Grey divorce

Retired farmers Jerry and Denise were catching up with their friend, Ross, at the local coffee shop. They’d covered the weather (could use a rain), the crops (not bad, but some worrisome reports of armyworm east of town), and they’d shared the latest cute grandkid stories. The server topped off their cups and moved down the aisle away from their booth.

Stirring double cream into his coffee, Ross leaned toward Jerry and Denise and asked if they’d heard the latest. Their mutual acquaintances, Cal and Linda, had separated and Cal was seeing someone else.

Jerry and Denise were gobsmacked.

“They just celebrated their 40th anniversary,” Denise said.

“I don’t know them really well, but they’ve always seemed like a happy couple.

“Well, maybe, but her countertops are always cluttered, you know,” Ross muttered, dropping his chin knowingly.

A marriage of 40 years ending over one too many countertop appliances and a couple empty boxes of Kraft dinner is probably rare, but “grey divorce,” — divorce among people older than 50 — is on the rise in Canada and it is the only age demographic where that is true.

Other stories from After the Farm, The Senior Side edition:
Snowbirds must watch the calendar
Remarriage affects farm succession
Two women made grey divorce a little less grey
Woman stayed with abusive husband for love of a farm

So, why are so many people older than 50 getting divorced?

Some say it’s a baby boomer thing. Oh, you know how they are: they can never leave well enough alone. They’ve got to try to fix everything.

Maybe, but while boomers are responsible for many grey divorces, there are also lots of folks born in 1945 and earlier, the so-called traditionalists or the silent generation, people now 73 and older, who are cutting the marriage ties.

Another reason often cited for grey divorce is that people are living longer and healthier, sometimes delaying retirement and sometimes enjoying a very long and active retirement.

That’s a lot of togetherness. For some couples, maybe it’s too much togetherness.

And women are more independent now than 30 or 40 years ago. Most have their own income, many are staying in the workforce longer, and some, such as farm wives, own property. For perhaps the first time in history, there is a large block of women who are not financially compelled to stay in a marriage.

Women in this age group tend to initiate divorce more often than men.

So, they get the divorce. Then what happens?

The Divorce Experience, a report for the American Association for Retired Persons, examined the circumstances surrounding divorce at midlife and later, its impact on men and women, how people coped with life and their well-being after divorce.

The report looked at 1,147 respondents, half of which were men, half were women. Their ages were 40 to 79 and they all had been divorced at least once during their 40s, 50s or 60s.

The respondents felt that divorce was more emotionally devastating than losing a job, about equal to experiencing a major illness and somewhat less devastating than a spouse’s death.

Even at an older age, people were most concerned not about how divorce might affect their own futures but how it might impact the welfare of their children.

After the fact, 37 percent reported that their children were supportive and an additional 17 percent said that their kids were OK with it.

Regardless of age, up to and including their 60s, people’s concern for their children was the major reason a divorce was more or less emotionally devastating.

Other impacts of grey divorce included dealing with uncertainty or not knowing what lies ahead.

Many reported feelings of loneliness or depression, feelings of desertion or betrayal or failure and feeling unloved or inadequate.

They also reported fears, which included fear of being along, fear of failing again, fear of being financially destitute, fear of never finding someone to marry or live with, staying angry or bitter for a long time, staying depressed for a long time and not seeing their children as much.

However, the respondents seemed to be coping well with life after divorce.

The majority felt they were on the top rungs of the ladder of life. Their outlook was on par with that of the general population age 45 or older and better than that of singles age 40 to 69.

Seventy-six percent claimed they made the right decision. Freedom, self-identity and fulfilment were their buzzwords.

At the time of the report, depression was occurring in this cohort at the same rate regardless if they remarried or remained divorced.

About a third had remarried, six percent of them to the same person.

And Cal and Linda, remember them? They didn’t get divorced. After a time, they set aside their differences, got back together and remained together for the rest of their lives.

There are no verifiable reports on the state of the countertops.

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