You might’ve thought that 20 years into your marriage, you’d have it all figured out… but that’s rarely the case. In fact, the divorce rate for couples aged 50+ is skyrocketing, and it’s the women who are serving the papers.
In this episode, I explore why that is and what makes relationships falter after decades spent together. You’ll learn about new challenges to anticipate in a mature marriage and how to navigate conflicting desires and goals with your partner. I’ll also share 5 warning signs that your marriage is in trouble so you can get out ahead of snowballing issues and give your relationship the best shot possible.
Listen to the Full Episode:
What You’ll Learn In This Episode:
- Why two-thirds of divorces between couples aged 50+ are instigated by the woman
- The unique struggles we face in mature marriages (even if the early days went well)
- 5 warning signs that your marriage is in trouble (and what to do about it)
- Why many men and women are misaligned in their goals & energy levels after the kids move out
- How to renegotiate what the second half of your marriage looks like
Featured On The Show:
Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?
Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.
“Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now, your host relationship expert and certified master life coach: Sharon Pope.
“Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope and this is TheLoving Truth. Today we're talking about the mature marriage and five signs that your marriage might be in trouble.
“Now, while marriage and divorce rates are actually decreasing for younger couples, it is increasing for more mature couples. I wanna give you a couple of data points here to think about. They might shock you. So Pew Research said that divorce rates for couples over the age of fifty have doubled in the last twenty-five years. The American Association of Retired people said that two-thirds of the time that a divorce happens for a couple that is over the age of fifty. Two-thirds of the time, it's the woman that is asking for the marriage to end. That is a huge shift between even our generation - we'll call it those of us in our fifties - and one generation ago, much less when we start talking about, like, my grandmother's generation. It's night and day compared to that.
“So the whole dynamic of a relationship after the age of fifty, a lot of things change, and I think we've gotta be able to talk about that. Also, the struggles in a marriage early on, or even call it ten years in - now, those struggles are different than when you've been together twenty or thirty or forty years together. So let's talk about some of those differences.
“So first of all, after a few decades together, we assume that we know everything there is to know about our partners. And what happens is that we stop remaining curious, we stop asking questions, we assume that they have not changed at all. And particularly for women, we change a lot throughout the decades. And for women in our fifties and sixties today, we're not just sort of slowly coasting into the grave, are we ladies? We're like, what can we create next? What's what? What else do we wanna experience in our lives? In many ways, we're sort of just getting started or restarted in our lives. This idea that we know everything there is to know - it doesn't help our relationships.
“I saw a meme one time, I talk about this occasionally because it has stuck with me, and I've looked and looked for it so that I can identify the author. But it was essentially a young man who was talking to his grandfather about his grandfather's marriage to his grandmother and asking, ‘What's the secret to being together for fifty years?’ And the grandfather said something along the lines of - I'm gonna paraphrase here because I don't have the exact quote -
but the grandfather said something along the lines of, you know, your grandmother has been eight different women over the course of the fifty years we've had together. And I have enjoyed getting to know every single one of them. Now, imagine if we approached our relationships like that, where we weren't scared of the changes that we see in our partners, but curious about them, excited about them, expecting them to happen so that then we can remain curious about our partners? That curiosity is a really important piece.
“I remember I was coaching a man one time, and I had previously coached his wife. They had been married at least twenty years. And I remember him saying to me, ‘She says we don't talk. We talk every day. We've been married for twenty years. What the heck does she wanna talk about?’ He really had no idea what she was seeking or what she was asking for. And ultimately what she was asking for were more points of connection. So the other dynamic that is different is that once you've been together for two, three, four decades - well, now you've probably had the same arguments over and over and over again, maybe even hundreds of times. And so in many ways, after you have the same argument a bunch of times, you sort of give up on continuing to have that same argument, right? We have longstanding unresolved resentments that we carry with us.
