When older couples break up, it’s not always a matter of conflict. Something else is happening.

By Morey Stettner

Why now bail out a relationship built on decades of shared history?

As couples age, they are less likely to break up. Each decade of marriage makes you less likely to divorce.

Yet older people don’t necessarily have a love-fest until death do us part.

The divorce rate in the United States among 25-39 year olds is 24 per 1,000 people. It slowly declines from there: people between the ages of 40 and 49 have a 21 in 1,000 chance of divorce, while those over 50 have a divorce rate of just 10 in 1,000.

But recent history is not reassuring for older couples. Their divorce rate has steadily increased since the 1990s.

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Traditionally, the gender pay gap – with men on average earning more than women for full-time work – may have led some women to stay in unhappy marriages for financial security. The pay gap still exists, but more women in their 50s and 60s have accumulated their own financial nest egg that frees them to separate

For older couples who decide to quit, what gives? Why now bail out a relationship built on decades of shared history?

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“A lot of times what we see in retirees is that it’s generally not about conflict,” said Galena Rhoades, Ph.D., research professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver. . “The reason for the divorce is the lack of positives.”

For example, a lost intimacy or an eroded friendship can cause a rift. They may think they are getting too old to live their life with a partner who is no longer their soul mate.

It may be easier to understand why young couples file for divorce. They may disagree about how to raise children (or have children), argue over career choices, or bicker over money.

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Older couples, on the other hand, tend to face different challenges. Once their children are adults, they may struggle to reestablish their identity independent of parenting. Going into retreat mode can also throw a wrench in the relationship.

“There is a connection between transition and distress,” Rhoades said. “Experiencing a stressful event or change, such as retirement, means changes in the way couples interact with each other.”

For older couples facing discomfort, there are ever-evolving alternatives to divorce. Opportunities to redefine the relationship abound.

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Examples include cutting financial ties but continuing to live together as roommates or exploring relationships with others, Rhoades says. Some retirees decide to spend some time away — perhaps temporarily moving to separate places — as a way to get a taste of a new life.

In addition to trying to redefine a sour relationship, older couples who are having problems may want to take steps to find a happier past.

Two ideas:

1. Collaborate on solutions. While seeing a therapist can help, couples can also take matters into their own hands. Set aside time to talk – without distractions – and establish ground rules.

“You want to bring your best to the conversation,” Rhoades said. “Avoid “you should” statements and listen to confirm your understanding before rushing to judge or respond to what you hear.

She suggests that couples read a relationship book and discuss the highlights. Or take part in shared activities or new experiences in order to learn something new together.

2. Move the negative to the positive. Relationship experts urge couples to adopt a 5:1 ratio: aim for five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

You can also make a mental list of everything you admire and respect in your spouse.

“Think about all the positive things about your partner,” said Sandra Langeslag, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. “Think about it at least once a day. And look at photos of your loved one. Looking at photos is good for triggering memories and stirring up emotions.”

-Morey Stettner

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswire

11-12-22 1557ET

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