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Sex issues fuelling boom in over 50s divorce?

By , on Wednesday October 20, 2010 at 4:45 pm

It has been a phenomenon that we have definitely seen at Woolley & Co but I have wondered what is behind it. There are more over-50s, an age group perhaps we would expect to be less comfortable with divorce if only for historical reasons when it was less commonplace, filing for divorce.

Now a survey by older persons’ organisation Saga has looked into why this might be happening, with some interesting results.

Figures show that 28 per cent said they divorced because their partner was emotionally cold and distant, while a quarter cited a loss of interest in sex. In addition, 27 per cent said they were no longer committed to their marriage.

The main reason for men ending their marriage – cited in a third of cases – was a lack of interest in sex, while most women said their husband was ¬emotionally cold.

I have to admit that I was a little surprised with these reasons coming so high on the scale. The more common suggestions we have come across include the fact that with the children having flown the nest, cracks in a relationship that had used the children as the glue to keep them together, simply caused a marriage to fall apart. Couples who had lots in common when they were younger found that in the “children years”, they had grown apart and this was thrown into the spotlight when the family home was empty again.

There is also the fact that women are generally able to have greater financial independence by returning to work after raising a family, which means that more women have the means to initiate divorce proceedings.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, around 22,000 over-50s divorced this year – compared to a peak of around 25,000 in 2004 – which suggests overall we are not seeing a rise but perhaps it is a more vocal contingent we are now hearing from.

If it is a lack of intimacy in marriages between over-50s, is there anything that can be done to help counter this? Would counselling geared specifically towards older couples help? I don’t know but I would be interested to hear of anyone’s experience in this.

Divorce for those in later years can bring a whole set of problems that young couples ending their relationship often don’t need to worry about so much. If a couple has been together for many years, they will both have a lot more invested in their relationship, both emotionally and in terms of possessions. Any assets are likely to be larger, while larger and multiple pension pots can also need greater investigation by experienced professionals.

I would suggest that the best way for us to help then is to look at offering more help to older couples going through problems to save money and heartbreak all round.

Andrew Woolley
Divorce Solicitor

Comments and Response – Sex issues fuelling boom in over 50s divorce

To me, a lot of it is health and priorities. I started to notice it with my friends in their 20s, how they stop making health and fun a priority. It’s sad that people believe those old wives tales that high school and college are the best years of their lives. If they believe it, it often becomes true and It tends to carry over from there. As the years go on, they either let themselves go and have the excuses of professional, family and financial obligations, and before they know it, they don’t remember what their true selves are like. I’m often surprised in mediations and in trials how family law clients tell me that their spouses didn’t used to be that way and are stupefied as to how they got so out of touch with themselves. I’m not saying that those things aren’t important, but if you lose interest in yourself or expect others to do it for you, it’s highly likely that something like that is going to happen. After 10, 20, 30 years of living that way, the ‘task’ of rebuilding your health and your sex life can seem overwhelming. It often seems easier, just to leave and start over. I really do believe that many marriages can be saved (absent substance abuse or domestic violence) although it really takes a lot of (fun) work and making yourself a priority.

Of course, this is just my humble opinion. …

By Hillary Johns on Thursday October 21, 2010

I have also found that my Divorce clients are getting older, some over 60.   In my experience, what may seem like a small ‘trigger’ pushes a party to take the step to end a marriage often to the surprise of the other notwithstanding that they may have been growing apart for a while whilst each went about their daily lives.   The shock and trauma of facing the future alone terrifies people. The prospect of separation and Divorce leaves a party feeling devastated, isolated and sometimes may be ostracised by family members.  Some elderly clients have no other interests outside the home and have either been wrapped up building business or home so when they retire and a Divorce is imminent the client will feel alone, empty and broken. Some suicidal. Others may have grown apart from their partner due to a very ‘busy’ work and social network which has placed a strain on the relationship and commitment made. Whatever the reason, both are affected by a relationship breakup . Keeping the channels of communication between the parties is very important.

In addition to providing, in a sensitive manner, clear , concise advice about the options available and the procedure for obtaining the outcome that a client would like and to protect the clients position together with the cost implications of this, a solicitor can assist by having a list of useful information, contact numbers and leaflets.   I have found that encouraging clients to develop outside interests helps teh client and the clients approach to his/ her case generally. One of my clients found he had great musical ability in his mature age and this opened up his network and made him stronger happier and able to deal with the divorce His ‘new found strength’ and ‘purpose in life’ led him to negotiate a settlement he was happy with which was embodied into a consent order and thus avoided a contested Trial and saved him costs and the stress of a contested Hearing. …

By Stala Charalambous on Friday October 22, 2010

Andrew, there is a tendency to view the body as a vehicle for gratification or achievement (e.g. prowess at some activity). Since the purpose of the body is merely communication, many problems can be avoided as people come to honor purpose and set aside unrealistic or unreasonable expectations. …

By David Armstrong on Sunday October 24, 2010

Well I can not comment on leaving a marriage after the age of 50 as I am in my mid 40’s but I can say that it took me a long time to leave my marriage, however the reasons for leaving did not pop up all of a sudden, they had been brewing for years. Through a lot of personal development and beginning to honour who I was (am) as a person, I finally found my strength and my voice. I would say this is more of an issue for women, especially if they have left a career to care for children. A womans identity can easily become wrapped up in being a ‘mother and wife’ and finding or reconnecting to our own identity doesn’t rank up there on our list of ‘importance’ until we become more mature (older).