“I was speaking with a client, I would say it was probably a few weeks ago that we were having this conversation, and she's now in her late forties, but she was telling me about when her daughter was born and the kind of load that she was carrying at the time in terms of all that she had to manage, and the way in which her husband didn't show up for her and the family at that time. And he's thinking, this is ancient history, why are you still carrying this? But when we don't resolve the issues or challenges, they just come as resentments that we carry with us through our experience. And the longer you've been together, frankly, the more resentments you have, right? And so those mount up, and a bunch of little ones create something that is a much bigger deal. And the days of passion and adventure and excitement that you had early on in your relationship, those for sure after a few decades together have been sort of swapped out for predictability and stability and consistency - which those things are also lovely, but they're not passion and excitement and adventure, right?
“So unless we pay close attention to consistently incorporating those elements that increase our desire and relationships into our relationship, that fire is sort of going to fizzle out, right? But no one told us that we needed to keep that fire alive. And here are some ways to do that. Plus, the dynamics for how women are living today are very, very different than the dynamics of how women lived in just one generation ago. Think about how different your life is versus the kind of life that your mother had around your same age, right? And the things that she was doing and the kind of marriage she had, it was probably one of more comfort and stability. And that felt okay, because frankly, those were some of the reasons why women married to begin with, which was for providing and for protection and for social status, right? So that stability is what we needed.
“But today, as a woman, we don't necessarily need men to provide for us, nor are we in danger necessarily. So we don't need that protection and social status because you're married just isn't as relevant as it was one or two generations ago, right? So the whole dynamic around what it means to be a fifty-year-old woman today, we have so many more freedoms than our mothers and grandmothers had, and that is changing the nature of marriage and divorce. I think that's one of the huge reasons why two-thirds of the time when it's a divorce for a couple over fifty, that it's the woman now asking for it, where that was never the case just a few decades ago.
“All right, so let's talk about what the warning signs are if your marriage is in trouble. So the first one is a common phrase that you probably still hear today, which is, ‘I love him, but I'm not in love with him.’ And it's that in-love feeling that so many of us are seeking, but in love, what we're really reaching for is a sense of desire, a sense of passion and purpose. That's what we're reaching for.
“And intellectually we understand we're not supposed to have butterflies for our partner at this point, but we can make conscious choices to incorporate elements into our lives and into our marriages to keep that interest, that curiosity, that sense of the unknown and the possibility alive and well inside of our relationships. So the sense of, ‘I love him, but I'm not in love with him, and I don't know how to fall back in love with him.’ That's something to pay attention to. Okay? That's the first warning sign.
“The second warning sign is when you're living like roommates where you're essentially coexisting in the same house and living life very separately. You know, you have your interests, you have your schedule, he has his interests, and he has a separate schedule. It's like you're living life coexisting, but you're not living life together. You don't have shared goals, you don't have shared plans, you don't feel like you want the same things necessarily. And in many ways, you probably place the relationship on autopilot just to not upset the apple cart, right? So if you feel like you're living like roommates and just sort of coexisting, that too is a big, big red flag and something to pay attention to.
“The third one is that you want very different things. So I read in a book - actually two books. So Dr. Luann Brizendine, she's fantastic. She wrote The Male Brain and the Female Brain, and she was talking about how the male brain, after the age of fifty, from a hormonal perspective (where maybe in his thirties he was more like a sports car, he was the equivalent hormonally) he's more like a luxury sedan. And I thought that was such a good metaphor for the ways in which for women in our, call it twenties, thirties, when we were having babies and we had to give up a lot in order to raise our children and create a family. And many of us also have a career. But there were lots of give-ups along the way that still today, women have to give up more in order to have a healthy family than men do, right?
“So there's a kickstart, there's a renewed energy for a mature woman, where maybe for men, they're more winding down, they're trying to dial their life down a bit and have more free time and more free space, where women are like, ‘Look, I finally have time and space for me and the things that light me up.’ And so they're wanting to dial life up a bit. I remember there was a client of mine, this was probably like eight or nine years ago, but it still sticks with me because it was such a difference. They were nearing retirement age, and they both had long-term jobs that they were able to do that.
