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Divorce

A Divorce Trend That May Reshape Marriage Forever

... and the first step everyone else can take to keep their love alive.

Key points

  • Divorce rates for 50-70 year-olds are the highest they've been, having more than doubled since 1990.
  • As financially independent people live into their 100s, many are taking their marriages off life support to pursue new dreams.
  • It is possible to prevent the demise of long-term love, but it can take active effort to do so.
Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels
Source: Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

There are two kinds of couples who divorce after 20+ years of marriage. One version has two people who tried their best, and the other hasn't.

Mutual effort to sustain emotional connection is the greatest prevention strategy any long-term love can employ. And while the number of annual U.S. divorces has declined from 944,000 in 2000 to 630,505 in 2020, there's some shocking new evidence that long-term monogamy and marriage are under new pressures. They're called gray divorces and if you're married, take note.

It’s not infidelity that's driving the divorce rate these days.

It has absolutely nothing to do with us Millenials, divorces are actually lower than ever in post-Gen-X marriages.

It’s 50-70-year-olds pulling the plug on their dying relationships where “I love you” didn't end up meaning “I’ll do everything.” Relationships that were on autopilot for decades are coming off life support.

Financially independent 50-year-olds who expect to live into their 100s are rethinking the game. It’s not a surprise to me. Many middle-aged people are taking a hard look at their relationship health and choosing something different.

The hypocrisy of monogamy isn't that people are divorcing, it's that they've tolerated loveless and sexless marriages for on average six-plus years before calling it quits.

There's a sustained change of winds among those divorcing today, with the rate doubling among people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. I'm talking about first-time divorces after decades of marriage, often coming as a surprise to unexpecting partners.

Many middle-aged and older adults are divorcing after decades of emotional needs being unmet and imagining a future either alone or with someone new who can meet them (Brown et. al, 2018).

These divorces often follow betrayal. Sometimes sexual, certainly. However increasingly for non-sexual reasons. It is an emotional betrayal, a neglecting or outright denial of core needs, wants, and preferences.

While it may be too late for some marriages, it is certainly not too late to reshape a culture that honors trust, commitment, and consistent emotional connection.

It is possible to prevent more slow and sad demises of long-term loves. It will require a willingness to act.

Here's one initial step every romantic relationship can take to begin a weekly ritual of emotional connection. Spend one hour this Saturday or Sunday and schedule a "State of the Union" conversation with your spouse.

Pick one of these questions and openly discuss it:

Are we sharing influence easily and mutually? It’s clear that the masters of long-term relationships mutually share influence in ways that feel free and fair. Understanding and emotional validation are at the heart of charting the unknown seas of a 100-year love. Both create a security of attachment where closeness, intimacy, and respect can be nurtured. Compromise comes more easily in these conditions.

Do we know each other's hopes and fears? If you’re committed to personal and family growth, the only obstacle is becoming disconnected from your dreams together. Never stray far from your and your partner's hopes and fears. Check in daily with each other around stressors and gratitude.

How can I love you better next week? Nothing gets done without consistent effort that establishes and reinforces trust. Saying "I love you" doesn’t mean anything if not attached to consistent behavior. A 100-year commitment is built on two individuals, mutually invested in their physical, emotional, and relationship health. Sustaining emotional connection is the key to a masterful, authentic, and lasting love. Ask each other this question every week: "How can I love you better next week?"

If you focus on nothing else, focus on meeting each other's core needs, wants, and preferences with a generous heart. A secure attachment in a committed bond is a beautiful gift to ourselves and our families. This new evolution of monogamy requires us to try our best–that's all we can ever ask of ourselves or our partners.

Facebook image: Andrii Zastrozhnov/Shutterstock

References

CDC (2020). Provisional number of divorces and annulments and rate, United States, 2000-2020. Retrieved on September 8, 2022: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/national-marriage-divorce-rates-00-20….

Driver, J., Tabares, A., Shapiro, A., Nahm, E. Y., & Gottman, J. M. (2003). Interactional patterns in marital success and failure: Gottman laboratory studies. In F. Walsh (Ed.), Normal family processes: Growing diversity and complexity (pp. 493–513). The Guilford Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203428436_chapter_18

Susan L Brown, I-Fen Lin, Anna M Hammersmith, Matthew R Wright, Later Life Marital Dissolution and Repartnership Status: A National Portrait, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 73, Issue 6, September 2018, Pages 1032–1042, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbw051

Susan L. Brown, I-Fen Lin, The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce Among Middle-Aged and Older Adults, 1990–2010, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 67, Issue 6, November 2012, Pages 731–741, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbs089

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