‘I think I was relieved’: life on the other side of mature age divorce | Relationships

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“I I went through this process of feeling like my future had been stolen from me,” says 53-year-old Kate Christie about the end of her 22-year marriage. “He said to me, ‘I don’t love you anymore. I want to leave our marriage. I want the opportunity to meet and fall in love with someone else while I’m still young.’ And that was that.”

“I felt really blindsided. I was angry, upset and indignant.”

Christie is among a growing number of people over 50 who are navigating life after separation and divorce.

“(There is) definitely an increase in divorce rates at an older age, compared to a decade ago,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Rashika Gomez. It’s an observation supported by the latest research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which shows that the divorce rate among couples married for 20 years or more has risen from around 20% in the 1980s and 1990s to well over 25% in 2021. .

Anne McCrea, walking along the Worimi coastline, NSW
Divorced later in life: Anne McCrea, walking along the Worimi coastline in NSW. Photo: Brydie Piaf/The Guardian

Dr. Gomez has also noticed an increase in the number of people in mature marriages seeking relationship advice. “They’re looking for the outside opinion on (whether) something is wrong because you can’t see it when you’re in it.”

It was a counselor who helped Brodie* see her rollercoaster marriage for what it was: emotional abuse. “She was my savior,” the 63-year-old said of her counselor. But family and friends were shocked that Brodie called it quits after 32 years. “We were known as the golden couple.” She shakes her head. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Brodie says life on the other side has never been better. “Bloody awesome. I can feel the sun. I can hear the birds. I have rediscovered myself.” And despite her experience, she is not anti-relationships or anti-marriage. ‘But I can assure you that no one will ever live with me again.

“I’d rather be alone than unhappy,” she emphasizes. ‘I have my friends. I have my sons.”

Recently divorced, Raymond* is grateful to have the support of a slew of close friends, but the 71-year-old longs for that special someone. “Many people think friends are enough. But I don’t think they are. You have to have someone special who becomes a partner.” And after 24 years of marriage, he thought he had that person, but the fear and uncertainty circulating during the pandemic turned the relationship upside down. The final straw came after restrictions were eased. His ex-wife didn’t want him to return to the job he loved for more than 43 years. “If you go, don’t come home.” So he finally moved.

Reaching the threshold

Dr. Gomez describes the point Raymond reached as a “threshold,” a common reason why people in mature marriages suddenly say, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Relationship therapist Clinton Power agrees that reaching a threshold is the point at which couples view separation and divorce as inevitable. “Sometimes, when there’s been a lot of hurt or betrayal, or there’s a tremendous distance to grow apart, the idea of ​​working on the relationship feels more overwhelming than breaking up and starting over.”

In his experience, the lack of a shared focus or the realization that the couple has fewer interests in common are a major cause of divorce in adulthood. It often occurs when the couple’s children reach early adulthood or leave home.

Another is midlife, when individuals in a relationship may undergo significant personal changes or question the direction of their lives. “So that’s when I see some people in relationships start to think, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not completely happy here, this relationship isn’t meeting my needs,'” says Power.

“For example, if you just look at life expectancy, people didn’t used to live as long as we do now. Now we are reaching 90, 100, with relatively fewer problems. So as you approach fifty, you are no longer looking at fifteen more years with someone you may find annoying, or with whom you don’t get along, you are now looking at another fifty years with such a person. says Dr. Gomez. “And that can feel very confrontational and overwhelming, and maybe you just don’t want to do that anymore.”

Lawyer Brad Saunders, who has specialized in family law for 25 years, says those over 50 are less likely to stick together and ‘grin and bear it’ than their parents. “More people are choosing to divorce and it is more acceptable to divorce,” he says.

But he sees a big difference in the way older couples generally approach divorce, compared to younger couples. “Older couples are better at planning their divorce in a more amicable way.”

Power says he has noticed that many older couples strive for a “good disconnect” so they can maintain a healthy relationship. “So maybe we can ‘be in each other’s lives and have a healthy relationship,’ whereas that slash and burn approach sometimes happens with the younger couples.”

With his divorce finalized earlier this year, Raymond and his ex are rebuilding their friendship. ‘I don’t see the point in being filthy angry at anyone. All it does is eat away at you too.” But he is convinced they will never get back together. “Life is too short.”

