Writer and yoga enthusiast Kathryn Livingston, 59, has been married to her husband for 35 years and the two are as devoted to each other today as they’ve ever been. How do they make it work? She says it’s pretty simple: they both accept change and go with the flow.
When it comes to midlifers, this couple is starting to become the exception rather than the norm. Although the overall national divorce rate has been creeping downwards since spiking in the 1980s, the divorce rate among those 50 and over -- so-called “gray divorces” -- has more than doubled over the last two decades, according to a study released this year by sociologists at Bowling Green State University.
That study, called “The Gray Divorce Revolution,” predicted the number of post 50 divorces could easily surpass 800,000 per year by 2030. In comparison, more than 600,000 people age 50 and older got divorced in 2009 -- or one in four; in 1990, only one in 10 people 50 and older got divorced.
The study also found that those over 50 in a second or third marriage (as opposed to a first) have a 150 percent greater likelihood of divorcing.
But, despite the numbers, some decades-long unions -– like the Livingstons’ -- are able to buck the trend and make love last.
“If you expect your partner to look and act the way he/she did when you were 24, you’re bound to be disappointed and the marriage may ultimately be doomed,” Livingston said. “I have to hand it to my husband for going along with my metamorphosis… in many ways I’m different from the girl he married.
“In fact, he’s fond of saying he’s been married to a number of different women over the years,” she added. “Most recently, he’s been pretty cool about my taking up chanting/mantra and Kundalini yoga, though he’s not into this sort of thing. I, on the other hand, have had to go along with some of his silly business, like deciding to save the planet by not turning on our heat until the end of October and refusing to use the dishwasher or dryer.”
The issue of gray divorces has been in the spotlight recently thanks to the breakup of long-time celebrity couple Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, who split this year following 30 years of marriage. But plenty of other celebrity couples have called it quits including Jessica Lange and actor-writer Sam Shepard, who parted ways in 2009 after 27 years together, as well as Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, who split in 2009 after 23 years together.
Licensed psychotherapist Rachel Sussman (author of The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce”) said there are many reasons behind the uptick in gray divorces.
“Boomers’ quest for happiness in their lives, empty nest, women working and having more financial independence and confidence, people living longer … all are reasons,” she said.
Other experts point to the ability of people to easily reconnect with those from their past via social media -- as well as hook up with potential partners via online dating sites -- as a contributing factor. Indeed the number of dating-site users 50 or older has grown twice as fast as any other age group over the past year, according to comScore.com.
“People divorcing in their 50s have made it through the raising-little-kids-boot-camp phase of marriage when no one gets their needs met but the children,” said Pamela Zivari, an attorney and conflict resolution professional. “Fifty-year-olds leave usually not because of a tragedy, but because they are unfulfilled.
“Unlike people in their 30s and 40s who want to start over from the very beginning, divorcing 50-year=olds have usually made a sober assessment, ‘does this relationship, on balance, bring me enough happiness and security that I will forego the heartbreak and uncertainty I would create for all the family members if I decided to jump ship at this stage?’” she said.
According to a 2004 AARP survey, 66 percent of divorces among people ages 40 to 69 are initiated by women. The same survey found that infidelity wasn’t the overriding catalyst. Just 27 percent of those seeking a gray divorce cited infidelity among their top three reasons for doing so -- which is on par with estimates of infidelity as a factor in divorce in the general population.
“If you are a woman who works, or understands finance and divorce laws, has a network of friends, hobbies -- and the kids are gone – and you’re unhappily married at 50, you may think ‘I’m going to be here for 40 more years in this disconnected marriage? No way! I have options,'” Sussman said. “There’s also the Internet, meaning there are more options for women to date and make a better match.”
But Zivari and other experts still maintain that the chronic dissatisfaction experienced by many couples might have been relieved if they had sought professional help early on.
Although many older divorcés say they're happy, there are many others who express fear over being alone.
“I am a big believer in mental health professionals. If you can go to a doctor for a well visit and a physical, why can’t you go with your spouse to a counselor for a tweak?” Zivari said. “But we are a nation of can-do individuals and because we pride ourselves on our abilities to strive and innovate and problem solve, we think we should be able to do most things on our own. But we can’t do anything on our own.
“We are social creatures supported by a web of relationships, so why not get help with the most important relationship in your life?” she asked.
If you are seeking to keep your marriage fresh, here are five tips from certified life coach Jean Grossman.
