Divorcing Late in Life: Impacts on the Whole Family

by Jackie Cortez
The Prevention Coalition

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Divorce is the second most stressful event for adults to experience in life, topped only by the death of a spouse. Though it is the most stressful for those directly involved, the entire family is affected by a couple’s divorce.

You probably know that children experience a high level of stress following the divorce of their parents and are much more likely to develop problems later in life. But what happens when a couple divorces later in life? Here are a few of the impacts a mid- or late-in-life divorce has on older and adult children and the divorcees themselves:

The Psychological Effects Can Be Hard for Both Men and Women

Women are twice as likely to initiate the divorce, meaning that they tend to adjust faster and better to post-divorce life. Women often seek divorce due to marital problems that have created negative feelings about their relationship and themselves. Therefore, following a divorce, women may experience an increase in self-esteem and general satisfaction. They are also more likely to accept help and have support networks.

Men often take more time to adjust. The loss of their partner tends to leave them feeling lost and even incapable, as it’s sometimes the case that a female spouse handles certain household tasks such as cooking meals and transporting children to school and extracurricular activities. Men also tend to remarry sooner, to fill an emotional void or satisfy a perceived need for a partner.

These experiences, of course, may be completely reversed depending on the unique circumstances surrounding the marriage and divorce, as well as the role that each spouse filled during the relationship. Women who were stay-at-home parents while their partner held a rigorous job to support the family, for instance, can easily end up being the partner who feels most lost following a divorce.

Even Adult Children Can Be Shaken

Many couples wait to divorce until their children have grown and will be more able to handle the separation better. However, this may not be quite as logical as one might think. Adult children will not experience the same difficulties that young children of divorcees will face.

Children under the age of nine tend to act out or lose the ability to care for themselves in the same way they did prior to their parents’ divorce. They seek to push their parents back together and may think the divorce is their fault. Older kids are more likely to become more independent in an attempt to distance themselves from their parents due to a feeling of betrayal.

Fully grown offspring may avoid the turmoil their younger selves would have experienced, but suddenly, they may begin to feel that their happy childhood memories were somehow not real or genuine. Learning later in life that your parents were unhappy throughout your childhood can be very rattling and may cause a significant amount of upset in your perception of your parents, your memories, and your sense of healthy relationships.

Women Who Divorce Later in Life are Put in Financial Risk

Women who divorce later in life may also find themselves financially impaired. On average, women earn less than men, even when working the same job, so working women may not have earned as much while in the marriage. And some stay-at-home moms may not have been earning any income while in the marriage. However, there are a few things newly single women can do to help improve their financial status including taking on tenants, moving in with roommates, or using familial support.

Men, on the other hand, may not experience financial difficulties (though they may, with more men taking on the stay-at-home parenting role when the female partner has the better-paying career and serves as the breadwinner) but will often find their quality of life diminished. In the traditional setup that persists in some households even today, men may not take on as many tasks such as housework and cooking.

Therefore, in the wake of divorce, these men may realize how essential these skills are. This leads to lower quality of life and may have mental repercussions. Again, the post-divorce experiences of each spouse are unique and depend largely on the familial setup and division of tasks during the marriage. The main takeaway, however, is that divorcees tend to feel a void in relation to the tasks once taken care of by their spouse.

The psychological effects on a couple that separates leaves each party lacking something in their lives. But divorce is hard on all involved, even adult children. Children, whether young or old, will experience the shock and distress that comes with learning their parents are unhappy. The best way to mitigate the effects of divorce is to include a family counselor in the process.

Ms. Jackie Cortez works with The Prevention Coalition to identify and highlight resources on every aspect of substance abuse, ranging from prevention to addiction treatment.

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