What Millennials Can Learn From Boomers
Divorce rates are highest among those 50 and older, and the reasons why just might be of interest to today’s newlyweds
While divorce isn’t nearly the 50 percent of all marriages we’ve been lead to believe, there’s one group that has seen the rate of divorce skyrocket — boomers, or those aged 50 and older, aka gray divorce. OK, great, but if you’re not a boomer, does it even matter?
Well, yeah. Because even if you’re not marrying for the same reasons and the same ways boomers did, there’s no doubt still a lot of overlap when it comes to divorce.
But, let me step it back.
From my research, it seemed that many boomers at midlife, having raised their children to adulthood, had felt that their job was done and, with another 30 to 40 years ahead, were ready for new adventures, with or without new partners.
But I was wrong.
So, too, was Jocelyn Elise Crowley, a professor of public policy at Rutgers, who interviewed a number of boomers for her latest book, Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain from Mid-Life Splits. She imagined those of us — yes, I’m a boomer, sigh — who grew up in the self-empowered, self-actualizing, make-love-not-war 1960s would split when they were no longer feeling fulfilled in their marriage. What she discovered was something entirely different.
Millennials are certainly not like boomers, but there are some interesting — and topical — reasons for the rise in gray divorce, ones that even today’s young newlyweds could learn from.
Boomers, Crowley writes, are divorcing over what she considers “surprisingly old-fashioned reasons.” Can you guess what they are? True, some indicated they’d just grown apart, or there was infidelity (that happens a lot) or mental health issues. But, beyond that, men and women had different stories to tell about why they split.
Men, she notes, “complained a lot about money-management problems” especially if their wife was no longer interested in working — or never worked — but still wanted an upscale lifestyle that matched her friends’. Others mentioned they were resentful “over how their children had been raised, even years after they had left the family home,” often having “completely divergent philosophies” over how to discipline their children.
So, money and kids.
Women, she discovered, were unhappy with their husbands’ addictions to alcohol, drugs and/or pornography. Not that they didn’t try to help him: “In multiple cases, they tried to help their husbands seek out effective help but were ultimately unsuccessful.” Many women said their husbands were emotionally or verbally abusive, often for years. At some point, they’d had enough.
So, addictions and abuse.
As she concludes,
Overall, then, the motivations behind those seeking a grey divorce do not have a lot to do with couples simply wanting to spread their wings because they are no longer fulfilled, or ‘hippies gone wild’. Instead, this mid-life population takes splitting up very seriously and, more often than not, considers whether their promised binding responsibilities to each other have been violated when they file for divorce. And as their numbers continue to climb upward, soon we will all be saying to those seeking a divorce after 50: we know why you did it; welcome to the club.
Lessons to learn
OK, so what does all this mean?
To me, it means any policy efforts to make divorce harder are not OK; couples try to make a marriage work and often stay for years longer than they’d like to if they have kids. On a more personal level, it means couples really need to have honest and ongoing discussions about monogamy and infidelity (including defining it — and redefining it over time as new technologies come into play — in ways they can agree to), finances, parenting, porn, booze and drugs. And that may mean having a relationship contract, one that gets addressed and revised as needed, because marriage isn’t static, nor are the people in it.
As for that growing apart thing, well, let’s face it — it’s super challenging to live with someone, whether as a romantic couple raising kids or happily childfree, for decades and expect that things aren’t going to change. There are some things that are often out of our control — illness, disability, etc. — and others that often are, and that we can (if we want to) adjust to or be flexible about. And your partner will have to want to do it, too.
All that said, the “surprisingly old-fashioned reasons” why people split are probably not going to go away anytime soon, unless there’s a radical shift in the ways we think about monogamy (and there may be, especially when sexbots become part of our lives) or parenting (and there may be if we start preferring platonic parenting over romantic parenting). But addictions, mental health issues and emotional or verbal abuse? Good luck with that.
Want to learn how to create a relationship contract? (Of course you do!) Find The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press) at your indie bookstore or on Amazon; follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Originally published at omgchronicles.vickilarson.com