Why Many Mid-life Marriages End in Divorce


Pastor Joseph Mattera provides a candid look at mid-life marriages and how to avoid divorce.

Although we all know the divorce rate is over 50 percent in the USA, I have observed that many divorces occur with couples who have been married well over 20 years and are each over 45 years of age. This has astonished me.

I used to think that if a couple got through the first few years of marriage (when they are young and restless) that they had gone through the hardest years, and that the older they got the more likely the marriage would succeed. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. 

The following are reasons why mid-life marriages often do not succeed.

One of the partners experiences a mid-life crisis

Sometime between the ages of 40 and 50 (in some cases as young as 35) one or both spouses realize that some or all of their dreams are not going to come to pass. This results in an identity crisis, with them trying to recapture the spark of their youth or to pursue their dreams at the expense of their marriage. It may be that a hobby (sports, music, art, travel, etc.) becomes an obsession, or it can be trying to hang out with their old friends to recapture their youth. It is something that becomes the focus of their life in place of their marriage and family.

Raising the children kept the marriage together 

In some cases, when couples hit their mid-forties or later, their children are all college age or older and leave the house. This gives the marriage partners the empty nest syndrome during which they realize their marriage was emotionally anchored upon the common goal of nurturing their children. When their children left the house they had nothing more in common to hold them together.

One or both of the marriage partners get tired of the emotional wear and tear of the relationship

After years of fighting, one or both spouses become emotionally drained and reach a point where they want out of the relationship. Also, the self-awareness of one or both of the spouses increases by reading books, listening to friends or observing the experiences of other married couples, and they come to the conclusion they are in an abusive situation and they have the right to end it to find greater fulfillment and peace for their life.

Physiological changes transform the relationship

When women go through menopause their bodies undergoes hormonal changes that can make them depressed, lose sexual desire, and hate their spouses. Also, I would not be surprised if many men go through similar changes that have not been classified by the medical industry as “change of life.”

The relationship was held together by physical attraction more than emotional connection

As our bodies change with age, many become unattractive to their spouses which makes them vulnerable to other, more attractive connections. Superficial relationships are those built more on sex than on an emotional connection, commitment and friendship.

Retirement gave them more time together 

At the age of 45 and above, many people are able to retire because they are financially secure or because they have worked long enough to receive a pension. This results in them spending an extra 60-80 hours a week together with their spouses, which leads to an increase of squabbling or gives them too much idle time, leaving them vulnerable to other relationships which compromise the marriage.

Also, an increase in financial capacity, along with greater leverage in their discretionary time, can cause a couple to pursue a more independent path in terms of taking vacations, travel, recreation and other interests that may result in them finding another person they feel more compatible with.

Emotional issues spill over that have not been dealt with

All of us get married with emotional baggage and issues. Some issues and life trauma are more severe than other. Some spouses deal with and resolve the emotional pain when it surfaces but others continually push it down. This results in “leakage” as they get older which unconsciously affects their life and marriage in a negative way.

When spillage gets too severe, a marriage can dissolve if each partner does not get counseling and/or if the spouse with emotional issues is not willing to take responsibility for their harmful behavior that is destroying the marriage.

Many of their married friends are getting divorced and finding love again through other people

Because of low societal standards regarding covenantal relationships, the older you get, and the longer you are married, the more of your close friends you will probably see get divorced. To make matters worse, some of these friends seem to hit the jackpot by finding their true “soul mate” after years of painfully enduring their marriage! This can negatively impact all the married couples they are friends with. I have seen firsthand how many close friends have decided to get divorces resulting in their best (or close) friends also going down the same path.

How to avoid mid-life divorce 

• Always have your identity in Christ rather than anchoring it in some fleeting dream of youth.

• Concentrate on building a lifelong friendship with your spouse that is not based on physical attraction, raising children, or anything other than the marriage itself. When married couples focus all their attention on raising children they go from being lovers as husband and wife to parents, and even begin to know each other as “papa” and “momma.” This is a divorce waiting to happen if it is not corrected before the children leave the house.

• Try to have fun with your mate and even have a common hobby. Try to find something that both of you enjoy doing together to aid in the emotional connection so your relationship is not only centered around the wear and tear of financial pressure and raising your children.

 • Don’t allow your friendships with other couples in trouble interfere with your marriage. Cut off all relationships and friendships that pit you against your spouse.

 • Plan for what you will do together after retirement, years before you retire, so you will not be caught off guard.

• Don’t wait until your marriage is about to end before you get a mediator or counselor to intervene in your relational crisis.

• Make friends with older, more experienced, mature married couples who can serve as mentors to you in your marriage.

• Don’t be quick to act out on emotions or anger but seek the Lord when your marriage is in crisis and weigh out all the negative ramifications on your family, finances and your emotions that take place with divorce. 

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