Leaving A Long-Term Marriage Late In Life

IMG_0764I’m part of a new societal trend

When I left my marriage of 54 years, I thought my decision to leave was pretty unusual. Now I realize that my wish to separate is part of a startling new demographic. Divorces among the over-fifty crowd have increased dramatically and it’s most often the women who leave. Could this be the next stage in the women’s movement?

The Grey Divorce

I learned about this new trend when I tuned into the Sunday Edition on CBC. Host Michael Enright’s guest, Ashley Walters interviews older women who have left their marriages. The programme is called Til Grey Do Us Part. The women’s accounts touched me deeply. Some were similar to my own experience. Others were probably common, but differed from mine. I’ll tell you the women’s experiences in regular print and add my own in italics.

One woman said, after thirty years of marriage: “The hardest part of the divorce was coming to the decision.”

I tried for months to get the words out of my mouth. “I want to leave and live on my own” just stuck somewhere in my upper chest. I simply couldn’t say it.

Another woman said, “I have no regrets beyond perhaps wishing I’d done it earlier.”

How many women, like me, want to leave but can’t get up the courage to give themselves the life they long for?

IMG_0737Women seeking autonomy

Consider this woman’s description of her new found autonomy. “I feel wonderfully freed up to see and be with whatever friends I choose without censoring myself in order not to antagonize him or cover up for his social awkwardness.”

I relate personally to this woman’s sense of freedom in social situations. I’ve never been very good at standing up for my own needs and wishes. The words “I want” and “I need” are hard for women generally.

Women take the lead

Women most often take the lead in leaving. When I tell couples I meet of my decision to live alone, the women almost always congratulate me and comment on my courage. The men, on the other hand, look upset and worried.

A woman on the Sunday Edition programme had been married 38 years when she gave up in despair. She was ready to do something for herself, but found no support for her wish to grow. When she announced she was leaving, her husband said, “Well, I didn’t stop you (from growing.)”

I recognize the response. I too was easily detoured away from my own wishes in the face of disapproval and criticism. On the other hand, I had full support in fulfilling myself professionally.

Another woman, an 80-year old, was 74 when she left a 48-year marriage. She referred to “spouse retirement syndrome.” Her response to her husband’s retirement was to get sick.

My husband was dedicated to his work until just before we moved out of our Toronto house. There we were in our new house, surrounded by unpacked boxes, both of us exhausted and no careers to distract us. Face to face it was not a pretty scene. It became obvious that if I

stayed with this newly retired husband, something terrible would happen to me. I’d get a life-threatening illness, become alcoholic or seek some other harmful escape. Desperation gave me the extra push I needed to say the words and go into action.

Positive outcomes of leaving

“I can have fun in my life again. I’m more afraid of being with someone who doesn’t actually like me. Women don’t have to accept a life that doesn’t accept them. They deserve to be with people who don’t undervalue them.”

“We can expand and grow. We don’t have to shrink and be mean. I had to leave the marriage so I could be who I am. Six years later I have him as a friend.”

Sometimes we have to leave a long-term marriage. It’s about aging and staying in charge of our lives.


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