I would suggest that the reasons sited in the survey…women complaining of their husbands being cold and men complaining of their wives losing interest in sex are intimately linked and that these complaints have always been at the heart of the issue but not articulated in the past as freely as in todays world. Topics of ‘sex’ and ‘emotions’ are more accepted today than even a few years ago. So while the issues seem to be new I expect they are in fact decades old but just new to public discussion. Having said this I do believe many couples stay together ‘for the sake of the children’ and that once the children have left home there is more freedom to honour what has possibly been true for some time. I also believe (know actually from having my own) that children require a lot of time, energy and focus and this focus can be a great ‘distraction’ from looking at the real issues in a struggling marriage.

I’m not sure I answered the question…Is divorce harder the older we get? – to that I am not sure…I know for me, the older I got, the more apparent it was to me that I had to honour what was true for me and in honouring my truth I feel much happier…I would not say my life is necessarily easier but I am certainly happier. …

By Edi Spanier on Sunday October 24, 2010

When I see an older couple divorcing, one thread I’ve noticed is a history of putting other things ahead of the marriage on one’s list of priorities. If it isn’t children it’s a job, extended family or a time-consuming hobby that doesn’t involve the other spouse. I think people can survive being ignored for years at a time if they have children to occupy their attention, but once the kids leave the house, it gets more difficult to deny the emotional void that has always existed. Some of these separations, it seems, could be resolved by professional counseling. …

By Robert Jennings on Monday October 25, 2010

Many thanks for these comments, it is obviously a subject which attracted attention! Speaking as someone over 50 myself—but ONLY just—I now understand much better what actually does make me happy….

By Andrew Woolley on Thursday October 28, 2010

I agree with Robert that professional counseling can help couples attach together. However, sometimes in my professional experience one party is already detached and wants out. It is more common than noted that affairs can evolve due to the dynamics other members of the group have stated. …

By Stanley Fonder on Monday November 1, 2010

I saw the distance growing between old couples as their age numbers grow. If a couple made all the effort trying to overcome the differences in their earlier days, the long-time trying to glue together will definitely result in a growing crack, even a big sick-feeling towards each other when the reason that bound them together disappeared. No need of sex could be one reason, but the reason they got married at the first step, e.g. financial need, keeping legal immigrant status, etc. becomes outdated as time goes by. One couple clients of mine gave me an impression that it would serve themselves better if they get divorced because of the strong disrespect they have to each other….

By Melinda Zhang on Tuesday November 2, 2010

In my experience the party who is looking to divorce over 50 has higher expectations for the “third phase” of their life. Having reached the milestone of 50 they decide they “don’t have to take it any more” (whatever their personal perception of “it” is) and want to spend the rest of their time in a more emotionally comfortable situation, which they seem to feel cannot happen with the spouse. In the UK the usual division of the matrimonial assets gives each party the prospect of being able to be independent of the other, especially after a long marriage where assets have been accumulated. There is no need to put up with the other person in order to enjoy these benefits, and as Stanley says, one party is often more committed to a break than to trying to patch things up. However, as someone who is also a trained counsellor I am always going to want people to try harder before going for a divorce! …

By Sharan Hassett on Tuesday November 2, 2010

I think there is an ‘illness’ or malaise at large in our society which is being ignored and tends to go by un-noticed. Men reaching fifty (look out Andrew!) may suddenly find they have reached this age with not much time left to achieve all those lofty goals and dreams they have kept to themselves for so long. This disapointment leads to them reviewing where they are at. Who is this other person in their life?, the glue of relationships, has been missing for some time it becomes hard for either party to re-ignite the flame or ask for intimacy in an un-intimate relationship. The points made by others about life getting in the way and personal care and intimacy being pushed down the list are extremely valid. Faced with this sudden realisation, post 50 man now loves his partner as a sister, needs space, or time or both and decides if he is going to live a sexless and lonely life he might as well do it on his own, without the nagging!

Is there an answer? Only if the man in question realises he needs external help. Not usually something men seek. Does this ring a bell with the rest of you?…

By Nigel Heath on Tuesday November 23, 2010

Thank you all, especially Nigel who very gratifyingly thinks I am still “reaching fifty”! I suspect that a lack of real communicaiton between a couple is often beneath problems. Do they love each other enough to say “no” to each other openly and honest;lly? Often not and, in fairness, it can be very easy to read but hard to do.

By Andrew Woolley on Monday November 29, 2010

Blog Author - Andrew Woolley

Andrew WoolleyAndrew Woolley

Andrew is the owner and managing partner of Woolley & Co. He regularly offers comments and views on a range of family law issues.

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