“Divorce is deceptive. Legally, it’s a single event, but psychologically it’s a chain, sometimes a never-ending chain of events, relocations, and radically shifting relationships strung through time… [It’s] a process that forever changes the lives of the people involved.” – Judith Wallerstein & Sandra Blakeslee

It’s become a phrase so often repeated it now borders on cliché. The moment you tell someone you, or someone you know, is getting married, they’ll inevitably cite an alarming statistic. Well, you know that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, right?

In addition to being kind of rude, this statistic hides several different facts you may not know. The overall divorce rate in the U.S. has actually declined over the past 20 years, except for one population segment. This population segment is men and women aged 50 or older.

In this article, we’re going to dive into what this type of divorce – gray divorce – is, why it’s increasing in recent years, how if affects those in the relationship, and how it affects the children of this type of divorce. So, keep reading to learn all about gray divorce.

What is Gray Divorce?

Gray divorce is a divorce involving spouses over the age of 50. It may seem that the older the participants in divorce, the easier the divorce is on those it effects. Still, this common misconception leads to increased hurt from both those engaging in the divorce and their children. We’ll cover these effects later. Next, we’ll delve into why there’s been an increase in gray divorce.

Why is it Increasing?

As previously stated, the overall divorce rate in the U.S. is actually declining, except for those aged 50 or older. For this age group, divorce rates have roughly doubled since 1990. So, why is this steep increase happening? Well, as with any divorce, there are numerous reasons why more older Americans are divorcing. Here are ten reasons for this increased rate of gray divorce:

Postponed Divorce

Partners with children will often wait to divorce until their children are grown and have left home.

Empty Nesters

Children not only require a significant financial commitment, but they also soak up most, if not all, of your free time. But inevitably, your children grow up and move out. Once they’re gone, the hole in your free time may lead to increased conflict with your partner or the realization your marriage isn’t as strong as you previously believed.


Work is a big part of anyone’s life. After you retire, you may find you’re missing a significant piece of your identity, similar to the feelings of an empty nester. This void can lead to conflict, especially with your spouse.


Financial issues can strain any relationship or marriage. When these issues persist into your older years, financial pressures can compound. As you or your partner approach retirement age, it becomes more difficult to overlook financial mistakes. There’s less time to make up for any blunder, making it more likely to cause marital stress.


Since the dawn of marriage, there’s also been infidelity. Your age, gender, or sexual orientation don’t matter. Everyone has to contend with the possibility of cheating.

Cultural Attitude Shifts

As societal attitudes towards marriage and divorce have shifted, more people have seen their peers divorce or divorcing. Seeing a divorce happen with people close to you can make you take stock of your own relationship. And because it’s no longer as taboo as it once was, these feelings may manifest in you wanting a divorce too.

Increased Autonomy for Women

Although there’s still a long way to go, as a society, we’ve made great strides in the past 100 years towards gender equality. An increase in women’s autonomy and financial independence has allowed more women to rid themselves of a toxic marriage.

Better Health and Longer Lives

As technology and medicine continue to improve, people live healthier and longer than ever before. In fact, baby boomers are living longer than any generation before them. But as you age, your passions and interest may change with you. If your spouse doesn’t change too, or changes in different ways, it can lead to relationship trouble.

Falling out of Love/In Love with Another

Time, like love, can be a fickle mistress. And with time, you can both fall out of love or in love with another person. Sometimes it may take years for someone to act on these feelings, leading to either “gray love” or gray divorce.

Divorce Begets More Divorce

Another misunderstood facet of marriage and divorce is the likelihood of divorce increasing after you’ve been married once already. While 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, this rate only increases if you remarry. This fact is especially true if you’re over 50 or older. Those 50 and above who’ve been married more than once are 2.5x more likely to divorce again than those who’ve only been married once.

Coping with the After Effects

While it may lead you to happier romantic lives, gray divorce can have significant adverse effects on participants. Here are some critical facets of gray divorce you’ll want to know about if you’re either a participant in or know someone going through one.  

First, like most breakups, the spouse who initiates the gray divorce will generally have an easier time coping than the spouse who didn’t. Typically, the person initiating the divorce has dedicated a lot of time and thought to the topic. So, they’ve likely worked through any emotional issues resulting from the split or are further into working through these issues.

Second, experts suggest the best way to recover from any divorce emotionally, including gray divorce, is to find a new spouse or partner. Beginning a new relationship can have an enormous, positive impact on helping you move on from your depression and other potential diorce-related feelings.

