Congratulations! You made it all the way through to retirement together. You survived all those early fights, the nappy duties, the teenager tantrums, the little jealousies and resentments, the financial strains, the never-ending couple conflicts, and now…
Now you’ve decided enough is enough. You don’t want to grow old together, after all.
You’re getting divorced.
In fact, the average age for divorce has been rising steadily since the mid-80s. Three decades ago, people tended to wed younger and hit that crisis point in their marriage by their mid to late 30s.
Traumatic as divorce is at any age, that’s well and truly young enough to bounce back. After all, you’re less than half way through your working life. You might have split everything you own straight down the middle, but you have years and years to pay off a mortgage on your own, to build a new home and a new life. To meet someone else and lay down a history with them.
After all, life begins at 40, as a million fridge magnets will attest.
But shift that divorce to your late 50s, 60s, or even later, and the situation can feel very, very different.
No matter whether you are male or female, whether you are the primary caregiver for your kids, whether you paid the bulk of the mortgage – going through a divorce means that you are highly likely to lose your home, your current standard of living, or both.
Unless one of you has the funds to buy out the other outright, it is highly likely that you will need to sell your house and split the money. Minus, of course, the formidable legal and admin costs that come with this process.
If you were lucky enough to be living in house that’s worth a fortune, or you’re willing to move away and start again somewhere a lot cheaper, you might still be able to buy a home of similar proportions by yourself. Far more likely, you’ll downsize dramatically.
After all, these days, it’s hard enough for two relatively young people working full time on a decent wage to get onto the property ladder. Trying to get a mortgage when you’re nearing retirement is seriously tough, regardless of your financial situation.
This particular sacrifice can come as an unexpected blow to many people who decide to divorce late in life.
Yes, you may have come to the painful decision that you do not want to spent your golden retirement years with the person you’ve lived with all this time. Yes, you might be terrified of loneliness after so many years of sharing your home with someone. Yes, you might have prepared yourself for the emotional punch of breaking the news to your children and/or grandchildren, who may have assumed, always, that you would be married for life.
But you might not have seriously considered the practicalities of separation. When you’ve spent years and years feathering your nest in exactly in the way you love, it’s easy to be caught out by the pain of walking away from a home that has become an expression of who you are.
You may be caught out, too, by how traumatic your kids find the loss of the house. Even if they grew up and left home years ago, this house probably still represents their childhood to them. It’s an enduring thing in their lives, a trove of memories, and they may be far more sentimental about this than you could have expected.
I’m not saying this because you ought to feel guilty about your divorce. Far from it.
I’m simply saying this because many people who divorce late have become so comfortable and complacent in their lifestyles that they simply aren’t mentally prepared for how strong they need to be.
They assume, deep down, that getting divorced means continuing their lives in the same way, minus their spouse.
To put it bluntly, they often assume that the only thing that will change is that they no longer have to put up with this person.
That they will be able to do away with a relationship that they find hurtful, or a hindrance, or that no longer gives them what they need emotionally – but that all other elements of their lives will magically remain intact.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Divorce changes everything.
You don’t only decide to divorce your husband or wife. You decide, in the same breath, that you are willing to be financially and emotionally independent. That you will start again. That you will, in all likelihood, give up your home. That emotions will run high and you will fight with your family. That you will have to divide up your friends.
That, ultimately, you will shelve a lifetime’s worth of shared memories and plans and accept that, now, you are responsible for your own happiness – there’s no one else’s failures to pin it on.
This is scary. It’s terrifying. You can only survive it if you are willing to let go of everything you assumed would be a constant before.
Clinging to your past existence, resenting your partner for taking this away from you, turning the breakup into a bitter war over the scraps, forcing your children to take sides, chastising yourself for throwing away the “good” life you enjoyed before – these are the emotions that will drag out your suffering and make it impossible to heal.
Divorce doesn’t mean cutting a person out of your life. It means embarking on an entirely new, different life. It’s essential to go into this with your eyes open, and to focus on healing and rebuilding. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to weather the loss, and create a new home of your own.
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