In 2009, 11,500 over-60s filed for divorce in England and Wales. In 2010, that number rose to 14,600.
This spurt of ‘silver separation’ is, experts theorise, down to the simple fact that people are realising life isn’t over yet. Many people in their 60s still have parents alive, showing them that there’s still plenty of life left to live…so why waste it in an unhappy marriage that’s long past its best?
Sue Plumtree, from Richmond, Surrey, left her husband eight years ago at the turn of her 60th birthday. “I was married for 37 years when I finally decided I deserved better,” she says. “It’s not that I didn’t love him any more, it was just time for a better life, and it was the best thing that I’ve ever done.”
Now Sue works as a life coach, which she is truly passionate about.
While in years gone by spouses probably died before they had a chance to get bored of each other, now healthcare has advanced to such an extent that our lives can surpass our capacity to experience love and happiness with just one person.
Now, we reach the age of 40, 50 and 60 plus, and realise that we do have the power to change our circumstances. It dawns on us that life is for living, not enduring.
American sociologist Susan Brown explains how the institution of marriage has evolved in three distinct periods.
First there was the ‘institutional phase’ – when marriage was a more of a business deal than a proclamation of love. Then, after WWII came the ‘companionate phase’ – the era of the family unit, where man and woman teamed up as breadwinner and housewife to support their families. In the 70s, the revolutionary ‘individualised phase’ spawned, where personal needs and ‘me-ness’ presided over anything else.
Geraldine Bedell, editor of website Gransnet explains how retirement is the ‘crunch-time’ for married couples. Women feel like their work is over – the children have fled the nest, they’ve spent decades working hard to support a family and now they’ve earned their chance to assert their identity and start doing what they want to do.
Retirement opens up options for a new start with free time to do all of those things we spent our lives wishing we could do.
Quite simply, men and women get to a certain age and think ‘I want something more’.
Unfortunately, behind all the radical ideas of running away and starting life again, there are still the inevitable side-effects of ending a long marriage. Pain, loneliness, financial problems and sudden lifestyle changes can all take their toll. When you live a life imagining that’s the way it’ll always be, it can be something of a shock to find it all suddenly gone.
Ros Altmann, director-general of over-fifties lifestyle brand Saga, describes the difficult process of divorce in later life as unpicking ‘two life-times worth of assets’.
Sue Plumtree knew she would hurt her husband when she left him. She says at first he was angry, bitter and hurt, but that eventually he found his own way and underwent a reinvention of his own kind. Now, he works overseas as an environmental campaigner, and Sue is happy he is living the life he was ‘always supposed to have’.
Divorce is not the only way to have a new lease of life. Together, couples can work out what they need to do to be happy, without hurting each other. If you would like support making big decisions in your marriage, then Couples Counselling could help.
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