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Late divorce: less taboo but just as painful



“When our children left home, my husband was talking about ’empty nest syndrome’ (1). I didn’t feel it, hoping that our couple would take a new path ”, testifies Brigitte, with a lot of emotion in her voice.

→ TESTIMONIALS. Late divorces, an ordeal that shakes up beliefs

“But there was no more communication between us. One day we were sitting in the living room, he got up and left saying he needed a break. Three years later, we were divorced at my request. Making this decision was terrible for me. The divorce was very complicated and very painful ”, she confides. Three years later, the injury remains just as intense for this young sexagenarian, married for 31 years.

A world that crumbles

As long as we encourage them (2), poignant testimonies are very numerous, mixing wounds not always healed, painful memories and other older ones, often happy, when the family was reunited. Years, decades went by without really counting the wedding anniversaries, except the most significant, 10, 20, 30, 40 … But one day, however, one of the spouses said stop. And it is sometimes a world that collapses for the other, for children who are often already grown up. Another life that begins for the members of the disunited family.

Should the stability of couples be a public policy issue?

Late divorces, also called “gray divorces”, because of the hair color of the protagonists, are on the rise, and are gradually emerging from the shadow of taboo. One of the causes of secrecy being, according to psychoanalyst Catherine Grangeard, the failure of society to take into account the desires of men and women after 50 years. And particularly in the latter whose menopause would sign the decline of libido.

“Which is false, of course, but to speak of late divorce would be to speak of the sexuality of a category of women who have become sexually invisible in the eyes of some”, storm Catherine Grangeard, author of the book There is no age to enjoy (3).

Identity crisis

For this specialist in women, there is a multiplicity of desires, of singular situations leading to separations then to more or less late divorces. For his part, the sociologist Serge Guérin (4) points out the effect of successive confinements on marital relations. “A sort of real-life experience of what retirement will be like later. The growing awareness among some couples that they are on the verge of a period of 25 to 30 years of life with the desire to enjoy it as long as they are in good health. “

More generally, the psychologist and psychoanalyst Anasthasia Blanché distinguishes the cases of fifty-year-olds, still active, of the oldest between 60 and 70, retired or inactive. The “quinquas” face a mid-life crisis, a sort of second adolescence where questions of identity are posed again: “who am I” “who to love: the same or another? “. They look at how far they have come two, thirty or forty years together. The aging of the body appears, his, that of the spouse. This inner questioning that sometimes strikes at a professional problem is the occasion for a life assessment.

The children are brought up, gone to study. We no longer have to “hold out” for them. Subject to all kinds of obligations, the spouses lost sight of each other. Their paths have moved away. They don’t share much anymore. Many couples manage to overcome this growth crisis by redefining their marital pact, if necessary with the help of a therapist or a marriage counselor.

→ MAINTENANCE. Late divorce: “We must recognize the sorrow of adult children”

Some fail to rebuild themselves. They may then have to separate and then divorce, despite the risk of loneliness, despite financial constraints, which are more significant according to social class, but less differentiated between men and women.

Another life to reinvent

For the generation of 60/70 years, the challenge consists, according to Anasthasia Blanché, “To meet two, between four walls, 24 hours a day”. In other words, where are we going to live? What to do with all this free time? At the time of retirement, another life has to be reinvented. “Spouses can disagree. One is a homebody, the other wants to go around the world. Find common ground ? They no longer want to make this effort. As long as the retired husband becomes rigid, becomes tyrannical, the wife has the feeling of suffocation. In the event of a conflict, divorce now appears to be one of the solutions ”, observes the psychologist.

In some extreme situations, when there is physical or moral domination of one spouse over the other, separation is necessary as a liberation, sometimes after years of suffering.

Divorce, what effects on the love life of children?

“If women file for divorce to find themselves, at least initially, men get back together more quickly”, continues Anastasia Blanché. However, these late separations surprise or even destabilize those around them. Starting with the couple’s children, often themselves married or as a couple.

“For them, parents were pillars, they had bet on a model and suddenly, it falls from its pedestal”, notes Geneviève de Leffe, marriage and family counselor at Cler (5), who warns young spouses: “The relational difficulties that one meets within his own family can have repercussions in the couple that he forms on his side”. Hence the importance of keeping the stories separate, avoiding taking sides and asking for the help of a third party if necessary to overcome this ordeal.

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The rise in divorces among seniors

In 2016, divorces involving a man over 50 years of age accounted for 38% of all divorces, more than double the number twenty years ago. (17% in 1996)

This development is found in women over 50, who accounted for 29% of total divorces in 2016, against 11% in 1996.

The share of divorces involving a man and a woman over 60 tripled between 1996 and 2016.

Among the generations born in the 1960s, a quarter of men and women aged 50 have already had at least two unions. Men reform a couple more frequently than women: a quarter of more chances at age 50, three times more likely at 73 years.

(Source: Ined, February 2021)

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