Late-life divorce
March 25, 2021 4:59 PM   Subscribe

If you or someone you know chose to get divorced late in life -- say, around age 70 -- did you/they later regret the decision? Or did it turn out to a wise choice?

Assume that there is no serious problem -- no abuse, no alcoholism, no financial concerns. Just a couple that has drifted apart. And possibly, with hindsight, were not really well matched to begin with.
posted by merejane to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know plenty of folks who divorced later in life who wonder why they waited so long (in a way, including me, even though I was in my 40s). Good luck to you. This is tough.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:04 PM on March 25

I also know a woman in her 60s who has a terminal illness. She has been in a not great marriage for many years. She kept waiting for him to die (he's older with some major health issues). Now her life is near the end. It's very sad to see.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:05 PM on March 25

I know someone who did this. She had some tough times at first, both emotionally and financially, but later met a widower, moved to Vermont, got remarried, and had some of the happiest years of her life.
posted by gudrun at 5:15 PM on March 25 [6 favorites]

After couples are done raising their kids together, it is common for them to either rediscover their relationship or discover that they've drifted apart and move on.
posted by aniola at 5:20 PM on March 25

A friend of my father's got divorced after many years of an unhappy marriage (which I had no idea about - I mean, you don't know much about your parents' friends' marriages usually), which was described to me as "Mr Name-Redacted ran away!" I can say that Mr Name-Redacted did seem much happier after that.
posted by inexorably_forward at 5:52 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

My grandma got divorced in her mid 70s. He was her 2nd husband but they'd been together for about 40 years. She never looked back, never regretted it one bit. They were very much as you describe -- not abusive, not a terrible marriage. But two people who probably never should have gotten married in the first place.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:01 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

My grandmother spent the two decades after her life-long husband James died worried about dying herself. She was so worried she'd go to heaven and have to spent the rest of eternity with James, and after 50 years on earth with him, that was just too awful to imagine.

(I recommend ignoring the implications of the validity of any religion that forces you into a bad marriage for eternity ... in heaven. The point is she should have divorced him well before hitting 50 years together. To my knowledge, no abuse or other trauma. She just thought he was a jerk.)
posted by Capri at 10:32 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]

Assume that there is no serious problem -- no abuse, no alcoholism, no financial concerns. Just a couple that has drifted apart. And possibly, with hindsight, were not really well matched to begin with.

I know several people like this and the happines of outcome is dependent on finances, as divorce is a significant poverty predicter for women.

However I would like to say that I also know of a woman and her spouse who each live in their own "tiny house" van conversions and travel full-time completely seperately. I also know of several couples who live apart.

(Specifically I know of one couple who lived apart. As a married couple they had lived in the city. 20 years before he died he said "thank you, no" and moved in with his sister in the country. When he died there was massive family drama about where to hold his funeral, city or country, so ultimately he had... two.)

Anyway, I'm not questioning your right to be happy, I'm just inviting you to think about whether divorce is necessary to get there.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:48 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]

My grandmother split with her boyfriend of >25 years (they were never officially married, but had lived together most of that time) in her 90s. She was visibly relieved when we came to pick her up, and has been doing very well since. He had what appeared to be some growing cognitive issues that made him abusive and paranoid, and he fought his kids for a couple years but eventually ended up in a nursing home, and passed away a couple years ago.

This is obviously not a great example if you're worried about the legal/financial end, but on the emotional side, it was 100% the right call the end the relationship and grandma has done very well solo even after spending most of her life partnered. (She's now 99, still living independently, and as far as I can tell pretty content with life.)
posted by restless_nomad at 5:39 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]

At 70 a person could still have 20 or more years left. A long time to be unhappy. We only get one life, why be unhappy any more than absolutely necessary?
posted by emjaybee at 7:43 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]

I've yet to meet anyone who regretted initiating a divorce at any age. 70 is still very young to my mind and although there are multitudes of considerations inherent in divorce, I wouldn't let age be one of them.

Even if you decide to live apart but stay legally married, even if you don't plan to date or remarry or whatever and there is no "need" for an actual divorce, there is still a very large psychological cost in remaining yoked to someone who causes you unhappiness.

When I was struggling with whether to get divorced (in my mid-thirties), I read a book by a woman of the same age as me who had attended a divorce support group meeting and found herself surrounded by women in their sixties and seventies. They all universally told her the same thing: that they had once been her, and how much they envied her tremendous courage to do NOW what they wished they had done decades ago. I knew my decision in that moment.
posted by anderjen at 8:24 AM on March 26 [7 favorites]

My dad was 61 when he finally split from my mom. They were still in the process of divorcing when she died two years later. And then he died two years after that. I think those last four years were the happiest ones of his life.
posted by missrachael at 9:19 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]

A bit like miss Rachel, my parents divorced in their sixties after almost 40 years of marriage. They were definitely quite temperamentally different and not well-suited but I think had stuck it out until teenage children and a lack of agreement on the way to raise them, the menopause and living apart for work reasons drove a few too many wedges into the cracks.

My dad had met someone new (this was the trigger for divorce but they'd clearly both been unhappy for some time) and they married soon after. Unfortunately he died 4 years after his marriage but he and his wife adored each other and were very happy together. I remain grateful I didn't have to handle his cancer in the simmering resentment of his marriage to my mother, I can't think that would have been any good for anyone.

My mum had a much harder time in the year or two post divorce. She was financially in a much worse place, didn't have a partner and I think found the divorce itself quite shaming. However she did eventually rebuild her life, I think now has a kind of long distance relationship and is living life on her own times without stressing about my dad and I think is much happier overall.
posted by *becca* at 2:45 AM on March 28

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