- Take a Good Look at Your Values: What are your values and how are you honoring them? It all starts there. Values change over the course of our lives and it’s an opportune time to check in about where you are with yours. Get honest. There’s no right or wrong about this -- it just is. Knowing your values helps you make decisions about how to live your days. Comparing your list with your partner's creates an opportunity for understanding and acceptance. They don’t need to be the same. Seeing the differences shows you where opportunities for conflict or appreciation exist.
- Live Every Day as Though it’s Your Last: How easy it is for us to get into our routines. Comfortable as they might be they actually create a setting for taking things for granted and boredom. Each and every day, take a look at how you go about it. Is it working for you? Is it time to let go of the same breakfast, the same schedule, the same Friday night out to dinner date where you rarely talk with each other? Are you grateful for what you have? Do you live in your gratitude?
- Keep it Real: Remember the expression ‘it takes two to tango’? If you keep having that same argument or live your life with unspoken frustration, now's the time to take a look at your part. What ‘button’ do you allow to get pushed? How do you respond? What might happen if you didn’t react at all? Have you ever taken a good look at what unacceptable behavior you’ve allowed or what might be unacceptable on your part? Are you willing to ask yourself how important something is? Can you take some time out for perspective?
- Converse with Curiosity: At one point my husband told me he didn’t think “I was there for him.” Well, in the past those would have been ‘fightin’ words' for sure. Imagine that! How could he? How dare he? After all I’ve been, done, etc. Instead, I chose to respond: “what do you mean by ‘not there’?” He proceeded to tell me, and it was very different from my perspective of ‘not there.’ I took the opportunity to thank him for explaining that. I also had an opportunity to share how I saw it differently. No anger, no tension, no negatives -- simply dialogue. What opened up was a real chance for intimacy that we hadn’t had previously. We each learned something about the other. Some of it had to do with our previous spouses... We respected our differences. We were truly happy to take the time for each other in that space. What could have started out as a fight turned into a moment we could each continue to cherish as we proceeded with our day.
- Keep it Fresh: When was the last time you learned or tried something new? What excitement are you bringing to your day and to your world? The greatest gift I was ever given by my husband was for him to allow me to be me. Learning and living each day differently. Pursuing my interest. Bringing excitement and vitality to my world and in turn to his. Do you love to travel, dine out, explore new types of food and cooking, the local culture? I recently took a Master Gardener course that not only allowed me to start a new business after the age of 50 but give back to my community with my newly learned skills. That success was followed by getting a certification for the coaching I’d been doing for my carrier again allowing me other outlets to bring value to my self and my world. We both benefit from my pursuit of these interests. There’s never a dull moment in our household.
Denzel and Pauletta Washington (29 Years)
This handsome Academy Award winning actor -- who hasn't aged much since <em>People</em> named him Sexiest Man Alive in 1996 -- met his future wife, Pauletta Pearson, on the set of the television film <em>Wilma</em> in 1977. They were married on June 25, 1983. After having four children, the couple renewed their wedding vows in 1995 in South Africa; the ceremony was officiated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Denzel's long-lasting marriage is most likely due to his healthy philosophy: "<a href="http://www.whosdatedwho.com/tpx_705/denzel-washington/quotes" target="_hplink">Acting is just a way of making a living, the family is life.</a>"
Billy and Janice Crystal (42 Years)
It makes sense that the funniest man alive can keep his wife happy for 42 long years while sharing the same bedroom, bathroom and toothpaste? Janice probably couldn't stop laughing long enough to say the word divorce. "The <a href="http://www.tv.com/people/billy-crystal/trivia/" target="_hplink">reason</a> we are together," is because she puts lead in my shoes and doesn't let me fly off the earth. And it's always been that way." Soooo sweet.
Tom and Lois Bergeron (30 Years)
Tom and Lois have been waltzing together since 1982. The <em>Dancing With the Stars</em> host and his lovely wife have two children together. There seems to be only one picture of the television personality with his wife on the Internet, but it's copyrighted -- we need Bergeron to step up and tweet a nice photo of himself with the Mrs. There's even less information about their life together. So, how about it, Tom? Facebook? Twitter? ...Something! You can't dance around this forever.
Jerry Stiller and Ann Meara (58 Years)
Stiller and Meara spent many years as a stand-up comedy team in the '60s and '70s with numerous appearances on <em>The Ed Sullivan Show</em>. His book, <em>Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Ann Meara</em>, may give hundreds of clues as to why their marriage has endured for 58 years. The parents of actors Ben and Amy took their careers on separate paths (among many acting parts, she had a recurring role on the sitcom <em>Rhoda</em>; he played the temperamental Frank Costanza on <em>Seinfeld</em>) but were honored with a joint star on the <a href="http://voices.yahoo.com/stiller-meara-hollywood-star-203200.html?cat=40" target="_hplink">Hollywood Walk of Fame</a> in 2007. Can you say: "Serenity, now"?
Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson (32 Years)
One of the most respected actors in Hollywood, <a href="http://samuelljackson.com/my-life/" target="_hplink">Samuel L. Jackson's films "have grossed more money in box office sales than any other actor in the history of Hollywood."</a> It seems his personal life has also seen some huge returns. Jackson married actress and sports channel producer LaTanya Richardson in 1980. In 2009, the veteran actor and his wife started their own charitable organization to help support education.
Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach (31 Years)
The Beatles drummer met his "Bond Girl" (<em>The Spy Who Loved Me</em>) on the set of <em>Caveman</em> in 1980. When <a href="http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20078665,00.html">Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach survived a serious car accident</a>, the two knew who they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with. <br /> <br /> "We decided we wouldn't spend any time apart," Starr told <em>People</em> in 1981. "So far the longest break was five days, and that was too long. I want to live every minute with Barbara."
Ann-Margret and Roger Smith (45 Years)
The "sex kitten" may have fallen in love with Elvis Presley in 1964 during the filming of <em>Viva Las Vegas</em>, but it was <em>77 Sunset Strip</em> actor Roger Smith she walked down the aisle with on May 8, 1967. Smith, who became her manager and produced her movies and stage shows, is now in semi-retirement due to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann-Margret" target="_hplink">Myasthenia Gravis</a>. To find out where Ann-Margret will be touring and other info, click <a href="http://www.ann-margret.com/" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Suzanne Somers and Alan Hamel (35 Years)
Suzanne met her future husband in 1969 when she was a "prize model" on the syndicated game show <em>Anniversary Game</em> starring Alan Hamel. The <em>Three's Company </em>star married her Prince Charming in 1977, and he became her manager. Ms. Somers has been quoted as saying the two secrets to having a long marriage is "talk, talk, talk" and "great sex." 'Nuff said.
Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber (25 Years)
Mark Harmon, who was named the <a href="http://www.people.com/people/package/gallery/0,,20315920_20154495_20349084,00.html#20349092" target="_hplink">"Sexiest Man Alive"</a> back in 1986 by <em>People</em>, married <em>Mork & Mindy</em> actress Pam Dawber in 1987. The <em>NCIS</em> star and his beautiful wife, who have two sons together, guard their privacy and won't open up about their marriage or their family life, so it's hard to articulate why their Hollywood marriage has stood the test of time (and to find pictures of them together). Maybe they just love each other very, very much. Yep, that's it.
David McCallum and Katherine Carpenter (45 Years)
David McCallum, who starred in the 1960s TV series <em>The Man From U.N.C.L.E.</em> and has been playing Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on the television series <em>NCIS</em> since 2003, was married to actress Jill Ireland from 1957 to 1967. He introduced her to actor Charles Bronson, whom Ireland later left McCallum for, marrying Bronson in 1968. But his heart appears to have healed quickly -- McCallum married Katherine Carpenter in 1967 and they have been living happily ever after.
Tom Selleck and Jillie Mack (25 Years)
Best known for his portrayal of private investigator Thomas Magnum on the television series <em>Magnum P.I.</em>, the sexiest man alive in my book will celebrate 25 years of marriage with his actress wife in August. Selleck spilled the beans to <a href="http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/celebrity-interviews/tom-selleck-interview" target="_hplink"><em>Good Housekeeping</em></a> about why his marriage is so successful: "Hopefully you marry someone who you not only love, but who you like as well. I just still enjoy my wife's company enormously. She's hilariously funny, and we make a point, no matter how busy we are, to stop and spend time together. We make sure we sit down and enjoy a nice long dinner."
Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk (38 Years)
The <em>Crimes of the Heart</em> actress married production designer and art director Jack Fisk on April 13, 1974. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/sissy-spacek-an-extraordinary-ordinary-life_n_1516175.html?ref=fifty">The couple met on the set of the 1973 movie <em>Badlands</em></a>. When one of Fisk's crew members walked out on the first day of shooting <em>Phanton of the Paradise</em>, <a href="http://www.nndb.com/people/758/000023689/" target="_hplink">Spacek volunteered to serve as a set dresser</a>. <br /> Two years later he suggested Spacek for the title role in the indelible <em>Carrie</em> to <em>Phantom</em> director Brian De Palma. Fisk was the art director on <em>Carrie</em> so it seems that working and living together in a tough-as-nails entertainment business can work if there's lots of love, devotion ... and gravitational pull.
