What Is Gray Divorce? How to Survive Divorce After 50

tomilynParenting, Therapy, Trauma

Gray Divorce

Your wedding day is often the happiest day of your life. Between marrying your best friend, celebrating with family, and dancing the night away, there are hundreds of wonderful moments to enjoy. The last thing on your mind is divorce. 

Unfortunately, somewhere between 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. And more and more, these marriages result in gray divorce—divorce among older populations. 

But what is gray divorce? And how can therapy assist those going through it? 

We explore all of it in this blog. 

Click to the section you need for additional answers. 

What Is Gray Divorce?
What Are Divorce Rates for People Over 50?
Why Does Gray Divorce Happen?
What Are the Challenges of Divorcing Over 50?
How Does Therapy Help for Divorce After 50?
Therapy for Gray Divorce
Pittsburgh Therapy for Gray Divorce

What Is Gray Divorce?

Gray divorce is defined as a divorce taking place in one’s 50s or later. 

As we’ll discuss in the next section, gray divorce has become more and more common in recent years. 

What Are Divorce Rates for People Over 50?

Although divorce rates tend to decline with age, a sizable portion of people over 45 still divorce. The current rate of divorce, according to divorce research from Bowling Green State University

  • People 45-54: 18%
  • People 55-64: 12%
  • People 65+: 5%

Other surprising statistics: 

  • Gray divorce accounted for 36% of all divorces by 2019.
  • The divorce rate has doubled among people ages 50+ since 1990.
  • The divorce rate has tripled among people 65+ since 1990.
  • Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) are divorcing more than any other generation.

There are a few reasons the divorce rate is so high—and climbing—among people 50 years and older. A few of the most common:

  • People are waiting for their kids to move out before divorcing. With teenagers and young adults living with their parents longer than in previous generations, parents are waiting longer to divorce. 
  • The divorce rates are higher in second and third (and later) marriages. After younger people divorce and remarry, they’re more likely to get divorced again. 
  • People are living longer. Because couples are living longer, they have more time to divorce.

Gray Divorce Stats

Why Does Gray Divorce Happen?

We see gray divorce happen for a variety of reasons—just like typical divorce. Some of the most common reasons we see:

1. People change over time. We’re constantly evolving as people. Our interests evolve, our physical abilities decline, and our desires shift. 

Over time, these changes may physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually detach us from our partners, creating unresolvable rifts. 

2. What someone wants in a partner can change over time. As individuals grow and evolve over time, their wants in a partner can similarly change. 

For example, if someone becomes interested in traveling later in life, they may want their partner to travel with them. But if their partner is a homebody, that could lead to potential conflicts. 

3. People grow apart. A relationship is like a living, breathing organism. If you stop nurturing it, it will begin to die. 

As couples get swept up in the responsibilities of work, parenthood (or even involuntary childlessness), bills, and other responsibilities, they sometimes forget to make time for each other. 

Over time, this can cause couples to drift apart—and eventually leads to divorce. 

4. Parents stayed together for the kids—and no longer have a reason to stay together. Some couples know they’re no longer compatible, but they decide to remain together as a family unit so their children have a cohesive household. 

Once these children go to college or move out altogether, these couples may finally feel comfortable separating or even divorcing altogether. 

5. Retired couples and empty nesters are finally forced to connect. Starting a family is a time-consuming endeavor that can capitalize on one’s free time for decades

For busy couples with one or multiple children, having kids can mean having a constant distraction. Running kids to soccer practice, attending recitals, and visiting colleges takes time—and it can mean years of not having to connect as a couple. 

But once those kids are gone and it’s just the couple at home again, they may discover their dynamic has changed. 

Forced to finally spend time together after years of constant distractions, they may discover they don’t actually care for each other, and that can lead to divorce. 

Why Gray Divorce Happens

What Are the Challenges of Divorcing Over 50?

Divorce at 50 (or later) has a much different set of challenges than divorce in your 20s or 30s. Some of the most common gray divorce challenges we see:

  • Splitting finances and creating new accounts. By the time you’re 50, you’ve probably combined bank accounts, retirement plans, insurance plans, and more. Your divorce attorneys will help you determine who received what—and how much. This can be a painful, stressful process, especially if it means you’re missing out on tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. 
  • Deciding who gets the house (and other property). Another major pain point is deciding who gets the house, the cars, and any other major assets you own together. Being on the losing end of this fight could make you temporarily homeless, which can be a huge emotional shock. 
  • Relationships with the kids. Although many people experiencing gray divorce likely have adult children and don’t need to worry about custody, they still have the similar challenge of explaining to their kids the reasons for the divorce. 
  • Relationships with friends. Just as it can be difficult to stay connected with your adult children, your relationships with other adult friends you share can also suffer. Your friends may feel a need to take sides, and that could mean 
  • Dating. For people who’ve been married for 20+ years, the dating world can be a scary place. And by the time someone has turned 50, their body looks different than it did when they were in their 20s. Their hair is probably graying, their face is probably wrinkling, and they may have unwanted weight in more places. All of this can reduce someone’s confidence and make dating even more challenging! 

How Does Therapy Help for Divorce After 50?

When it comes to gray divorce, therapy can assist in a variety of ways. Therapy can help with:

  • Processing trauma. Whether a relationship was abusive or not, a divorce can always feel traumatic. The emotional challenges of splitting up can lead to serious doubts about self-worth that carry over into other areas of life. Therapy can help an individual move beyond their divorce and enter the next chapter of their life.  
  • Recovering a sense of identity. Your marriage is a major part of your life and overall identity. When that’s stripped away from you, you may encounter an identity crisis. Therapy can help you reclaim your identity and confidence. 
  • Building confidence. As we hinted earlier, divorce can damage your self-esteem. Therapy can help you overcome the painful memories that hinder confidence, transforming you into a more radiant version of yourself. 
  • Problem-solving and planning. During a divorce, you may navigate legal battles, custody battles, deciding who gets the car and the house—and much more. With so much to think through, you may feel overwhelmed. Therapy can help. 

If you’re undergoing a divorce, don’t feel afraid to connect with a therapist for support! 

Therapy for Gray Divorce

A variety of therapy techniques can help individuals who’ve encountered a painful gray divorce. Some of the most common techniques we use include: 

  1. CBT Therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals identify inaccurate or negative thinking while overcoming challenging situations. It’s also helpful for individuals who are struggling with depression, PTSD, or other disorders. 
  2. Gestalt Therapy. Gestalt therapy focuses on increasing awareness in the moment so individuals can focus on what they can control—instead of focusing on the past. 
  3. Talk Therapy. One of the most common forms of therapy, talk therapy can include elements of CBT therapy or Gestalt therapy, and it can be conducted in groups or one-on-one with a therapist. Talk therapy includes identifying troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and then exploring solutions to overcome them. 
  4. Family Therapy. Family therapy can help family members identify and express their problems, and then identify and communicate solutions in a safe, productive environment. Family therapy can be useful even when navigating a divorce, as it can assist all parties in communication. 

Pittsburgh Therapy for Gray Divorce

To find a Pittsburgh divorce therapist, contact us! We’ll connect you with someone who can help you move happily and confidently into the next phase of your life.