I’ve been a therapist for over 22 years and during that time I have assisted numerous couples with their marital issues. But again and again the most prevalent time I find couples separating is 35 years. Though I am not sure why, and by no means is this researched or scientific, but this number has repeated itself so often that it makes up about 20% of the couples in conflict who come into my office.
Usually the marriage has been in trouble for some time and one of the partners has just assumed they would continue to go on that way. Sex has become a vague memory and communication is almost nonexistent. They are still together because no one has yet made a move to leave. But why, around 35 years, does one finally decide to go?
Most people are between 55 and 60 when they are married 35 years. Kids are gone and finances are usually stable. Their children may have moved away or if not they have their own lives. Grandkids are fun but can’t take the place of a personal companion. What I have found is that if it’s the man who leaves he has already found someone and that person has made him feel desired sexually. If she is the one who wants out she may or may not have already found another but feels her life has been stifled in this relationship. Either way, both feel “it’s now or never”. There is a sense of urgency that makes compromise and negotiation futile. They just want out.
Adult children are usually just as surprised. While they know their parents marriage isn’t great they too assumed that the family functions, Christmas, birthdays or religious issues would keep their parents together forever. If a third party is involved they will most likely dislike them and blame the break up on them. They may never accept that new person into family activities. And Dad or Mom may be banished too if the divorce is hostile and the rage too deep. This is a chance taken by the leaving spouse. Just because the kids are grown does not man they will have an easier time accepting the ending.
Leaving a long term marriage is bitter sweet under the best of circumstances. It’s difficult to make major life changes at this age – even if you are the initiator. You will never lose the sense of connectedness to your x. Your new happiness is usually tinged with guilt and a wish that a new person would come into your x’s life too.
Of the couples I have been able to follow after divorce, most of the new relationships do seem to work out – if for no other reason then another divorce is more then they can emotionally undertake. But actually most seem pretty happy together and accept the limited contact with their kids.
For the person who was left the adjustment is difficult. Starting life over at this age on a path you didn’t want and didn’t expect takes a long time. But with the help of family and friends new life experiences can still take you to wonderful places and you can still do wonderful things. You can view it as a beginning or an ending. Or both! It’s up to you.