Why Older Couples are Divorcing After More Years of Marriage – and How to Avoid It

Dr. Serenity
April 11, 2023

Why Older Couples Are Separating After Decades of Marriage – and How You Can Avoid It

The recent announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce after 27 years of marriage has brought attention to the increasing trend of “gray divorce,” where couples over the age of 50 are separating at a higher rate than before. This phenomenon is not unique to the Gates, as research shows that over 1 in 4 people getting divorced in the United States are over the age of 50, and more than half of those divorces occur after 20 years of marriage.

Multiple studies have found that attitudes toward divorce have shifted among older adults, leading to a higher rate of separation. A study published in June 2020 found that people over 50 are more supportive of divorce than in previous years. The “gray divorce” rate has doubled since 1990 and has remained steady ever since.

Susan L. Brown, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of sociology at Bowling Green State University, who co-authored a study on the “gray divorce” trend, says that something is definitely going on among people in the second half of life that’s different from younger adults. Understanding these changes and taking steps to avoid them can help couples maintain a long and happy marriage.


The Benefits of Marriage on Your Health: Separating Fact from Fiction

Marriage has long been touted as a key factor in a healthy and happy life, and epidemiological studies have shown that married individuals tend to experience better physical and mental health outcomes compared to those who are single. But is this always the case?

According to Susan L. Brown, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the answer is not so straightforward. While it’s true that married couples often have more resources and social support, and may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, the quality of the marriage plays a significant role in its impact on individual health and well-being.

Research has shown that individuals in satisfying and rewarding marriages tend to enjoy better health outcomes and longevity. A meta-analysis published in Psychological Bulletin found that greater marital quality was associated with better health across all categories, including cognitive function and cardiovascular health.

However, staying in a low-quality marriage can be detrimental to both physical and mental health. In fact, individuals in marriages that are full of conflict and dissatisfaction may experience significantly worse health outcomes compared to those who are single.

It’s important to remember that marriage is not a one-size-fits-all solution to better health. While it can offer benefits in terms of social support and healthy habits, the quality of the relationship is key. Couples should prioritize communication, mutual respect, and problem-solving to ensure that their marriage is a positive influence on their overall health and well-being.


Why ‘Gray Divorce’ Is on the Rise: Exploring the Contributing Factors

The recent announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce after 27 years of marriage has brought attention to the growing trend of “gray divorce,” or the dissolution of long-term marriages among older adults. According to experts, there are several factors contributing to this phenomenon.

  • Shift in the Meaning of Marriage

One contributing factor is the changing meaning of marriage. According to Susan L. Brown, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of sociology at Bowling Green State University, the cultural script for what constitutes a successful marriage has shifted over time. Today, questions like “Does this marriage make me happier as a person?” and “Is my marriage contributing to my self-fulfillment?” are more important than ever. If the answer to these questions is no, divorce may be seen as an acceptable solution.

  • Greater Economic Independence

Another contributing factor is greater economic independence for women. Women today have more alternative pathways out of an unsatisfying marriage than women of previous generations. This newfound independence gives women the ability to leave a marriage that is no longer fulfilling.

  • Increased Lifespan

Finally, people are living longer than ever before, meaning that older divorce is more common than ever. Surviving to age 65 means that you may have another 20 years or more to live. Spending that time with someone you’re no longer happy with can be difficult, and many couples are choosing to end their marriages in search of personal fulfillment.

  • Gray Divorce and Health

While studies have shown that being married is usually associated with better health outcomes, it’s important to note that not all marriages are good for an individual’s health. Staying in a low-quality or conflict-ridden marriage can be detrimental to one’s health and well-being.

The statement released by the Gates following their announcement of divorce suggests that they are choosing to prioritize their own personal fulfillment over their marriage. “We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives,” they said.

As the trend of gray divorce continues, it’s important for individuals to consider what they want out of their own marriages and to prioritize their own well-being and personal fulfillment.


How to Boost Relationship Resilience and Enhance Emotional Intimacy at Any Stage of Life

Maintaining a strong, loving relationship with your partner is crucial for overall well-being and resilience. Whether you’re newly together or have been together for decades, it’s important to keep your relationship strong and healthy. Here are six tips to help you build and maintain emotional intimacy and connection with your partner at any age:

  1. Rediscover What Made You Fall in Love

Over time, it’s easy to lose sight of the qualities that initially attracted you to your partner. Jane Greer, PhD, a New York City-based marriage and family therapist, recommends recalling the early days of your relationship and what made you fall in love with each other. By focusing on the positive qualities of your partner, you can rekindle feelings of desire and excitement.

  1. Show Genuine Interest in Your Partner

In the beginning of a relationship, you are curious about your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Over time, this sense of curiosity can fade. Harville Hendrix, PhD, a couples therapist, recommends asking your partner open-ended questions and actively listening to their responses. This fosters a sense of value and safety, leading to a stronger bond.

  1. Respect Boundaries

Setting boundaries in your relationship is more important than ever. When you want to communicate with your partner, ask if it’s a good time to talk. Respect their answer and make sure to address issues in a mutually agreeable setting.

  1. Try Something New Together

Repetitive routines can create stagnancy in a relationship. Planning a new experience together creates a shared bond and excitement. According to research from Harvard University, trying new things can even stimulate the release of brain chemicals that produce feelings of love.

  1. Make Requests, Not Demands

If there’s something you want from your partner, make a request in a respectful and positive manner. Avoid criticism and negativity to minimize misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

  1. Address Sexual Disparities

If sexual desire or satisfaction is an issue in your relationship, it’s important to address it. Seeking the help of a professional, such as a sex therapist, can improve clarity about the situation and help both partners feel heard and understood.

In summary, nurturing emotional intimacy, communication, and mutual respect are the keys to maintaining a healthy and fulfilling romantic relationship at any stage of life. By incorporating these six tips, you can strengthen your bond and cultivate a lifelong partnership.

Author Dr. Serenity

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