Frankie Avalon and Kay Diebel (50 Years)
One of the original teen idols, Frankie Avalon -- whose song "Venus" spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1959 -- and wife Kay have been married since January 1962 (much to the disappointment of millions of female teen groupies). They are the parents of eight children: four sons and four daughters. <br />According to his <a href="http://www.frankieavalon.com/index.cfm" target="_hplink">web site</a>, he and Kay live in a sprawling ranch style home in California's San Fernando Valley where the couple are looking forward to "the next generation of Avalons appearing on the scene."
Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross (28 Years)
Elliott, who played card player #2 in the opening scene of <em>Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid</em> in 1969, is Ross's <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Ross" target="_hplink">fourth husband</a>. They started dating in 1978 when they both starred in <em>The Legacy</em> and did not marry until 1984. Elliott once explained why their <a href="http://marriage.about.com/od/entertainmen1/p/samelliott.htm" target="_hplink">marriage works</a>: "I think you've got to work at it [marriage], and I think (it's) the fact that we're in love and that we're both outdoor types and love animals and like growing stuff in the yard. I think we were lucky to find each other. It's been a good one." Katharine's take: "We have a deal. Unless we're working together, we don't work at the same time."
Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss (51 Years)
Actor/director Richard Benjamin, who starred in <em>Goodbye, Columbus</em> in 1969, married actress Paula Prentiss (<em>Where the Boys Are</em>) in October 1961. In 1967, Benjamin and Prentiss starred in the CBS sitcom <em>He & She</em> which was cancelled after one season. Their marriage, however, was never cancelled, so we salute this wonderful Hollywood couple who have celebrated their golden anniversary!
Steven and Maureen Van Zandt (28 Years)
The most famous member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band -- who also played the stone-faced Silvio Dante on <em>The Sopranos</em> -- married actress Maureen Santoro on December 31, 1983. Springsteen served as best man. Reverend Richard Penniman (aka Rock 'n Roll legend Little Richard) presided over the ceremony. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Van_Zandt" target="_hplink">Rumor has it Percy Sledge sang his classic song "When a Man Loves a Woman" at the reception</a>. What could possibly go wrong after that beginning?
Meryl Streep and Don Gummer (34 Years)
The woman who has been called the greatest actress of our generation seems to have a handle on her personal life as well as her prolific career. Streep and Gummer, who have four children, met through her brother, Harry. Streep's<a href="http://marriage.about.com/od/entertainmen1/p/mstreep.htm" target="_hplink"> marriage secret</a>: "Goodwill and willingness to bend -- and to shut up every once in a while. There's no road map on how to raise a family: it's always an enormous negotiation. But I have a holistic need to work and to have huge ties of love in my life. I can't imagine eschewing one for the other."
Bill and Camille Cosby (48 Years)
Bill and Camille, who met on a blind date while she was attending the University of Maryland, were married in 1964 and went on to have five children. Like all marriages, they've had to endure many obstacles including the death of their beloved son, Ennis, who was shot while changing a tire on a Los Angeles freeway in 1997. The "Cos" is never at a loss for words when it comes to "Love and Marriage" (the title of his 1990 book): "Any husband who says, 'My wife and I are equal partners,' is either talking about a law firm or a hand of bridge."
Alan and Arlene Alda (55 Years)
This six-time Emmy Award winner is best known for his portrayal of the quick-witted Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series<em> M*A*S*H</em> from 1972 to 1983. <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/books/10/06/alan.alda/index.html" target="_hplink">CNN's review</a> of Alda's 2005 book: <em>Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (And Other Things I've Learned)</em> describes the actor's musings on of meeting his wife: "...he writes rapturously of meeting a woman named Arlene. Within a few pages, they're taking walks in Bronx Park, stealing time from Alda's military service at Fort Benning, Georgia, and getting married. The book is 224 pages, so you wait for the other shoe to drop: petty arguments, ugly affairs, divorce ... Nothing."
Christopher and Georgianne Walken (43 Years)
I have no idea why I'm shocked that actor Christopher Walken has been married for 43 years. I wasn't even sure he was married until I looked it up. His wife, Georgianne, is a casting director responsible for casting such television shows as <em>The Sopranos</em> and <em>Entourage</em>. They've flown under the radar for so long but perhaps they should come out of hiding. It would be so refreshing for them to share their secret of marital bliss.