But nobody’s happiness should rely upon a relationship, even when married. So, the third facet of gray divorce you’ll want to be conscious of, is your emotional and mental health. After any divorce, but especially a gray divorce, it’s okay to be a little selfish about prioritizing your mental health.

Focus on eating well, exercising, getting some sun, visiting friends & family, and engaging in your favorite hobbies will be even more important post-gray divorce than they were before. Maintaining these healthy habits will help both your body and mind better cope with your divorce.

Finally, both participants in a gray divorce need to be extra mindful of their finances. Gray divorce can have a significant adverse impact on your finances. According to the L.A. Times, if you divorce after 50, expect your wealth to drop by around 50 percent.

Plus, these negative financial repercussions are typically worse for women than for men in gray divorce. When women divorce after 50, their average standard of living drops by 45 percent. Men in the same situation see their standard of living decline by an average of only 21 percent. Similarly, 11 percent of men divorced after 50 were in poverty versus 27 percent of women.

ACOGD – Adult Children of Gray Divorce

Unlike children of typical divorces, children of gray divorce are usually in or nearing adulthood. Being older can lead people in your life, even close friends and family, to say things they shouldn’t. Or to tell you something they think is helpful but isn’t.

“Aren’t you glad you’re an adult now?” “Be grateful this didn’t happen when you were little!” “At least you’re not the one getting a divorce.” “You’ll get over it eventually; after all, you’re an adult now.”

Even if there’s some truth in these sayings, none of them are actually useful for helping you cope with your feelings. These statements are simply a result of our society’s established mythology that adult children have an easier time dealing with their parents’ divorce than they would as kids.

But a myth is just a story we’ve passed down through generations. In truth, when adult children experience their parents’ divorce, it can be extremely stressful, painful, and even traumatic. And with the increase of gray divorce, our society desperately needs to reimagine how we think about gray divorce. We’re never too old to hurt when our parents divorce.

Still, until the rest of our society catches up to the actualities of gray divorce, there are several actions adult children can take to help themselves cope with their parents’ gray divorce. These actions include:

Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings

As with death, the way you grieve a divorce is different for every individual. Some adult children may feel relieved when their older parents divorce. It may completely blindside others. Either way, having strong feelings isn’t wrong or childish. To begin the healing process, you’ll need first to acknowledge your feelings, whatever they are.  

Set Boundaries with Your Parents/Family

In general, setting boundaries with those we love the most can be a complex process. Setting these boundaries with divorced or divorcing parents can be even more difficult. Still, it would be best to let your parents know you don’t want to pick sides or listen to one parent talk poorly about the other. Make sure you know your limitations and your parents know them too.

Prioritize Your Own Mental & Emotional Health

Self-care, especially during a moment of grieving, can be tough to prioritize. You have your parents, and possibly siblings or your children’s feelings to consider. But it’s important to remember the line you hear before every flight, “Parents, remember to put on your oxygen mask before you help your children with theirs.” Because if you can function, you won’t be able to help anyone else in any meaningful way.

So, if your older parents are divorcing, make sure you keep your own self-care in mind. Make sure you take some time for yourself. Spend time with friends, participate in your favorite hobbies, or take a nature walk. It doesn’t really matter what you do, just that YOU’RE focusing on YOU.

Use Your Voice

Open communication is essential to any relationship. It’s especially vital during times of trouble. So, if your parents are divorcing, speak up. Use it as an opportunity to ask each party how they’d like specific situations handled. Additionally, make sure you’re using your voice to speak up for your own mental health. Self-compassion doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Still, just like open communication, it’s necessary to help you move on in the aftermath of your parents’ divorce. There are no correct answers, so don’t beat yourself up if there’s ever a scenario you feel you handled poorly.

Connect with the Proper Resources

Whether it’s for you, the child, or your parents, it’s imperative you connect with the proper resources to help you maintain your mental, emotional, and even health. If you or your parents are struggling, consider seeking professional help.

Our team of licensed experts can help you or your parents work through your feelings regarding gray divorce. Plus, at Compassionate Minds Therapy, we work with each of our patients to create an individualized treatment plan that works best for you at a time that’s most convenient for you.

So, if you’re ready to work through your feelings regarding your, or your parents’ divorce, contact a Compassionate Minds therapist today.

About the Author Betsy Mayfield

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