‘Til Menopause Do Us Part: Why Are Couples Seeking Divorce After Decades of Marriage?

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Somewhere buried in between the news of the TomKat split and the Ochocinco assault on Evelyn Lozada was the story of Vera Wang splitting from her husband of 23 years, Arthur Becker.  Becker was not only Wang’s spouse but also her business partner leaving a position as a CEO of a tech outlet to help build Wang’s bridal wear empire.  Rumors suggest that Becker simply got fed up with being, “Mr. Vera Wang.”  I didn’t get much time to wonder why the queen of wedding dress dreams was getting a divorce after two decades of marriage before I learned that Stevie Wonder was divorcing fashion designer wife of 11 years, Kai Millard.  It’s obvious that there’s a case of divorce fever going around in fashion land, but I can’t help but wonder, “Why call it quits after investing so much time?”

Do all marriages eventually hit a plateau where the energy invested into solving conflicts is just not worth it anymore?  When marriage is taken seriously, the upkeep isn’t always easy.  Minor annoyances that used to be attractive over time can grow into major arguments.  In a world where celebrities trade more spouses than a swinger’s party special episode of Sister Wives, you have to admit a small part of you loses a little faith when couples you think would stand the test of time call it quits after being married for more than many of our lifetimes.

In the CNN article, “Why Call It Quits After Decades of Marriage,” David Woodsfellow, a marriage therapist in Georgia points out that divorce proceedings can be dramatically different depending at what point in a marriage a couple decides to split.  Couples who are together for  a few  years often engage in “hot divorces” where legal processes are bitter and turbulent. (Think Waiting to Exhale burning-his-clothes-in-the-Beemer style.)  The split is usually the result of things “getting real.”  The honeymoon ends, he’s leaving his draws in the middle of the floor, she can’t balance a checkbook on two feet and couples begin to realize that the marriage wasn’t exactly what they signed up for.  Break ups between couples who have been together for decades are usually disengaged and colder as a result of two people who have gradually grown apart.

Call it cliché but some couples truly stay together for the kids.  They endure years of suffering in a hidden marital hell all so that they can give their kids the illusion of an all-American, picket fence childhood filled with game nights and family dinners.  I can’t say I really blame them either.  If my parents were to ever split up, I feel I could handle it better in my late twenties than I would have handled it when I was enduring my own personal adolescent hell: high school.  The stress of being a teenager can make you feel like the world is splitting apart right beneath your feet and sometimes the only solid ground you can depend on is your family. When children grow into lives and relationships of their own, parents divorcing may still prove difficult to deal with but it doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world.  What matters most is the way that separation is handled.  No matter what age, no one likes to be lied to, caught in the middle of drama, or feel like they have to strategically plan what to say whenever their parents are in the same room because of the crazy amount of tension.

On the contrary, children can actually be the glue that holds a marriage together.  While we may be amazed and entertained by celebrity couples who can’t make it past 5 years, evidence shows that in the past two years the divorce rate among baby boomers has significantly risen as well.  Despite the overall divorce rate in the U.S. dropping over the last 20 years, statistics from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University show that the divorce rate among people age 50 and over has doubled.  As children fly from the nest and begin to create their own lives, it can be hard for parents to define exactly what their marriage means without children to take up the bulk of their attention.  They may emerge from being full-time parents to rediscover they have completely changed as a couple, especially if they never had much time in their relationship to spend time one-on-one before having kids.

But what happens when there are no kids to motivate you to stay in an unhappy marriage?  What clicks in someone’s head when they wake up every day next to a person for decades only to one day decide that they don’t want to live the rest of their life this way?  This is the part about marriage that scares me.  You spend time in and out of relationships dating and trying to find that special someone who you can grow with.  You make attempts to foresee the future with someone who can be flexible and support you for better or for worse, through sickness and in health. But how can you really expect someone to hold your hand when you’re at your worst if you’ve never seen yourself or your partner this way?  Experts suggest that with medical advancements adding on years to people’s life span, instead of being complacent in unhappy marriages for routine’s sake, many are choosing to salvage the remainder of their “golden years” to pursue a relationship they can be happy in.

Divorce doesn’t always have to be a result of a mid-life crisis.  As divorce grows more and more acceptable in today’s society, laws have grown to make divorce more financially beneficial for both parties than the outdated laws of twenty years ago.  States like California split property 50/50 and baby boomers are more likely to have professional careers and stability so that a divorce won’t devastate either partner fiancially

Whether you’ve been married for two years of for twenty the truth remains:  The stronger foundation a relationship is built on initially, the harder it is to break.  If your relationship is already shaky, marriage alone won’t solidify it. All of those fragile cracks simply break apart a relationship slowly until it falls apart.  Partners either have a choice to work hard to put the pieces back together or start over again with something new.  Divorce is hard pill to swallow, but as Evelyn and Ocho are learning, a lifetime of happiness has to be worth more than 41 days of pain.

Do you think divorce is harder or easier after being in a marriage for over a decade?

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog Bullets and Blessings .


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