“And they were talking about what they wanted to create next. She wanted to open a gym and start a nonprofit. He wanted to move to the country, buy some land, build a small house on a property that had a pond so that the grandkids could come and fish out of the pond, and they would have rocking chairs on the front porch. So they wanted very, very different things. Now, that in and of itself doesn't mean that you can't find common ground. And actually, I'm not a huge fan of compromise in this way. Let me explain the reason why.
“Let's say that there's someone who is from New York City, and then there's someone from, I don't know, let's call it Washington state, right? Who loves nature and all that, and the other person loves big city. And if you compromise, great, where are we gonna live? If we're gonna be together, we're gonna live in Iowa. Well, now no one's happy, right? So compromise isn't always the best way, but you don't have to be carbon copies of each other.
“You don't have to want the exact same things. Like, it's lovely when that happens, but it just rarely happens that you want the exact same things at the same stage in your lives. So you don't have to be carbon copies of each other, but you do have to be respectful of one another's differences. I think the problem that we get into so often when we have those big differences between what we want and what our partners want, is that we think that we're right, and we don't wanna give up on our dreams and our desires for our lives, of course. And so we try to convince our partner to come along with us.
“So if we take that client example that I was telling you about, she's trying to get him to embrace life more and want to do more, and he's like, wait, come out to the country. Wouldn't this be nice? Let me paint the picture for our grandkids fishing out of the pond, right? And so we try to change our partners to be more like us so that we can both justify our choices and also spend more time together and feel more like a couple. So you just have to be respectful of those choices, and you don't necessarily have to compromise, and you for sure do not have to give up on what it is that you want, but you do have to be willing to navigate letting each other do what each of you want to do.
“The third red flag that I wanna just point out to you is, you know, maybe we just don't have the same things in common anymore, right? And sometimes that is the case, you know, where it's like we just aren't the same people we were when we got married, and what we want and how we want to live our lives is so dramatically different that we can't find that middle ground and we can't find that compromise where it really, really works. The fourth warning sign that your marriage is in trouble is that the attraction is gone. I had a client one time who told me, ‘My husband is very attractive. Lots of people tell me how handsome he is, but we are not closely connected. We don't have any level of intimacy with one another, even though we've been together for more than forty years.’
“And I think that is so important because while attraction may have been the thing that brought us together in the beginning, it's certainly never the glue that holds us together over time. It's really that closeness and intimacy that can only be created through a long period of time together that is so important later in life. So some of the things like shared values, and I'm attracted to my partner, and we wanted some of the same things when we were young. Those are the things that'll bring us together and keep us together early on. But later on in life, attraction isn't necessarily the thing. What's going to keep us together is a level of intimacy and connection and closeness. And I don't know about you, but there was no class on creating intimacy in your marriage either before you got married or during your marriage. Like there wasn't a class that you necessarily missed.
“So a lot of men will think - if I walked up to any man on the street, I promise you, nine times out of ten - if I ask them the question, define intimacy, their definition of intimacy, not every man, but nine times out of ten, is gonna be sex. That's what they think intimacy is.
“But if I ask a woman what intimacy is, probably my guess is only twenty to thirty percent of the time would they define that as sex. Women tend to understand that intimacy is much deeper and that sex is a physical expression of intimacy - or at least it can be, but it is not synonymous with intimacy. Intimacy is about a knowing and a understanding, and a closeness and a connection between two hearts and minds, right?
“The last piece in terms of the warning sign if your marriage is in trouble, is the longstanding resentments. If you're carrying a lot of resentment towards your spouse, and you can probably list off, like if I asked you, well, why are you so mad at him? Why are you so angry? You could probably list off one or two things, but you would almost write on the heels of that, explain it away. Like, yeah, it was a long time ago, but this was important. And so those resentments, I feel like, come from a place of, maybe if we go back to the idea of all that women had to give up in order to have children and raise those children, and there were dreams and desires that I think essentially the day you have a child, you are directly or indirectly told that this is lovely, this is wonderful, and now your dreams, desires, and goals for your life are now on hold or on the back burner for the next, I don't know, twenty or thirty years... That's a big, I don't wanna call it a give-up because there's so much that is gained through it. But once your kids are grown and you've done your job and they're off living their lives, now is the space and time where women do have the opportunity to pursue the things that they've always wanted to do. And sometimes we can look back and go, ‘But I didn't get to do all the things I wanted to do.’