Christie agrees: “Life is too short to be angry, sad, lonely, resentful or unfulfilled.” By March 2020, Christie and Dan had found a new way of being. “We started to form the basis of our new friendship,” she says. And “we were very good at co-parenting.” A month later, Dan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 11 months later he passed away. “It happened so brutally fast,” Christie remembers. He was 54.

In addition to the sadness, Dan’s death sparked Christie’s desire to live life differently. “I had a very clear decision, which I honestly think was a gift from him, that I wanted to live very differently from that moment on.” She wrote a list of things she wanted to do, experience or change. Today, Kate’s list consists of a structured set of goals and plans to achieve them. Earlier this year she published a book about her new approach, called The Life List.

Anne McCrea, in the Worimi Sand Dunes, in NSW.
Anne and her husband were married for 18 years. In one moment everything fell apart. Photo: Brydie Piaf/The Guardian

She found writing cathartic. “Phenomenal healing.” It helped her put her thoughts into words and reflect on her divorce. She can now admit that she didn’t fight to save her marriage. “Not once did I say to him: Well, fall in love with me again honey, let’s work on this.’ I didn’t propose any advice. I didn’t try to talk him out of it. I think I was relieved… I could get on with my own life.” She is proud that she found the courage to show her vulnerability. “We all have a backstory and I’m proud of myself for letting people in.”

Learning to let her guard down is something 50-year-old Anne McCrea is struggling with after an irreparable breakdown in trust in her marriage. She and her husband were married for 18 years. In one moment everything fell apart. “I just froze, you know. I was at the beach with the kids and the dog and quietly cried to myself for a while.

Breaking up at this stage of life can rarely be a clean or complete breakup. “We had to talk to each other, we had no choice. I couldn’t just ignore him; we had three children (aged 10, 15 and 18) that we had to manage on a daily basis.” McCrea adds, “So we were able to function and work very quickly.”

Her actions included traveling with her ex-husband on a planned European family vacation shortly after her grandmother’s funeral. Only upon their return would they confirm what McCrea admits the children already knew: that they were breaking up. But she emphasizes: “It was good for them to see that we could travel together.” From day one, McCrea’s priority has been the well-being of her children and maintaining their bond with their father. “(Maybe) it’s not worth saving the relationship, but it’s worth saving the future for the kids, you know, so they don’t have to have those awkward Christmases.”

After returning from Europe, McCrea was diagnosed with cancer. The treatment would ensure that she would not share the news of her divorce with her parents. “It took at least another year before I actually told my mom and dad.”

Dating and divorce parties

McCrea says her trust in people has diminished and she has developed a “bullshit radar.” She has kept some friends, made new ones and said goodbye to others she shared with her ex-husband of more than 25 years. Does she want to get married again? “Who knows?” She is dating again, but admits it is difficult. She is more picky now. “Dating in your 50s is cruel.”

Kate Christie, pictured in Flagstaff Gardens in Melbourne, Australia.
Kate has already achieved one of the goals she set for herself after her divorce. She has written and published a book called The Life List, all about her new approach to life. Photo: Nadir Kinani/The Guardian

Raymond is also dating again. He is listed on a number of online dating sites and hopes to find someone special to travel and enjoy life with. But he finds dating at an older age a challenge. “There are a lot of nice ladies, but once bitten, twice shy.” Raymond sighs: “I’m just plodding along. I think she’s going to have to trip over me.’

Christie’s updated goals include finding new love. She prides herself on not doing anything rash. “I wanted a period of time to understand me and what drives me as a person on my own.” What she found was a woman who is confident, tenacious, resilient and happy. “We’ve had very difficult years, but I think the sadness and loss have made me the strongest I am. I feel amazing.”

Anne McCrea smiling for the camera
Anne McCrea admits dating in her 50s is ‘brutal’, but she’s rebuilding her confidence after divorce. Photo: Brydie Piaf/The Guardian

McCrea restores her self-confidence. “It has been a bit of a setback.” While waiting to receive her divorce papers, she plans a party – a divorce party. “A celebration of the next phase and the next chapter.” She is looking forward to drawing a line under the past six years of separation. “I can’t change anything about the past. I can only change what I can for the future.”

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