Monday, November 16, 2015

Gray Divorce: Surprising Reasons Why Divorce Rates for the 50+ Crowd have Doubled

by Nomad

Research by sociologists and psychologists reveal some interesting information on the rise in the so-called gray divorce rate.

Even though the average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is 8 years. the divorce rate among people 50 and older has doubled in the past 20 years. That's according to research by Bowling Green State University

That study found that while divorce rates have generally stabilized and even inched downward, the divorce rate among people 50 and older has doubled since 1990. 
In 1990, 1 in 10 persons who divorced was 50 or older. By 2011, according to the census’s American Community Survey, more than 28 percent (more than 1 in 4) who said they divorced in the previous 12 months were 50 or older.
One reason for this could just be because, for many couples in this particular age group, the concept of the roles of a husband and a wife are not really conducive to marital bliss. 

Rutgers University conducted a study of more than 700 couples who have remained together on average 39 years and what they found was interesting. There were vast emotional differences in how men and women cope with problems in a marriage.

Deborah Carr, a professor in the sociology department at Rutgers University explained:
“The men don’t really want to talk about it or spend too much time thinking about it. Men often don’t want to express vulnerable emotions, while women are much more comfortable expressing sadness or worry.”
But there was more to it.
Talking things out tends overall to make wives feel more comfortable. That's not much a surprise since women traditionally feel more responsible for maintaining the "emotional climate" of a marriage. 

However, this kind of open discussion and expression only made husbands more frustrated.
For this particular group, the more supportive the husband is the happier the wife may be, but the more supportive a wife is, the less happy the husband group may be.
Says Carr:
"For women, getting a lot of support from their spouse is a positive experience. Older men, however, may feel frustrated receiving lots of support from their wife, especially if it makes them feel helpless or less competent.”
Researchers theorize that it could have something to do with the attitudes of men of this generation. This group may feel less competent if they appear to need too much support from their wives.

It could also be related to the idea, common to men of that age, that expressing one's deeper feelings and anxieties are signs of weakness. 
Something else may be at play too. Psychologist Barbara Markway, Ph.D. wrote in a 2014 article for Psychology Today:
Society encourages men to express their feelings, but when they do, their partners are often petrified, if not horrified. Women, they may believe, want their partners to show their feelings, but only certain feelings, and only in doses they can handle.
In fact, results from numerous research studies—as well as clinical experience—tells us that men may be right to be wary of women who implore them to show their true feelings. Men who deviate from the traditional masculine norm by being emotionally expressive and talking about their fears are often judged as being poorly adjusted.
That's really a terrible double-bind for men. No wonder they may hesitate about sharing their anxieties. 

For women, it's not much better, especially for those who have grown weary of waiting for husbands to change or even communicate.
Most divorces among older couples, as in younger ones, as one source notes, are initiated by women. If men and women are equally unhappy, then why is it that women have decided to make the bold step to divorce?

A New York Times article quotes Professor Stephanie Coontz, at Evergreen State College in Washington State:
“Women have long been more sensitive to — or less tolerant of — a mediocre relationship than men and so another big factor is that with their increased work experience and greater sense of their own possibilities, they are less willing to just ‘wait it out.’
Could it be possible that for women, satisfying one's emotional needs is a higher priority than for men of this age group? Women might just get tired of sharing their feelings and fears but getting very little in return from their husbands. This breakdown in communication is clearly going to be a source of frustration, even among couples that have reached their so-called golden years. 

Other researchers note that there is a need for marriage counseling and programs for older couples. Said Hui Liu, associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University who conducted a study on the subject:
Marriage counseling is focused largely on younger couples But these results show that marital quality is just as important at older ages, even when the couple has been married 40 or 50 years.” 
The key to a successful marriage, especially in this age group, where one side has so much trouble with self-expression, is attempting to understanding what kind of support is needed, desirable or helpful.