Kind of like the movie “Network” in the iconic scene where the actor Peter Finch, as Howard Beale, says, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this any more!”
What is often left out from that quote is the statement made just prior, “I’m a human being. My life has value.” I think some spouses in their 50’s through their 80’s decide that after decades of a somewhat dissatisfying, or perhaps an abusive, marriage they realize that they have a whole lifetime ahead of them and decide that they deserve better. In an article from the AARP June 2012 Bulletin, one of the reasons for a late-in-life divorce centers around the fact that longer lives mean more years with an incompatible spouse. And even though the overall divorce rate in the United States has decreased since 1990, it has doubled for those over age 50.
Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University says, “If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.”
Wow!!!! I had no idea! I’m fortunate in that my second marriage at the age of 47 is still one in which I am very happy now twelve years later. There are those, however, with whom I am acquainted who stick to the dictum of “in sickness and in health, until death do us part” even through an abusive relationship (verbal, physical or otherwise) and, because they’ve been in it for the long haul, e.g., 30 plus years, they feel that they have no choice but to stay.
Why do those with abusive spouses – both male and female – cling to their marriage?
As I mentioned above – one reason is certainly the commitment to vows that were made at the height of a romantic relationship. And there are other reasons. An excellent therapist with whom I am acquainted who leads support groups for the abused told me that over the years, as abuse has prevailed in the household, the one being abused adjusts to each added level or intensity of abuse and becomes acclimated to each added degree. Added to this unwarranted commitment to their abusive spouse, they fear the unknown, even though it may bring about an abuse-free life. And without the help of good friends and powerful resources, a spouse in an abusive relationship may not have the tools that will give them sufficient confidence to make a decision that will benefit them the remainder of their life.
Divorcing later in life can often result in less time to recover financially, recoup losses, retire debt, and ride the ups and downs of the economy.
Some Baby Boomers out there have relished the security that their spouse or significant other has provided them in the form of financial stability. They’re thinking that perhaps it’s worth putting up with this person with whom I am incompatible to guarantee a comfortable enough life until one of us dies. Well – certainly that is a factor – but I personally believe that an individual’s life contains far more value than any bank account can provide. If someone is feeling devalued in their relationship, they have short-changed the remainder of their life. And if someone truly craves, absolutely longs for greater self-worth, nothing will stop them from satisfying that need. I guess you have to look at the options and determine if you’re willing to go with it:
living in a mortgage-free home without financial concerns with someone who tears you down, or renting a one-bedroom apartment with thrift store furnishings, that frees you from a relationship that has prevented you from being your true, and valued self.
But who will take care of me in my old age?
A 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP survey found that 66% of caregivers were female, with women providing on average 22 hours per week vs. 17 hours for males. In a divorce situation, “older men may make out better financially than women, but they don’t fare so well at finding someone to take care of them when they’re older. They often don’t have alternative care networks the way women do,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. When asked who they will turn to when they’re older, single men often cite paid help – a pricey and somewhat difficult option to find. Some older divorced people have children or other family members who can assume the caregiving role, but not everyone does.
Gray divorce is occurring and there are certainly many factors to consider. I guess I’m of the belief that a bad marriage is not better than living alone. Whether you’re a Baby Boomer – or of any other generational group – only you can decide what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to obtain your sense of personal value. As far as I know, we’ve only been given this one life. This is not a dress rehearsal and there are no do-overs.