Over the past nine years, I have helped a surprising number of couples to end their long term marriages, some even after 45 years!  This phenomenon has been labeled the “Grey Divorce” (as in older couples with grey hair), and I’m sharing some observations that may address the obvious question: why? Or, even more to the point, why now?

As with the end of any relationship irrespective of its duration, there are some common issues, such as sex and money. Usually not enough of one or the other, or both, can cause a breakup. But in a grey divorce, it can be more complicated. Attitudes about money and sex can change vastly over the decades and when one partner’s views are evolving at a different rate than the other’s, there might not be an easy solution.

In addition to evolving attitudes, the whole aging issue becomes more significant in a grey divorce. Some partners attempt to reverse the aging process by having affairs with much younger people; others change their hairstyle, fashion, and even their body parts, to appear younger. Factoring in longer life expectancy, divorce in our 50s, 60s, and even 70s still allows us to look forward to decades of quality living. Some grey divorcing people might as well be displaying “WHY BE MISERABLE?” bumper stickers on their luxury or hybrid vehicles.

Occasionally, grey divorces are mutual. People grow apart for many reasons. Their lifestyles may change after retirement, and while one partner simply wants to lounge around the house in pajamas with no fixed agenda, having a spouse who yearns to travel or take up golf can emphasize the differences between them rather than what they have in common.

Let’s also consider a couple’s different tastes in food and entertainment, or maybe different attitudes about socializing and household obligations, and lately, opposing political viewpoints, and what once was a reasonably harmonious lifestyle can turn into a bickering battleground. Who wants to live like that?

And finally, I have helped many empty-nesters to amicably end their marriages. It’s not especially easy to admit that all they ever had in common was their mutual desire to raise good kids. But once those kids become self-sufficient, it can be time to re-evaluate, especially if the spouses got married for what may not have been the best of reasons; i.e., pregnancy or parental approval. A grey divorce is one way to undo past regrets.

I wish I could offer some tips to avoid the grey divorce, but I’m not qualified to do so. What I can offer is a way to end a long-term relationship with some peace and dignity (and some money left over). If you see yourself here now, or someday, I urge you to consider mediation as an alternative to protracted, expensive, and often times ugly divorce litigation.  I also urge you to remain non-judgmental when you learn of an older couple’s uncoupling.  It’s a difficult and painful decision to make.