Even after 25 years of marriage, problems can — and often do — surface. Communication, novelty, and therapy can help you work through them.
If you’re having marital issues later in life, you’re not alone.
According to the AARP, midlife breakups are more common now than they were a generation ago. 2023 research shows that divorce rates for people age 45 and older rose between 1990 and 2021, while rates dropped for those younger than 45.
There are many reasons married couples encounter issues around or past the 25-year mark. Here, we take a look at some of the more common ones, and what you can do to rekindle your relationship.
By the time couples reach mid-life, there are a variety of factors that can have a significant impact on their marriage.
1. Empty nest
According to Linda Hershman, LMFT, author of “Gray Divorce: Everything You Need to Know About Later-Life Breakups”, most couples in long-term marriages who seek therapy report that the problems have been there all along. But issues were easier to tolerate or best ignored while they tended to the tasks of raising a family.
Once the children leave the home, the issues become harder to live with or easier to leave.
Elena Herrera, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Jose, California, agrees.
“Many couples’ identities can be wrapped around being a provider or a parent,” she notes. “When those roles change or require less of them, it can lead people to reexamine their lives, and often, their marriages.”
2. Changes in power structure
More than two-thirds of divorces for couples over 50, also known as “gray divorces”, are initiated by women. The reason they do this, says Hershman, is because they can.
“Until fairly recently, women did not have the economic power to leave marriages that were abusive, unhappy, or that one or both partners outgrew,” she explains.
3. People living longer
It used to be that people retired at age 60 or 65 and, if they were lucky, lived another 5 or 10 years.
Today, many people can look forward to 20, 25, or even 30 more active years when they hit age 60, and are asking themselves the question: Does this marriage still work for me?
4. Financial stress
When finances are an ongoing challenge, or there are fundamental disagreements about money management, it can put a significant strain on a marriage.
5. Reduced stigma
The social stigma of divorce that existed previously is no longer an issue in most places, including many religious institutions.
6. Undiagnosed mental health issues
Hershman says it’s common for one or both partners who attend therapy to experience undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health issues, such as:
- mood disorders
- addictions (or substance misuse)
Usually, these have been ongoing issues that were tolerated while raising the children, and they can have a significant impact on a relationship.
While “gray divorce” may be on the rise, it’s by no means inevitable. Our experts provide a few tips on how you can rekindle your marriage after 20+ years:
- Re-visit your relationship: Hershman says couples often stop investing in the relationship once kids come along. But this can serve as an opportunity for a do-over once the children become more independent, she says. Consider bringing back activities you enjoyed doing as a couple when it was just the two of you, or explore new ones.
- Embrace novelty: Consider trying new things to try out together, such as an adult education class or something active, like pickleball. Be creative, and try to get out of your comfort zone.
- Find deeper connection: Talk to each other in a meaningful way beyond parenting or caregiving roles and household duties. For example, ask your partner how they’re doing or how they feel about their lives. The idea is to move away from the standard “what do you want for dinner” to deeper, more meaningful conversations.
- Consider seeking marriage counseling together: Try to go in with the intention of taking self-responsibility by learning what dynamics you bring into the relationship that contribute to the problems. Herrera says this can help rekindle not only the marriage but improve and strengthen other relationships.
Making the decision to divorce
Divorce is one of life’s biggest stressors, besides the death of a loved one, says Hershman. It will inevitably cause disruption in multiple areas, such as finances, kids, and housing.
- Envision the reality: Consider what this will look like and how you will navigate the changes. For example, will you need to work for the first time in as many years? Or will you need to push your retirement plans further away? How will friendships and holidays be handled?
- Consider how your children may be impacted: If kids are involved, it’s crucial to prioritize their needs and establish a positive co-parenting dynamic. This extends to adult children of divorce. According to Hershman, parents generally do not recognize the mental and financial impact of divorce on grown children.
- Create a good social support system: Remaining active, cultivating friendships, and joining support groups can help you stay connected to others at what can be an unknown time.
If you’re finding it hard to repair issues in your marriage, couples therapy can be a good place to start.
You could also give discernment counseling a try. This is a short-term therapy for couples who can’t decide whether to stay or go. It can also be effective for couples where one partner wants to end the relationship while the other hopes to preserve it.