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  • Writer's pictureJada Hudson, LCPC, CADC

Is Divorce Inevitable in Retirement?

In a world of online dating, shows called Married at First Sight, and Millennials getting married later, it’s clear that the institution of marriage means something different today than it did when Grandma Lucille met Grandpa Harry in 1946.

Time author, Belinda Luscombe, explains, “Matrimony used to be an institution people entered out of custom, duty, or a need to procreate. Now that it’s become a technology-assisted endeavor that has been delayed until conditions are at their most optimal, it needs to deliver better-quality benefits. Most of us think this one relationship should- and could- provide the full buffet of satisfaction, intimacy, support, stability, happiness, and sexual exhilaration. And, if it’s not up to the task, it’s quicker and cheaper than ever to unsubscribe.” Surprisingly, however, divorce rates have consistently dropped since the 1980s in every age group except older adults.

In adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate doubled in the past two decades. In the 1990s, only 10% of couples who divorced were over the age of 50. By 2010, 25% of couples getting divorced were over the age of 50. And, men ages 65 and older more likely to be divorced than widowed.

Some psychologists theorize that shifting technological, cultural, and economic influences have shaped Americans’ perception of marriage and made the picture of singlehood more attractive. Others believe that both partners working outside the home has dis-unified couples by providing each individual with separate social circles and stressors. Still others believe that couples stay together until they reach the “Empty Nest Years” out of desire to provide the best opportunities to their children. This, with social media’s ever-connected-to-friends nature, has made it so that couples can find support and conversation outside the home. So, couples arrive at retirement startled by its shifting social dynamics, and in desperate need of marital re-discovery.

So, the question remains: Can “Happily Ever After” exist, if marriage struggles to survive the retirement years?

Psychology professor Eli Finkel of Northwestern University found that Americans view marriage today as both the most and the least satisfying institution that has ever been. But, what if “satisfaction” is the wrong pursuit? What if, by asking marriage to satisfy us, we’re asking it to do something it can never succeed at?

During working years, couples fill their schedules with meetings, kids’ sports practices, social outings, and corporate functions, finding satisfaction in work, achievement, and social connection. But, at the turn of retirement, couples find themselves staring across the breakfast table wondering what to do with this person they are married to. All these years of looking forward to “kicking back, relaxing, and traveling,” and they begin to realize that they could get a little bored. And, they begin to realize that they don’t know their mate as well as they thought.

How, then, can they be satisfied and develop marriages that survive the retirement years? Here are four keys to finding marital sweetness again:

Commit to stick it out. One study of 700 elderly adults found that 100% of them called their long marriage “the best thing in their life.” It also found that 100% of them either stated that marriage was either “hard” or “very, very hard.” Yet, studies have also shown that couples who are committed to one another for the long-run actually find a new kind of sweetness to their relationship. If they are willing to practice being good to one another, they begin to rediscover and live at the same level of sweetness they had during their courtship.

Develop or discover mutual interests. Think of activities you both enjoy doing together and do them as often as possible. When you can connect over shared interests, your relationship will be able to endure an innumerable amount of changes from the outside.

Keep up your sex life. When comparing couples who have sex once a week to couples who have sex less than once a month, the happiness level of the frequently-intimate was almost three times higher! Sex will make your relationship sweeter, as you allow intimacy into your relationship.

Find something meaningful to do with your personal time. Don’t ask your spouse to satisfy your every need. Whether it’s mentoring someone younger than you, or volunteering at your favorite organization, or taking up consulting, or gardening, or traveling. Fill your days with satisfying activity, and invite your spouse to join in, if he/she wishes.

Though it may have been decades ago, something got you and your spouse together. A lot of time and a ton of changes may have passed, but you can rediscover the beauty of an amazing marriage even in the retired years. Start by shifting your focus from getting satisfaction out of your marriage to finding sweetness in your marriage.


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Jada Hudson
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