It might be more common than you think. Why some older couples are calling it quits after decades of marriage.
Back when Al and Tipper Gore announced they were separating after 40 years of marriage, the news came as a surprise to many. But some experts say this may be indicative of a growing trend: as life span increases — along with the acceptability of divorce — more older couples are saying, “Enough.”
While the divorce rate among long-married couples is not as high as for newlyweds or parents overwhelmed with raising children, it is becoming more commonplace for people to call it quits after investing 30 or 40 years or more in a relationship.
“Staying in exactly the right relationship to one another is a very hard thing to maintain every decade,” Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, told CNN. “People think you only get closer over time, but that’s not necessarily true.”
Schwartz, who is also a relationship expert for the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), believes that a longer life span may be one reason some long-married couples are deciding to divorce. While previously, many older couples sought to avoid the turmoil of such a disruption so late in life, a longer life expectancy — and with it, the hope of finding a new, more fulfilling relationship – may lead more people to choose divorce.
“Half a century ago, an unhappy couple in their mid-60s might have stayed together because they thought it wasn’t worth divorcing if they had only a few years left to live,” Schwartz writes in an article on the AARP website. “Now, 65-year-olds can easily envision at least 20 more active years — and they don’t want them to be loveless, or full of frustration or disappointment.”
The dissolution of a long-term marriage is often less of a sudden blow-up than a result of many years of decline. “It’s more like a balloon that has been seeping air for a long time,” Schwartz says. “After a while, it’s totally deflated.”
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