Late-life divorce: Finito or fresh start?


  • Family
  • Thursday, 09 Jul 2020

Men and women tend to want a late-life divorce for different reasons: Men suddenly discover sexual deficits in the relationship, while women suffer more from emotional voids. — Kniel Synnatzschke/Westend61/dpa

The kids are out of the house and you’ve nearly reached your career goals. What comes next? And who’s coming with you?

“When your kids have moved out, your marriage is suddenly under the microscope, ” says Hans Berwanger, a family and marriage therapist. “The end of active parenting can quickly lay inner estrangement bare.”

Men and women tend to want a late-life divorce for different reasons, Berwanger remarks.

Men suddenly discover sexual deficits in the relationship, while women suffer more from emotional voids.

“If the emotional account is bankrupt in a couple’s relationship, many ask themselves what the point of maintaining it is, ” he says.

Religious and societal taboos against divorce have largely lost force, points out psychotherapist Klemens Funk, noting: “Divorce used to be almost high treason.”

Ending a long marriage is often far from easy, though. A lot of women will still cling to an oppressive marriage for financial reasons, for instance. This is changing, however, Funk says. Many women now take up a new occupation after age 50, opening up fresh prospects of self-realisation – with or without a man at their side.

When divorce lawyer Renate Maltry opened her office in Munich 35 years ago, hardly anyone over age 60 got a divorce, she recalls. Those days are gone, she says. “Today people see it as the start of another chapter in their life, ” Maltry says. “They want to actively shape it, including changing the way they live.”

Many older couples don’t ask themselves how they want to live out their lives until they’re retired, only to realise they’ve got vastly different ideas about it.

“Women used to tell themselves: ‘I can get through the 10 years left to me’, ” Maltry says. “But with a life expectancy of 84, they can easily have many more years than that.”

Changes in family structures and social values are making marriages of habit obsolete. They’re being supplanted by marriages of love that aren’t to be discarded.

And the more older couples divorce, the more normal it becomes. Finding a new partner is also easier in the age of social media.

When is it worthwhile to work on a dysfunctional marriage, and when not?

“If there’s no emotional intimacy, if the couple’s emotional world has withered, then the marriage is in serious trouble, ” remarks Berwanger, who says intimacy and shared emotions – also unpleasant ones – are necessary for a partnership to function.

Upon retirement, a person often loses accustomed recognition and contacts: interactions with co-workers and social status as a member of the workforce. Many things missing in a marriage then carry greater weight. If they can’t be fixed and the marriage becomes permanent conflict, it’s no longer viable, Funk says.

Divorce may be socially acceptable, but it’s still emotionally and bureaucratically challenging – so much so that even Maltry, the divorce lawyer, says it’s a good idea to work on a troubled marriage.

“Sometimes things are thrown away too fast nowadays, ” she says. “A partnership that was once good is worth fighting for – with therapy, too.” – dpa/ Sabine Schreiber

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Couple relationships , Divorce

   

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