Do Overs: The Rise of Midlife Divorces

by WV Marshall

Sometimes – no matter the desire, the work, the will, the counseling – a marriage ends. And it seems more marriages are dissolving as men and women turn older, creating a “gray divorce.”

A Bowling Green State University study reports that nearly one in four divorces in 2010 were so-called gray divorces, reported.

From 1990-2010, divorces doubled among couples aged 50 years old and older. We don’t expect such dramatic, long-term changes in or after midlife.

Researchers estimate 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce while slightly more than 8.5 percent of second marriages end in divorce. The average age? 30.

**So why are older couples calling it quits? **

“In midlife we revisit our priorities, values, and preferences,” said Dr. Barbara Mark, a career and life strategies coach and expert on the psychology of women.

Think about it, it’s easier to focus on goals such as children and careers when we’re younger but goals and priorities change as we age. If our priorities and our partner’s priorities aren’t in sync, there may be some hard decisions on the horizon.

My parents – who were married for more than 50 years – and parents of nearly all of my friends stayed together through thick and thin. They had empty nests, changes in priorities, retirements and didn’t separate.

So, what happened?

Cultural expectations have changed; simply put, it’s more acceptable to end a failing marriage than it was even 30 years ago, said.


  • Women are more financially independent, making it easier for them to leave.
  • Empty nests make splitting simpler.
  • Libidos don’t match.
  • Hormonal disruptions.
  • Caretaking of elderly parents (both financially and physically).
  • Longer life expectancy.
  • Money.

By no stretch of the imagination am I sounding an alarm. People after the age of 50 won’t be divorcing willy-nilly. I’ve been married about 40 years and have gone through empty nesting and downsizing, along with several semi-midlife crises – and have emerged from the muck several times.

Having the option to leave a terrible marriage is a GOOD thing. Several close friends did go through divorces after long marriages. None made the choice lightly and none regretted it. One thing these friends all had in common were spouses unwilling to work on improving their relationships, despite ongoing and significant issues and rifts. Sometimes you have to save yourself (and your kids.)

How can you avoid reaching the point of no return? Just open that marriage tool box you have.

Hello? Is anybody listening? Finishing each other’s sentences is cute when you’re first married. But are you really listening? Talk to each other.

Discuss the “big stuff” such as goals, desires, needs or expectations. Carve out time for these important conversations.

Talk to others because sometimes you need a different set of eyes to help you see things clearly, Mark said friends and family may be good sounding boards, but they may have an emotional investment, so be open to a therapist or a spiritual advisor.

Don’t decide on a course of action in the heat of the moment.

“In midlife, hormones can make people over-react,” Mark said. “That combined with the developmental task of dealing with one’s mortality, can make for some hasty decision making.”

Think about the genesis for your emotions and feelings of dissatisfaction. Your feelings could be temporary or they could be masking something more deeply rooted.

Finally, problem solve. Search for the source of your friction, discuss it with your spouse and work together to figure out options to improve the situation for the both of you.