Recent research shows that the divorce rate is at a 40-year low, unless you are over fifty. “Younger married couples are less likely to split up, but ‘gray’ divorces among older couples are on the rise,” according to Jo Craven McGinty, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s for American adults ages 50 and older. But the big question is why? And the more important question is what can we do to prevent good marriages from ending?
I have been a marriage and family therapist for more than 40 years. I also know the pain of divorce having gone through it twice myself. The reality of divorce is painful enough, but even more so if you are a therapist who gets paid to help couples to find real, lasting, love. Before trying again, I decided to do a deep dive to discover what was keeping me from having the love I so desperately longed for. I found a good therapist, read everything I could find, and discovered what I was missing.
With the wisdom I found, the “third time” was definitely the charm and Carlin and I have now been married for 41 years. I wrote about what we learned in an article, “5 Secrets For Saving Your Midlife Marriage, Even When Only One of You is Trying to Keep It Alive,” then in a book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, and finally in an on-line program, The 5 Stages of Love, for women and men who still believe in love, but don’t have a lot of time to waste.
Based on the findings from the Pew Research Center, Stacey Francis writing in Kiplinger cites six possible reasons for the rise of mid-life divorce. In an article, ‘Gray Divorce’ Rates Are Exploding Due to This Perfect Storm, she describes these potential causes:
1) Change in Divorce Stigma
With general attitudes about divorce becoming more relaxed, it’s easier to walk away from an unhappy marriage. This is particularly true for women. “In today’s world, women are more empowered and educated,” says Francis, “and the reduced divorce stigma is giving women more freedom to walk away from a less-than-ideal or emotionally draining situations.”
2) Longer Life Expectancies
With longer life expectancies more people are unwilling to remain in an unhappy marriage. They want more from life. “For a 55-year-old woman, her marriage may last another 30 years, or even more,” says Francis. “This ups the ante for those in unhappy marriages and may prompt them to question whether they can put up with their spouse for that much longer.”
3) Repeat Divorces
I am not the only one who divorced again, remarried, and divorced again. Once we accept divorce as an option, it is easier to go in and out multiple times. “Some Baby Boomers are on their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th marriages,” says Francis. “The divorce rate for people over 50 who have been married more than once is 2.5 times higher than those who have been coupled with the same person throughout their life.”
4) Financial Headwinds for Women
Women are often hit the hardest financially when there is a divorce. They often earn less and many have taken time off from their careers to raise children. They often feel caught in a bind. They may want to stay in a marriage for the financial security but are drawn to leave the marriage so they can put their full attention on financial security for their later years, in case the marriage fails.
5) Dissatisfactions That Surface During Covid
The world-wide Covid pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime trauma that will ripple through the culture for decades. Millions of families have lost loved ones who were infected with the virus and died. Millions more will lose loved ones through “deaths of despair” which are reflected in increased rates of alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, homicides, and suicides.
But the hidden losses will show up with families that fall apart years later and children will grow up to have trauma-related problems in their adult relationships.
6) Postponed Divorces
Many people I counsel, particularly women, acknowledge that they are just staying in the marriage for the benefit of the children. When the children leave the nest, so too, do many wives. Men often feel blind-sided and confused. In the past, most of my clients facing a divorce they didn’t want were women. Increasingly now, it is the man who wants help to save the marriage.
Whatever the causes, there are a number of things that I know are true for men and women throughout the world:
- Love is the glue that holds our lives together. Loving relationships are important now, more than ever.
- If you are in a relationship now, you would like it to be a good one, full of love, life, and passion.
- The pain and suffering from Covid, did not impact everyone equally. For some, the losses were greater and the effect will continue to cause harm for many years to come.
- Those who have been wounded in past relationships and are now single, are naturally gun shy. They hunger for a good relationship but are afraid to be hurt again.
- Many people need support to improve their relationship lives and regain the confidence that they can live fully and love deeply.
Here is a summary of my program based on what I’ve learned over the past fifty years. I call it “The 5 Stages of Love and Why Too Many Relationships Get Lost at Stage 3.” There is a major problem that undermines most relationships. We grow up believing that a successful relationship is simple. We just need to find the right partner, build a life together, and live happily ever after.
I have learned that things are much more complex in real life. In fact, having a great marriage is the graduate school of life. Yet most of us are still in grade school. Here’s a quick summary of the program I offer that thousands have found helped them find and keep the love of their lives.
As noted, there are five stages:
Stage 1: Falling In Love
Stage 2: Becoming a Couple
Stage 3: Disillusionment
Stage 4: Creating Real, Lasting, Love
Stage 5: Using the Power of Two to Change the World
Here’s what I’ve learned about the five stages.
- Falling in love has little to do with building a great life. Its nature’s way of getting you to pair up and make babies.
- When we choose a partner, we project our hopes and dreams on them. We never see the real person, but the projection of our unmet needs.
- After being together for some time, we begin to see the real person underneath the projections and become disillusioned. We think we’ve picked the wrong partner, rather then realizing the purpose of stage 3, disillusionment is to get real and heal the inevitable wounds we received from the family we grew up in.
- Doing the work in stage 3 allows us, for the first time, to find real, lasting love with someone we can truly spend a lifetime learning and loving to be who we really are.
- Learning to be a real couple who have healed our wounds, and have learned the true meaning of love, allows us to embrace a calling to bring greater love to humanity.