Over the past five years, I have seen a surprising increase in the number of couples seeking my mediation services to help end their 20-35 year marriages.  I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of “grey divorce” (as in older couples with grey hair) and have come up with a few observations about 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 a couple of 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 and even 60s still allows us to look forward to decades of quality living.  Some grey divorcing people might as well have “WHY BE MISERABLE?” bumper stickers on their hybrid vehicles.

Sometimes, 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 factor in a couple’s different tastes in food and entertainment, or maybe different attitudes about socializing and household obligations, 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.