It can be quite a shock. You’ve been with your spouse for ten, fifteen, 20 years, and then one day, they announce, suddenly and perhaps shockingly, that they want a divorce. Do you respond to this announcement with relief or grief?
Disentangling your life from another person is never easy, but doing so after decades together is especially hard. Possessions must be divided, finances separated, new living arrangements made. The spark that once brought you together has gone and you must learn to live without your spouse as an everyday presence in your life. Long-held plans must be remade and the future rethought. You have to build a whole new life for yourself: quite a challenge.
The realisation that your spouse has most likely plotting a split for some time can make the whole thing that little bit harder to take in.
More than the practicalities
In the early days of the rollercoaster ride, your focus should be on important practical issues like money, housing, negotiations with your spouse and instructing your family solicitor (if you have one). But that does not mean your emotions should be side-lined, especially if you are struggling to accept what has happened. Depression and anxiety are difficult at the best of times, and especially unhelpful when dealing with such a stressful life experience as divorce.
But you need not be a victim of circumstance. There are effective ways to respond to the turbulence of a late-in-life divorce and regain a sense of peace. Here are a few to consider:
Seeing a doctor
If you are feeling especially down, a prescription for antidepressants may help. Tablets can help to stabilise your moods and provide an anchor in stormy seas. Make an appointment with your GP to discuss the options.
Seeing a professional counsellor
A trained counsellor could help you process your emotions, develop coping strategies for moments of anxiety or gloom, and gradually guide you towards positive thoughts about the future.
When looking for a good counsellor, check to see whether they are members of a major professional association, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. This is a good mark of quality as practitioners must meet defined standards in order to maintain membership.
Even if you don’t them well enough to discuss the full details of your divorce, simply spending time with old friends can lift your spirits and take your mind off problems.
Finding joy can sound like a platitude, but is actually a valuable skill when times are tough. Seek out things you enjoy and savour them – a concert by your favourite band, a CD you’ve loved for years, an old hobby, a favourite TV show, a film that brings back happy memories, a tasty pastry: there are many possibilities.
For some the term meditation has overtones of eastern religion, but if you peel these away you are left with a simple combination of measured breathing and a calming focus on the present moment. This secular form of meditation is called mindfulness, and it has attracted an enthusiastic following across western countries in recent decades as people discover just how effective it can be at reducing and managing stress.
Even the term ‘meditation’ itself can be dispensed with if you prefer. Sitting on a bench or in a church pew with your eyes closed, listening to your breath and feeling the sunlight on your face is a form of meditation.
We often think of later life as a quiet and uneventful time but in fact it can be a period of great change. The children have grown and left the nest. Careers are coming to a close, and retirement looms.
Some people respond to these pressures with an urgent sense that they are running out of time to realise long cherished dreams or revisit passions from earlier in their lives – and they may decide big changes are the only way to do so.
Common triggers for such a decision include:
- The couple have drifted apart over the years.
They may have been effective parents but with the children now away living their own lives, one spouse may decide they no longer feel they have enough in common with the other to justify staying together. If you’ve run out of things to say to each other, why prolong the inevitable?
- The couple no longer want the same things.
Couples who have drifted apart emotionally over the years often find themselves with very different goals and aspirations. As retirement approaches, one spouse may be all set to travel the world, do a PhD, write a novel or find themselves. If their husband or wife, by contrast, has no ambitions beyond gardening or a quiet life in their twilight years, then resentment may build and staying together may seem like an increasingly unappealing prospect.
Nothing out of the ordinary
It may soften the blow to realise just how ordinary late-in-divorce marriage has become. Couples who have been married for 20 or more years are now the demographic most likely to divorce – according to figures from the Pew Research Centre, the rate of so-called ‘silver divorce’ has doubled since the 1990s and is now well on its way to tripling! Old attitudes that framed a lifelong marriage as a success and divorce as a failure have gone. Staying together into later life is now contingent on happiness and the ability to make the most of the remaining years.
So, while you may no longer be with your spouse once the divorce has been finalised and the dust has settled, you certainly will not be alone!