6 Common Reasons Why Long-Term Marriages End in Divorce

Gray Divorce
Courtesy Steven Peters via Getty Images

According to Census.gov, in 2015 the average lifespan for men is 77 years for men, 81 years for women. Compared to an average life expectancy of 67 and 74 in 1970, we are living quite a few years longer. Those extra years can be playing a role in the reason long-term marriages end in divorce.

Add to that, people in midlife and beyond are more active, working longer and taking on new challenges without a second thought and it is reasonable to think that cultural changes also play a role.

Society puts an emphasis on personal happiness and fulfillment and not just for those still wet behind the ears. Individuals, 50 and older are as invested in living happy fulfilling lives as their younger counterparts. If that means leaving a long-term marriage of 30 or 35 years so be it.

A person of 50 or 60 who is experiencing an unhappy marriage, in this day and age, has no problem letting go of that turmoil in search of a happier more authentic life. Dan, who is ending his marriage of 32 years explained it to me this way. 

“Only time can make one understand life and relationships better. It also creates change in oneself.  Though it took me a long time to realize this, I am definitely different today than in 1985. What I need and desire is different than three decades ago. Many of my liberal values have moderated. And, all of those material possessions that I wanted as a young man no longer appeals to me (I drive a 2003 Toyota Camry). 

The same goes for my wife. When we met, everything about us was very similar. I am talking about values, views, education, and even sex. 

Time changed that. She has grown on a different path than me. It may be a parallel path, but the differences are enough that my marriage is very stressful to me at times. I have been unhappy for a long time due to us growing apart. I hate that cliché, but we really have some differences. Communicating my concerns has not changed anything nor can it as we are different people today.”

Dan is not alone in his discontent with life and his marriage. Both men and women over 50 are leaving their marriages in search of more out of life. Below are six reasons long-term marriages end in divorce.

Common Reasons Long-Term Couples Divorce

1. Infidelity

Infidelity is as old as marriage and it doesn’t matter how old a person becomes they still have sexual needs. Most, anyway. When intimacy becomes stale or lacking in a marriage, one spouse may look outside the marriage for the opportunity to rediscover the pleasures of something that has been missing…their sexuality. Infidelity may be the cause of divorce for a long-term marriage, but, in reality, infidelity is only a symptom of a problem in the marriage. A symptom that finally breaks the bond between husband and wife.

2. Wanting Something Better Out of Life

Like Dan above, we all change with time. What someone wants out of life when they married at 25 may be different once they hit fifty-five. It may sound cliché but, couples do grow apart. They become strangers or roommates who have little in common. The desire to feel an emotional bond with a life partner has motivated many to divorce their spouse later in life. 

Men and women who experience a midlife crisis often leave their marriages in search of a new identity and a relief to the pain they experience during middle age and facing their own mortality.

 

3. A Desire for Independence

It’s common for women who have been dependent on their spouse to long for independence as they age. Especially if they go back to work after the children are out of the home. The more financially stable a woman becomes the more it destabilizes a less-than-happy marriage. Being financially independent also means more confidence in their ability to start over alone after a long-term marriage and find happiness.

4. There Is Less Stigma Attached to Divorce

Divorce is more commonplace and accepted than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Those who stayed married due to religious beliefs or, fear of societal shunning are feeling free to leave a marriage. For example, the Catholic Church is in discussion over lowering the cost and administrative burden of annulments and participation by remarried Catholics in the Eucharist.

When questioned about divorce, Pope Francis urged all Catholics to show compassion and mercy in all situations. 
When it comes to divorce, society and religious leaders have become more tolerant, making divorce an easier moral decision for some. 

5. An Empty Nest

Some marriages are held together by children. Once those children become adults and leave the home there is no reason to remain in the marriage. When you are emotionally anchored to each other by raising children, there is nothing left to focus those emotions on after that job is done. One or both spouses may move toward divorce and the pursuit of a new partner or the freedom to do the things they couldn’t do when raising children.

6. Retirement and Too Much Time Together

If a couple has spent decades focused on raising children and building a career and home, they can find too much time together after retirement the death knell to their marriage. They not only need to like each other, they better love each other or they will find themselves spending a lot of time in the company of someone they don’t want to be with after retirement. 

Unless a couple is happy living parallel lives and doing their own thing, on their own, retirement can be the final tolling of a bell for a marriage.

Last week my sister and brother-in-law celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary. It was a happy celebration but one that didn’t mean their marriage would make it to 40 years. I used to believe that if a couple could make it through the first few tumultuous years of marriage that the odds were in their favor. With the rise in gray divorce rates, that is no longer true. No marriage is exempt from divorce.