Gray Divorce: 5 Unique Emotional Challenges
When your heart is breaking, it really doesn’t matter how old you are. The pain of loss aches at any age, and just because you’ve passed your 55th birthday doesn’t mean you’ll fare any better. Gray divorce, a common term for divorce after age 55, inflicts the same emotional turmoils on its participants as marriage breakups do for younger couples. While they may possess more maturity to approach this difficult situation, those in the more senior set deal with some unique emotional challenges when their marriage ends.
These individuals view their breakup from a different perspective, managing strong feelings related to late-life loneliness and abrupt changes in long-held routines and traditions. Here are five common emotional reactions to gray divorce and ideas for working through them.
1. Gray divorce causes SADNESS
Especially for those experiencing gray divorce, the sadness they feel can be devastating. People’s social circles tend to become smaller as they age, and couples often share friends in common. Feelings of sadness after divorce can be amplified by the loneliness of being isolated from one’s social circle.
In a gray divorce where the people were married for decades, one or both parties can have feelings of regret in spending so much time in a relationship that is now ending. The divorce can instigate feelings of remorse over decisions made many years earlier, leading to despair.
Manage it: Resist getting dragged into the emotional turmoil of the past, and instead look forward to what the next stage of your life might hold. Focus on your relationships with a few reliable friends and look for opportunities to meet new people, even if it’s only for a temporary friendship over a sport or activity.
2. Gray divorce causes ANXIETY
Human beings are creatures of routine, and we’re all thrown off by circumstances that challenge our long-held routines and expectations. Few things turn life upside-down as much as divorce, and this upheaval in environment and daily activity can trigger anxiety, especially for those whose routines are decades-old.
Gray divorce may also cause a person to question his or her own identity, unable to picture their life without the other person. This loss of personal perspective can be disturbing and cause people to lose confidence and even suffer from social anxiety, not knowing how to act as a single individual.
Manage it: Find moderation between new and old routines to establish a new normal. True, you need to adjust to many changes after divorce, but you don’t need to throw out everything from your life as a married person. Attend your place of worship, eat at your favorite restaurant and enjoy book club or your regular golf game. Rely on the comfort of familiar things to help you through. View more ideas on how to destress during a divorce here.
3. Gray divorce causes FEAR
This might be one of the emotions most unique to people facing a gray divorce. In some long-term relationships, one person worked for the entirety of the marriage while the other cared for the home and children. The latter person is likely fearful about their future financial situation, how to support themselves without much time to learn a marketable skill.
Likewise, those 55 and older who are getting divorced might worry about their future relationship potential. They could be fearful about their ability to find someone new and establish a long-term relationship later in life. Simply put, many people would prefer to live out their life with a companion and may be worried about spending their later years alone.
Manage it: Now is the time for difficult, important decisions and actions that will set your trajectory for the future. Focus on yourself — your physical, emotional, spiritual, social and financial wellness — to prepare for positive outcomes. Working to be happy and fulfilled now will inevitably improve your life in the future, whatever comes your way.
4. Gray divorce causes ANGER
After years of marriage and investment in building a home and raising children, a person on one end of a gray divorce might be furious about the split. They’re angry, feeling betrayed and foolish for having spent years with someone who is now becoming their ex.
One surprising source of anger is a person’s embarrassment over the gray divorce. In an attempt to cover up their embarrassment, some people lash out in bitterness and anger. Sometimes this is done in a subconscious or conscious attempt to hurt the other person, but as we all know so well, anger damages everyone involved.
Manage it: While anger is a completely normal emotion for anyone experiencing a break-up, it can be especially perilous for people experiencing gray divorce. If they wallow in anger and bitterness, those 55 and older may find they have more difficulty and less time to emerge from such a state. You just don’t have time for anger.
5. Gray divorce causes RELIEF
More than other divorcing couples, those in a gray divorce may find they are relieved at the termination of the marriage. Spending decades in an unhappy marriage takes its toll on a person’s inner spirit and self-development. Putting an end to that negative situation can remove a serious mental weight.
While relief is a positive emotion, it can be a confusing one. Feeling relief while others around you are mourning the end of your marriage can cause guilt and even make you question why you don’t feel more despondent. You might even hide your relief or excitement for the sake of others or to save face.
Manage it: Allow yourself to move through the changing emotions that come with gray divorce. No other party was inside the marriage except you and your ex-spouse, so your perspective is the only truly relevant one. While an outward expression of jubilance may not be completely appropriate, you have every right to feel relief and move forward in happiness.
If you’re experiencing extreme emotions, consider visiting a counselor or therapist who can help you work through your feelings. Even on a temporary basis, talk therapy can be helpful for those experiencing gray divorce.
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