5 Signs Your Relationship Is Headed for a "Gray Divorce," Therapists Say
Late-in-life splits can happen to anyone. Here's how to know if you're at risk.
You may think that once you've been together for several decades, your marriage is impenetrable. While the two of you may have tiffs here and there, you are generally happy, conflict-free, and, most importantly, comfortable. But not so fast. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), gray divorces, or divorces that happen later in life, are on the rise. People ages 50-plus currently make up one-quarter of all splits, and one in 10 of those people are 65-plus. So, you shouldn't assume it could never happen to you. To help you spot the signs that a gray divorce could be on the horizon, we chatted with therapists who tell us the red flags that mean a relationship could be headed for a late-in-life split. Read on to note them early.
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You omit each other from future goals.
The way you plan for your future is a big deal. So if one or both of you starts leaving the other out of their discussions or vision, it's likely a sign there's trouble to come.
"Earlier in the marriage, when things are good, a couple's plans are always 'We're going to buy a house,' 'We're going on vacation,' 'What are we going to do after retirement?'" says Tina Marie Del Rosario, LCSW, MSW, and the owner of Healing Collective Therapy Group. "When those types of plans and activities stop happening as a unit, the marriage is headed for trouble."
In the earliest stages, this shift may even happen subconsciously. For example, your partner might speak about their retirement using 'I' pronouns as opposed to "we" ones—so keep your ears peeled.
You spend way more time apart.
As you enter retirement, it's only natural that you'll spend a few extra hours apart than usual. After all, how else would you each make time for all those hobbies you've been gearing up for? But if it becomes extreme, take note.
"Doing things separately is commonly overlooked because after spending 30 years with someone, it's normal not to share every experience together," says Del Rosario. "It's hard to differentiate between the normal progression of increased individuality vs the desire to not spend time with a partner. As in, 'I like my quiet time, and I value my alone time' versus 'I don't want to be in your presence.'"
Your kids are heading off to college.
In many cases, gray divorce occurs in couples with children who have reached college age. "Somewhere along the line one or both of them has decided that they're hanging onto the relationship until the kids go to college," says Rich Heller, MSW, CPC, and founder of Rich in Relationship. "The way this occurs is couples become very focused on child rearing and stop building their own relationship. Everything becomes about making sure the kids are okay."
As the kids become more independent, the parents pursue their own interests as opposed to their partnership. "They slip into parallel and even divergent lifestyles," Heller adds. "They live parallel lives where two individuals are cohabitating with very little investment in their relationship and they become more like roommates." Of course, this lack of investment in the relationship can mean divorce is soon to come.
You have a lot of divorced friends.
While people don't always mimic their friends, it's not a good sign if your spouse is constantly spending time with divorcees.
"The person who wants the divorce spends a lot of time with friends who are divorced," says Elliott Katz, a relationship coach and author. "When they are with their divorced friends they talk about how unhappy they are in their marriage, and the divorced friends encourage them to get divorced as they did." Obviously, you don't want to tell your partner who they can spend time with; but take note if their circle is heavy on people who've recently split.
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There's a total lack of conflict.
If the two of you are still having disagreements, it means you're invested in making the relationship work. If you're not, it could be a sign that you've given up. "A total lack of conflict is where both individuals avoid conflict because it's just too painful or difficult," says Heller. "Another sign can be high conflict, where both individuals are just not getting along and they're both very dominant, which results in conflict."
In a healthy relationship, the two of you will use communication skills to negotiate creative solutions. "When relationships become conflict avoidant or are stuck in a destructive conflict dynamic, they can not move forward and will slowly die on the vine," Heller says.