By Miriam Goodman
While it may seem that only celebrities and politicians are getting divorced these days, according to recent Census Bureau data, more than 25% of couples who recently divorced were married more than twenty years. And more than 50% of all divorced people are in the Baby Boomer age range. The trend started about ten years ago and is growing. Al and Tipper Gore were not the first.
Experts on these matters are quick to give their own reasons for why this is happening. Most agree that divorce is more acceptable in today’s society than it was a generation ago, (no fault divorce laws in many states have helped,) that so many wives are working and less dependent on men for financial support and thus feel less inclined to stay in an unhappy marriage. Others suggest that longer life expectancy and better health has led both women and men to examine whether they want to stay together for what could be 25 or 30 years post retirement.
So what does that mean for the couple approaching retirement today? With all the concerns about finances, taking care of elderly relatives and helping out the adult children and grandchildren, must they also take a new look at their marriage? After all, if you are already past 50, you have a good chance of making it to 85. Is your relationship all it could be? Are either or both of you feeling you have been giving in too often to the others’ wishes or not standing up for yourself in the marriage?
These are the questions I have been asking couples in retirement all over the country. As Boomers reach retirement age, the generation that brought about so many cultural changes still has an independent streak. Although most states does not collect divorce data, local therapists and divorce lawyers report there are more and more long-term married people seeking their services.
On the other hand, we are among the first generations that have lived long enough to celebrate 50, 60 or 70 years of marriage. Does our increasing longevity mean we should suffer in silence or call it quits? Were we hard-wired to stay with the same person for so long?
I examined the state of boomer marriage for my book, “Too Much Togetherness: Surviving Retirement As A Couple,” and found that most couples do want to stay together. The problem is that many retired men seem lost without a purpose or commitment to a job every day. As much as retirement is both welcomed and deserved, many men find themselves both demanding and dependent on their wives, more than at any other time in the marriage. And the wives are both surprised and resentful. Who is this guy I thought I knew? What happened to his energy, his interests, his willingness to do things on his own?
Coming to terms with these issues in the dirty little secret of retirement, It is important that boomer women do not feel guilty or alone. This is a common problem and can be settled with honest and open communication. Both partners must state their needs and expectations and throw assumptions away. No matter how it used to be, retirement puts you in a new place and new rules are necessary. It is not too late to start the conversation.
Author Miriam Goodman is a journalist, author, award-winning radio and television producer, and public relations consultant. Her book, Reinventing Retirement: 389 bright ideas about Family, Friends, Health, What to Do and Where to Live is a boomers guide to all aspects of retirement. Too Much Togetherness: Surviving Retirement as a Couple, examines the unspoken issue of togetherness.