacred bond of a lifelong commitment.
As we unravel the complexities of grey divorce, I also celebrate the resilience and triumphs of those couples who stand testament to the enduring power of love and dedication.
Do you need relationship help?
If you and your partner are considering trying marriage counselling, contact Clinton at (02) 8968 9323 during business hours to discuss your situation and find out how Clinton’s counselling services can help, or book an appointment online now.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.