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What is Gray Divorce and How Do You Avoid It?

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.

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) 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 kids. It can be hard for a couple to 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, I advise against simply assuming the bleak mood will pass. It may not. I would also avoid tying to convince your partner that they’re wrong to feel the way they do about you or the marriage, especially if they have legitimate gripes about either.

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 your spouse is unfaithful or self-focused?

But what if you’re one of the unlucky ones whose spouse is having a midlife crisis, particularly the type that involves a partner’s increasing self-indulgence, ego or infidelity? Again, there’s usually no rationalizing with a spouse like this. 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 step back and manage the situation with less emotion and more thought.  More strategy. That can be hard to do after so many years together and when we know each other so well, 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 miss the breathtaking view at the top? Most of us want to reach the summit 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.

So if you feel the “meh” settling on your marriage, shake it off now.  And if it’s a bigger problem, like infidelity, approach it more strategically.  My Marriage SOS™ resources (including books and online programs) can help you get over those slippery spots in your marriage and reach the summit.

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Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage author-expert whose plainspoken style and proven resources have empowered millions worldwide to save their marriage.