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What is Gray Divorce and How Do You Avoid It?

happy couple on beach

With the recent news that certain high-profile mature couples are divorcing, the term “gray divorce” is in the headlines, almost as if the trend is something new. It isn’t. In fact, as someone who began her career as a divorce mediator, I distinctly remember seeing waves of couples in their fifties and sixties filing for divorce back when my own hair had no trace of a silver lining.

There’s something a little surprising, and sad, about gray divorce, isn’t there?

We have the sense that it’s kind of like climbing Mount Everest—spending all that energy and effort to do it together—and then turning back when the top peak is in sight, shrugging, and saying, “Meh, I just don’t care anymore…think I’ll head back down.”

In reality, grey divorce is not always a bad thing. It can be liberating, especially for people who have suffered through a truly unhappy marriage for years, whether for the kids or because of finances. Or maybe they really did just change and grow apart. It happens and people need to keep their own counsel.

But it goes the other way, too. Like any divorce, it can be a matter of thinking the grass is greener elsewhere. It can be driven by fear or assumption, or even ego. One partner may think they are missing out on something, and they may blame the person closest to them for it—their spouse. They may crave new experiences.

And then there’s the midlife crisis…

The so-called midlife crisis, especially (but not only or always) in men, often involves someone seeking new sexual experiences and excitement in life—I need to use it while I’ve still got it!

What this kind of thinking fails to recognize, however, is that the years that precede the “gray” can by their very nature be stressful, hectic yet somehow dull, and even low-sex at times. It isn’t necessarily the fault of your marriage. After all, those are the years that most us spend working long hours and raising our children. It can be hard for a couple to really focus on themselves or keep things sizzling for that long. It can be easy, however, to assume our marriage is to blame for the lack of luster we feel in our lives.

Avoid gray divorce by renewing your marriage

So what do you do if you think you’re facing a gray divorce, or if your spouse is leaning that way? Well, my advice is to not just ride it out or hope for the best. Don’t panic, and don’t try to convince your partner they’re wrong to feel the way they do, especially if they have legitimate gripes about you or the marriage.

Instead, you need to renew your marriage in a way that patches up those weak spots and makes your partner realize that their future will be much brighter with you than without you.

What if one spouse is unfaithful or self-focused?

But what if you’re one of the really unlucky ones whose spouse is having a midlife crisis, particularly one of the uglier ones that involves a partner’s increasing self-focus, ego or infidelity? Again, there’s usually no rationalizing with a spouse in the midst of a midlife crisis. It’s pointless to try and persuade them that they’ll regret divorcing you, especially if they’re involved with someone else.

Instead, you need to kick-start your marriage by changing your own behavior. It can be hard to do that after many years together, but it can be done and must be done.

So is gray divorce something to be worried about? Of course it is. Who wants to trek all the way up that mountain only to turn around at the last second and thus miss the breath-taking view at the top? Most of us want to reach the top together and enjoy the view with our sweetheart, looking out toward a shared future, but also looking back over how far we’ve come. That view, that perspective, is what we’re all truly looking for.

Whatever you do, don’t just wait it out!

Don’t stall. Don’t hope for the best. If you feel the “meh” settling on your marriage, shake it off now. And then keep climbing, together. It will be worth it.


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