Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, who are breaking up after 30 years of marriage, are part of a growing trend.
While the overall divorce rate is going down, the divorce rate among people 50 and over — so-called “gray divorces” — has more than doubled over the past two decades, according to research by sociologists at Bowling Green State University featured in The Wall Street Journal.
Why the increase?
“A lot of it,” says licensed psychotherapist Rachel Sussman (author of “The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce”), “stems from my generation, the Boomer generation. We’re the first generation that has entered marriage to be personally fulfilled. It’s the ‘me generation.’ We want to be happy. In previous generations, it was for financial reasons or to fulfill roles, be a good husband, be a good wife. But in this generation, your children leave home, you look at your husband or you wife, you realize you’re not happy, you’re not as afraid to leave. So people are exiting, in high numbers.
“Often, couples have been married for 30, 40 years. And if they look at each other after the children are gone and say, ‘You know, we just don’t have the same interests or the same values,’ women are less afraid to make that leap and to go out into the world on their own.”
Women are the ones initiating two-thirds of breakups.
“That’s because women can now,” licensed psychologist Karen Bridbord emphasized. “Basically, women are in the workforce. They are earning, they’re independently, economically sound, and they can do it. So they’re not staying around if they’re unhappy.”
Sussman says the economy plays into the “gray divorce” rate. “I think that, if couples have limited resources and someone has lost their job, those couples might just try to stick it out,” she told co-hosts “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-hosts Rebecca Jarvis and Anthony Mason. “Divorce is expensive, (especially) if you can’t afford to keep up two households. But if the resources are somewhat plentiful and two people are working and a woman says to herself, ‘You know, I can support myself,’ she won’t be as afraid to leave.”
Are online dating, social media, and people reconnecting with acquaintances from their past making “gray divorce” easier?
“Definitely,” Bridbord replied. “There’s the hope, when people divorce, that they’re going to find somebody else to connect with. But because marriage is really now about personal fulfillment, they are really looking to even go at it on their own. (They’re thinking) if that, so be it — it’s better to be on one’s own, people are thinking, than to be in a relationship that’s less supportive.
“(But) people are actually being really mindful of whether or not they are going to actually go ahead and divorce. That’s my advice. And actually, there’s some recent research that suggests that, even once people do get divorced, they are rethinking it and thinking, ‘Well, was this the best decision for us?’ So there’s a lot of ambivalence around the area of decision-making around divorce. So, really thinking it through is important.”
Infidelity, Bridbord adds, is the third major cause of divorce, and the “gray” divorce rate is the same as that of the general population – about 27 percent.
Anyone mulling a “gray divorce” should try couple’s counseling, Sussman urges.
“I’m a big proponent” of such efforts, she says. “If you’ve been with someone for a very long time and you’ve raised children with them, this person’s always going to be in your life. Weddings, graduations, whatever. And it really makes sense to visit a couples counselor and see if you can” work things out.
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