The Sorrows and Joys of a Midlife Divorce.

January 8, 2022

The Sorrows and Joys of a Midlife Divorce.

May 29, 2023

Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates may be phenomenal businessmen, but who's to know whether they're great husbands? They've both gotten divorced in the past couple of years, giving further evidence to the fact that more money (one-third of a trillion dollars in net worth between the two of them) doesn't mean a merry marriage.

Overall, the U.S. divorce rate is at a 50-year low (although COVID may affect that). But, for those aged 50 to 59, there's been a spike-up in break-ups. It's nearly 70% higher than the rate for 50­-somethings thirty years ago. So, if this is one of the transitions you're navigating or considering navigating, you're not alone.

There are so many factors that lead to divorce in midlife, especially when you've been together the vast majority of your adult life. Being an empty nester might wake you up to the fact that you and your spouse don't have much to talk about. Or your interests and choices of friends have diverged. Perhaps you no longer have an emotional or sensual attraction to each other, or you have become peeved about their worst traits. And, of course, you may have simply fallen out of love.

Of course, some of these issues are solvable, especially if both parties are willing to do the work (even more so if you have problems with kids and/or finances). Sadly, among women in their 50s who divorce from a heterosexual marriage, on average, they see a 43% decline in their standard of living while men see a 15% drop.

We have an exercise at MEA called the "Great Midlife Edit," in which people throw into the fire those mindsets, identities, and ways of being that are ready to be ejected. One of the top three things people bring up is the state of their marriage and their need for some newfound freedom. For those who've tried couples counseling, taken separate vacations, slept in separate bedrooms, and have even had an affair to rekindle their own sense of attractiveness, the idea of charting a path to being alone again can feel both scary and exhilarating. As one woman recently said to me, "Alone, but not lonely... that's what I have ahead of me."

When someone asks me what they should do (as a few of my friends are currently in this limbo state), the best I can offer is the following. Unless there's some abuse involved, don't judge your marriage based on the best or worst days. Recognize that midlife is often a time of disappointment as in Disappointment = Expectations - Reality. Almost all of us feel it in some way.

I'd also say be careful of "the grass is always greener on the other side" thinking. However, if you find yourself consistently happier through four seasons with your spouse not around, it may be time to separate. Of course, understand the collateral costs and benefits of the decision to divorce (and not just financially).

Personally, my perspective on partnership fundamentally shifted when I stopped thinking I was supposed to be with the "ideal partner" and focused more on defining my life's "ideal conditions" and with whom I could co-create that kind of life. This shift may help you avert deficit thinking regarding your partner (how they don't measure up) and focus more on design thinking—how you want to curate your life.

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

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