50 Shades of Grey Divorce

You are over 50 - maybe over 60. Presumably you are old enough to know that people "your age" are not supposed to get divorced. Yet, here you are: stuck in a marriage that feels dead and wondering whether it's still possible for you to find happiness.
08/23/2016 11:40 pm ET Updated Aug 24, 2017

You are over 50 - maybe over 60. Presumably you are old enough to know that people "your age" are not supposed to get divorced.

Yet, here you are: stuck in a marriage that feels dead and wondering whether it's still possible for you to find happiness.

Of course, you know your options. None of them are good.

On the one hand, you and your spouse share so much history together. You have been together for so long that it's almost impossible to think of yourself as being apart. The very thought of separating, of living alone, of starting over, is terrifying.

At the same time, just thinking about what you could do if you were on your own is exhilarating! Even if you didn't do anything "big," it would still be glorious to be able to do what you wanted, when you wanted, and with whom you wanted. You wouldn't have to answer to anyone!

But, you can't do what you want while you are married ... at least not to your current spouse!

The Grey Divorce Dilemma

Feeling stuck in a bad marriage is not unique to older couples. Plenty of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s struggle with exactly the same thing. What makes couples in their 50s and 60s different can be summed up in two words: finite resources.

You have a limited amount of time, money, and energy.

When you get divorced in your senior years, or even middle age, you no longer have a lifetime to rebuild your finances. Your income is unlikely to go up in any serious way. Your assets are fairly fixed and your employment opportunities are limited.

You may be retired, or were hoping to actually be able to retire someday. All of that makes the financial consequences of divorce significantly more damaging for older divorcing couples than for those who divorce at a younger age.

You also know that you are on the back side of your time on the planet. You know that if you don't follow your dreams now, you never will.

So, do you stay in a marriage that is, at best, mediocre, and, at worst, soul-crushing? Or, do you risk financial ruin for the uncertain chance at happiness, fulfillment, and perhaps, even love?

It's not an easy choice.

What People Don't Understand About Divorce After 50

In spite of the many differences between getting divorced when you are young, or "not so young," the truth is that all divorces, grey or otherwise, have one thing in common: every divorce is different.

That's what so many people don't understand.

Divorce lawyers and the media love to talk about the "Grey Divorce Revolution." But, grey divorce isn't "a revolution" (although it may feel like one if it is happening to you!). No one is taking to the streets to protest in support of divorce among the senior set.

Divorce happens to individuals. It happens to couples. Grey divorce is no exception.

There is no "one size fits all" typical grey divorce.

The Different Shades of Grey Divorce

Some older divorcing couples have been married since they were in their 20s. Over the years, they grew apart. Once their kids were grown and gone they may have realized that they had little left in common except the past. So they divorce.

Other couples may have been miserable together for decades. One spouse may have become an alcoholic, or had an affair - or a series of affairs! Finally, the other spouse gets to the point where s/he has had enough. So they divorce.

There are grey divorces that involve no children, adult children, or minor children. (Yes. It happens.) There are grey divorces from first marriages, and from second, or third marriages.

Some older couples are well off. Others are not. Some have saved amply for their retirement and are in a solid financial position. Others have lived beyond their means for years, and find themselves deeply in debt.

In short, there are as many different "kinds" of grey divorces as there are grey divorcees. Assuming that all grey divorces as the same just because the people who are getting divorced have been alive longer than their younger counterparts is an enormous mistake.

What Do You Do if You or Someone You Love is Facing a Grey Divorce

Step #1 for anyone facing divorce is to stop judging yourself! You are not a horrible human being simply because you have decided to get a divorce.

While plenty of people will try to convince you that, after you have been married for "X" number of years, you are obligated to stay married, that's hogwash! (It's also ageism at its worst!)

Getting divorced at any age is sad. Everyone wants their marriage to work. But, sometimes it doesn't. The truth is, it doesn't matter how old you are. Sh*t happens.

Step #2 is to remember that, no matter how old you are, you are human!

Your divorce is going to suck!

All divorces suck.

Unless you are a highly evolved zen master (in which case you are probably not married anyway) when you go through a divorce, you are going to lose it for a while. Everyone does.

Step #3 is to look at your individual circumstances and deal with your unique situation.

Yes, because you are older and because your resources are likely limited, you are going to have to pay special attention to your finances. Yes, you may have to get a job, or put off your retirement. You may have to downsize your home, or your lifestyle, for longer than a younger person, or maybe even forever. (Sorry.)

You may also have to find new activities and learn to get comfortable being alone. (Yes, you can do it. It's really not that bad!)

But, the sooner you start to accept your new reality and mover forward, the better off you are going to be.

It's All About You

No matter what kind of "grey divorce" you may be facing, you have the power to choose how you will handle it and move forward (or not). You can choose what you will tell yourself about your divorce, and what your divorce will mean to you.

If you choose to tell yourself that your life is over because you are old, broke, and divorced, then you can expect the rest of your life to be fairly miserable.

If you choose to tell yourself that, even though you may not have expected to be divorced and over 50, now that you are both of those things, you are going to make the best of your situation, then you may actually find that you will enjoy the rest of your life.

In the end, no matter how old you are, or what crisis you are facing, you are the only one living your life. What you choose to do with it is up to you.