“And sometimes we hold those resentments against our spouse because they didn't have to give up as much to have a family as women did for the most part. Of course there are outliers, but still today that's the case. You know that so much of the mental load and physical load of having children and raising a family and managing a household falls on the women, whether they have a career themselves or not, mostly because we haven't renegotiated those terms and conditions as we move through life at home. But those resentments that we carry, that mount up over time, and they go unhealed eventually, when you have that time and space for yourself, it's easy to understand how we're a little bit bitter about why didn't he have to give up so much?
“And so that bitterness turns into resentments, and those resentments start to mount. So that is a warning flag that your marriage is in trouble. It doesn't mean that it can't be healed, but we've gotta be able to have some open, honest conversations about it if we want to heal it. So marriage is not for the faint of heart, right? Like I know we all fall in love with this idea of falling in love and spending your life with someone, but it truly is one of the most difficult things you will do in your lifetime, to manage and navigate the ups and downs of being in an intimate relationship over the course of decades together. And we come into it with very little experience. Sometimes he was your first boyfriend, right? Or your first serious boyfriend. So we don't have a lot of experience, and we don't have hardly any training or tools. We came into marriage with what we saw growing up from our parents, and sometimes they provided a beautiful example, and sometimes they didn't provide a beautiful example. But regardless, even if it was a lovely example of what love and marriage should look like, times today have changed.
“And so what marriages need today to be successful, it's very different than what marriage needed just one generation ago. So the thing is, there's going to be rough waters. We're going to have to navigate rough waters inside of a marriage. That's inevitable. The problem is we don't go looking for the life vest until there's a hole in the boat, right? So that's really the issue, and that's why I wanted to bring this up in terms of what are the warning signs?
“And so these five warning signs that I shared with you today, those are just opportunities for you to go, ‘Okay, it's time to pay attention, because these things aren't going to just magically get better. I'm going to need to address them in some way, if I'm going to remain in a marriage and make it feel good again.’
“And I just wanna end with this idea that we can renegotiate how we want the second half of our lives to be, how we want the second half of our marriage to be. I almost think we should make it a ritual so that it happens. So whether that's, you know, on your twentieth or twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, or when each of you turn fifty, or when your last child moves out of the home and you truly are empty nesters, whatever that tipping point is. But at that point, I think it's time to sit down and go, okay, what do we want the next twenty-five years of our lives to be? What do we want the next fifty years of our lives to look like? And how do we wanna feel as we move through that? How do we want our relationship to feel?
“And where are the similarities and where are the differences? And what do we need to think about in terms of challenges that maybe some of them we haven't even seen yet? So instead of just presuming that life will look pretty much the same, you know, in a mature marriage as maybe the first twenty-five years of your marriage, or the first thirty years of your marriage, I wouldn't assume that at all. I would assume it's going to look and feel a lot different, and I think it should. I think that's completely rational, rational and reasonable. But I think we've gotta talk about it because many times one person has the assumption that we're just gonna keep coasting and we're gonna ride this out and you know, nothing's really gonna change. And the other person is like, ‘Hey, this isn't feeling really good, and we need massive changes, which means we need to have conversations.’
“All right. I hope that that was helpful for you. I hope that gave you something to really think about. You know, mature marriages are different than young marriages, or even, I'm gonna say, marriages in your late thirties and forties. By the time you get to your fifties, things start to look and feel very different. And so I want you to expect that so that you're not scared off by it and thinking that the only answer is necessarily to end it all, right? Hopefully, you are able to get something from that, and I will see you next week. Until that time, please take really good care.
“if you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage, and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and me to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.
“Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.”