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Divorce in Middle Age

Writing the next chapter of your life.

Rebecca is a middle-aged woman who is recently divorced. She and her husband were married for 25 years when he told her he wanted a divorce because he is in love with someone else. For the past few years, Rebecca was unhappy in her marriage, but she never thought that they would divorce. She became accustomed to her life and its routine. Rebecca had no idea that her husband was cheating on her and so his revelation came as a total surprise.

She is now living alone and wondering what will become of her life. Her family and friends are there for her, with her married children living close by. Rebecca continues to work part-time at the same job she’s held for seven years. Financially, she is okay, but not as monetarily “comfortable” as when she was married.

Rebecca is not that different from many people; nor are her circumstances.

Little research has been conducted on divorce in later adulthood, despite the fact that the divorce rate for people aged 50 and older has doubled between 1990 and 2010. In 2010, 25% of the divorces in the United States were among this older aged group. Possible implications for divorce in people this age range include:

  • Financial stress (particularly for women)
  • Changes in parent-adult child relationships
    • More reliance on children for social support, including caretaking
    • Decreased interaction and change in the quality of the relationship (particularly for fathers)

In addition, recently divorced people from long-term marriages may be facing challenging situations that can be stressful and socially upsetting. The following psychological issues often occur or are affected.

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Mourning
  • Anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Satisfaction with one’s life
  • Perception of one’s health

Rebecca’s recent divorce and the nature of her recovery place her at a crossroads. She is about to enter a new chapter in the book of her life that she will be writing. She can write about a life aimed toward fulfillment and growth or one of regret and stagnation.

It is unrealistic to believe that Rebecca will have no problems adapting to her new life after the divorce. The factors that contribute to making a successful transition include:

  • Personality traits, such as being open and extroverted
  • Engaging in activities that encourage personal growth
  • Moving away from a feeling of vulnerability or resignation to one’s life
  • Having resilience

Another important factor that can help people recover from the effects of divorce is having self-compassion.

  • If you blame yourself or feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts, forgive yourself so that you can move on to a better place.
  • Self-compassion assists in coping with stressful life events.

The dissolution of a marriage is not a trivial event. It is a major life stressor regardless of age and duration of the marriage. Personal and social interactions are critical as they not only provide support but also offer an opportunity for others to observe the divorced person’s mental and physical health. If the individual is experiencing debilitating symptoms that do not diminish, professional treatment—medical and/or mental health—should be sought.

Rebecca is fortunate because she has the support of her family and friends. She is employed and has a means of providing for her material needs. However, she has also experienced the loss of a long-term relationship and lifestyle. Her previous unhappiness in the marriage can now be at an end if she so chooses. Although she was not the one to initiate the change, she can still be the beneficiary. It all depends on how and whether she wishes to adapt.

It’s not easy to make life changes; particularly, if you are set in your ways. However, life is full of ups and downs—learning how to handle negative experiences is the key to a healthy outcome. Seldom can an individual successfully navigate the negative experiences alone; we all need help. But, it is still up to the individual to decide how they will travel on this journey and write their “book of life.”

Mourn the loss or celebrate it. Adapt, exist, or regress. Learn more about yourself and your inner strengths or choose to remain unenlightened. Rejoice in your evolution and the new opportunities coming your way or fear change. Play a role in your destiny or relinquish all control to the Fates. Just remember, it really is your story to write. Hopefully, it will reveal a life lived fully and happily.


Brown, S. L. & Lin, I. (2013). The gray divorce revolution: Rising divorce among middle-aged and older adults, 1990-2010. National Center for Family and Marriage Research, Working Paper Series WP-13-03.…

Knopfli, B., Morselli, D., & Perrig-Chiello, P. (2016). Trajectories of psychological adaptation to marital breakup after a long-term marriage. Gerontology, 62, 541-552.

Perrig-Chiello, P., Hutchinson, S., & Morselli, D. (2015). Patterns of psychological adaptation to divorce after a long-term marriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32, 386-405.

More from Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.
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