5 Ways to Help Prevent Gray Divorce

If you are 50 or older and have been married for 30 years or more, the latest headlines might have you wondering if your marriage is in trouble and you don’t even know it.

Articles from Pew Research Center, the Wall Street Journal and other publications with titles like, Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for America’s 50+ Population, and The Divorce Rate is at a 40-Year-Low, Unless You’re 55 or Older, seem to be painting a grim picture. Should people be worried?

Professors Naomi Cahn at the George Washington University Law School and June Carbone at the University of Minnesota Law School, looked at the latest research on this topic. They say the divorce rate is still not all that high for those over the age of 50. 

In 1990, five out of every 1,000 married people divorced. In 2010, 10 out of every 1,000 married people divorced. Although the rate has risen more dramatically for those over the age of 50, Cahn and Carbone say it is still half the rate of those younger than 50.

One might older couples are divorcing because children have finally left the nest or that people are living longer and just getting bored in marriage. That doesn’t appear to be the case, however.

According to research from the National Center for Family and Marriage at Bowling Green State University:

  • Couples who own property together and couples with over $250,000 in assets were less likely to divorce.
  • Couples married 40 years or more were the least likely to end up divorced.
  • Gray divorce was almost three times higher for remarried couples compared to first-time married couples.

While property, wealth and the absence of previous marriage may be protective factors, couples can do other things to help their marriage last.

  • Friendship matters. No matter how many years you have been married, continue to grow the friendship between the two of you.
  • Be nice. People often are nicer to those on the outside than the ones they say they care about most. Pay attention to how you treat the one you love.
  • Seek to navigate the tough times together. A job loss, death of a parent or some other transition can be really hard. Instead of trying to navigate it on your own, talking about what you need during a rough patch can help your spouse know the most helpful ways to offer support.
  • Be adventurous. When you’ve been together a long time, it’s easy to find yourselves in a comfortable, yet unfulfilling rut. Look for opportunities to do something out of the ordinary.
  • Keep the conversations going. Some people who have been married for decades complete each other’s sentences and know what the other needs without having to ask. Plenty of research indicates that long-term, happily-married couples know that part of the “happily-married” secret is to keep talking about a variety of topics that interest them.

It is true that more people are throwing in the towel on marriage later in life. However, those who understand that just because you have traveled the road for a long time doesn’t mean you can put it on cruise control or take your hands off the wheel are much more likely to reach the end of their journey together.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 5, 2019.