While the divorce rate has dropped slightly in recent years, it’s actually doubled for the baby-boomer set, and tripled for those over the age of 65. Which means plenty of people well past the late night bar-hopping stage of life may be looking at being single again.
Divorcing when you’re older can be both more difficult and perhaps a little easier than breaking up when you’re younger. You don’t have young children at home, which means no child-rearing logistics. But you may have been married for decades—and perhaps never lived alone.
I spoke to journalist Beth Levine about how to get along with your ex for Grandparents.com. Her article, "How to Be Friends With Your Ex After Divorce: Tips to get past the hurt & anger and find common ground post-divorce," offers a variety of suggestions for creating a new relationship with a former spouse.
It may seem like having an amicable divorce is less crucial in your golden years; you're not co-parenting young children, so you don't have to interact about details and decisions on a daily basis. But for people who divorce after decades, their spouse was part of their most important memories. Maintaining some connection means they still have that person in their life.
My mother, who divorced after 35 years of marriage—not her choice—was with my step-father through the raising of all of us kids, her career as an engineer, her years in law school. While she didn't speak to him in the beginning, eventually reconnecting has given her someone to reminisce with and help keep that past alive.
Beth Levine's piece in Grandparents.com includes some tips from my book, such as "mediate before you litigate." She also suggests understanding that you may need time to grieve before even considering buddying up with a long-time once-spouse. "You probably won’t be able to be friends right away. Let the dust settle first and don’t push it," she writes.
Levine's article also raises one point that I've struggled with in my own amicable divorce: the need to set clear boundaries and rely on someone else who isn't your once-spouse. She quotes Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a therapist in Long Beach, CA, and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, who says, “A breakup is supposed to set a boundary saying you two are no longer connected in that way. It’s important to switch your loyalties and connections so you are relying on different people.”
I've watched how hard late-in-life divorce can be in my own family. I was glad to read this article in Grandparents.com, and contribute to it, and see that more publications for people at the grandparent stage of life are offering support.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.