Articles about the higher rate of divorce among people post-50 seem to appear with some regularity. For example, I just came across another one, “Gray divorces rising as more baby boomers opt to end marriages,” with nothing particularly surprising in it, of course. (I doubt it was intended to be a shocking story.)
Most of the reasons for divorce among Boomers are similar to those of people divorcing at any age, such as growing apart or one person falling in love—or just in bed—with someone else. For Boomers, additional factors come into play:
- After the kids leave home or after one or both persons are home more often, couples often see their relationship in a new light, one that can reveal weaknesses or complete disintegration.
- Women are more financially independent than in the past, so they are not tied to a marriage for security.
- Boomers in general value independence and personal development, so it makes sense to many that they shouldn’t stay married if they are unhappy.
- The combination of facing mortality as well as facing a longer, healthier life ahead compared with past generations, people realize they don’t want to spend the time they have left with each other.
One quote in the article stood out to me in particular, from a family lawyer, Lynne Gold-Bikin, who noted that a third person is often the catalyst for someone to end a relationship. “They may need that push to get them out, what I call the springer. You need somebody to spring you from the marriage.”
For some, this “springer” was the third person in an affair, something that usually occurs long after the marriage has started to fall apart. Giving ourselves permission to break commitments made in good faith before reaching this point could save a lot of pain and heartache.
If more couples could end an unhappy marriage by reaching loving closure, before reaching the point of finding someone else, both could move on without carrying the painful baggage with them. The would-be cheater avoids the spiral of collusion and betrayal. The person who would be cheated on is saved the hurt and deceit. Both avoid falling into the martyred victim role, giving up power over their life choices by blaming the other (for cheating, for driving the other away, etc.). This is all easier said than done, of course!
Another type of “springer” is a more positive, encouraging influence. This idea of being sprung from a trap, and needing a third person to help you do so, even if you know you are trapped before that person comes along, is a recurring theme in life post-50 that goes beyond relationships for many.
- Feeling trapped in a job you no longer or never did love, just putting in your time until you can retire.
- Feeling trapped by the very idea of retirement when you want to keep working, leading, contributing, making a difference.
- The Sandwich Generation feeling trapped by the needs of their kids and their parents, wondering when they’ll have time to pursue their own visions.
- Feeling trapped in our bodies, which no longer look or work quite as they used to, and the fear of these changes accelerating down the road.
This list could go on and on, as we all know, but what I am getting at is this idea that sometimes we need another person to spring us. How many of us have knowingly stayed trapped because we have deer-in-the-headlights syndrome or we simply do not know which steps to take next?
A third party (or several people) can be just the catalyst, support, and guidance we need, depending on the situation. For example:
- A mentor or coach to guide us to redefining our careers or retirement
- A caretaker with new ideas or simply hands-on support for Sandwich situations
- A women’s group to share our personal, visceral experiences as well as solutions for the trapped feeling (if not solutions for some of the changes in our bodies, particularly those related to health)
I do not think we should wait around for this person to find us, however. If you know you are trapped, start reaching out. Even if you do not feel trapped, reaching out may open doors you didn’t even know existed and could provide the support and guidance you could need down the road.
In the midst of a situation that seems to be all about breaking away and dividing, we can take away a valuable lesson about coming together by reaching out—and up.
In what areas of your life and work could you use a catalyst to spur you toward change?