Older couples sometimes drift apart and become dissatisfied with their marriage. Once the kids leave home, they get what’s often called a gray divorce.

Gray Divorce

By Sarah P.

You may view retirement as a long-anticipated liberation from the rat race, but it is also a period of substantial change and adjustment for your marriage. Some of the most overwhelming changes will take place between you and your spouse.

Some couples may have been drifting apart for years due to life commitments. Other couples may have drifted apart due to past infidelity that was never addressed and swept under the rug. Or, some couples may have been literally torn into shreds by a partner’s recent affair.

When an affair is or was added to the marriage mix, this period of time can mean absolute upheaval and utter destruction.

In the past, conflict may have been masked or swept under the rug because most of a couple’s time and attention was devoted to their careers and/or raising a family together.

For couples that are facing or have faced an affair, even in the distant past, they may find spending more time together unnerving at best and explosive at worst.

There is also nothing like an affair to ensure that spouses sometimes feel like they no longer have anything in common.

After all, when moral standards of such profound meaning are carelessly dropped, one person in the couple will likely be left feeling as if they do not even know the person with whom they share the same bed!

These events often culminate in a world of emotional pain that is very hard to work through; naturally the topic of divorce may cross one’s mind.

Some may argue that if they have already spent 40 years together, the unknown is unbearable. Still, ambivalence around whether to stay in a marriage or to part ways will linger. Regardless, others have already taken action.

One Less Bird in the Nest

Consider these statistics:

“The divorce rate for those ages 50 and older doubled between 1990 to 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. Known as gray divorce, it’s an event that doesn’t have to be negative. “It’s not necessarily a midlife crisis anymore,” says Garrett Oakley, a financial planning professional with the online investment service Betterment. “It’s a midlife turnaround.”

Whatever the reason for the change, those going through a gray divorce will encounter both difficulty and opportunity as they navigate their new lives. Without a doubt, the biggest financial challenge posed by gray divorce is the loss of income and assets.

Couples working together toward retirement goals could find themselves left with only half a nest egg, less income and fewer years to recoup the missing amount.

Getting a divorce later in life may mean less savings and sacrificing some retirement dreams. However, people may find that’s a fair trade-off in exchange for being able to spend their senior years as they want.

Getting divorced after age 50 doesn’t have to be a financially devastating experience. However, you may still want to think carefully about what you hope to accomplish by ending your marriage. While a divorce may be the right answer in some situations, other couples may find counseling and compromise let them enjoy retirement at each other’s side.” (1)

Money is most often the deciding factor in gray divorce and for good reason. All of the financial plans that a couple had made for retirement will go out the window. Worse, a gray divorce can greatly complicate or reduce a person’s standard of living.

Tom Sightings, for US News said, “Divorce during your retirement years can complicate your retirement plan. Retirement assets may need to be divided, and alimony could be granted after a long-term marriage ends.

The Financial Consequences of Infidelity

Here’s how to cope with a gray divorce:

  • Find out if your Social Security payments will change.
  • Determine what retirement benefits you are entitled to.
  • Consider whether you need to hire a lawyer.
  • Be prepared for the possibility of alimony.
  • Decide if you will keep the house.
  • Be prepared to divide household goods.
  • Communicate with your adult children.
  • Don’t forget about pets.
  • Focus on future happiness.

Older couples sometimes drift apart and become dissatisfied with a long-term relationship. Once the kids leave home, some couples split and go on to lead separate lives.” (2)

A further complication is the emotional aspects of a gray divorce. If your home was the place where all of the holiday parties were hosted and where family gathered, these gatherings will be extremely difficult to lose. Your adult children and grandchildren will feel the shift.

Additionally, there are health issues to consider. If you were to develop a catastrophic illness, would it be adequately covered by insurance? Even if it were covered, who would your support system be?

On the other hand, would you fully trust a cheating spouse to take care of you if you stayed married and developed a catastrophic illness?

These are all important points to consider when going through a gray divorce.

Most of all, I think if you are considering a gray divorce, it is important to contact a qualified therapist or marriage mentor to talk through these things.

Don’t forget that you can talk, you can explore all your options, and you can spend weeks gathering information WITHOUT having to make a decision. I would encourage you to talk to experts and explore all scenarios that involve staying or going.

Being armed with information and talking to third-party professionals is essential.

What do you think?

  • What is your greatest fear if you were to divorce after 50?
  • Alternatively, would the prospect of divorce give you hope?
  • What advice can you give to readers who are thinking about a gray divorce?
  • Do you think finances are important in making decisions or is gray divorce an emotional decision?
  • What questions do you have about gray divorce?
  • If you have thought about divorce or if you were in mediation, what changed your mind?
  • If you have stayed with your spouse, why did you decide to stick it out? What were all the pros and cons that you weighed to make a decision?
  • Does anyone regret staying in their marriage?

We hope to hear from all of you. Remember, not everyone who reads this blog leaves comments. However, what is said here is helpful and taken very seriously. Gray divorce is a topic we have been receiving emails about lately. So, readers, please sound off about gray divorce.





    12 replies to "Should I Stay or Should I Go: Is Gray Divorce for You?"

    • Sarah P.

      Hi All,

      Let’s get things started. Please watch the trailer below. Despite the humor in the film trailer, this was a very serious film. The two were actually on their fast track to a divorce until they saw the couple’s counselor in person. They were facing a “gray divorce” and had slept in separate beds for years.


      Does a sexless marriage – when both people in the couple do NOT want a sexless marriage – constitute grounds for a gray divorce?


    • Exercisegrace

      Another great article that brings a lot to think about and discuss! Prior to his affair, I (naively) would have told you that cheating was a deal breaker. Automatic divorce. Funny how when you find yourself in certain situations, the answers aren’t so clear! For most of us, the decision to stay or go is agonizing, and it’s based on many factors.

      I was in my mid-forties when my husband’s affair began. Our four children were young, ranging from two toddlers up to our oldest who was about 14. We had been married over 20 years and I was a stay at home wife and mother for the majority of that time. I gave up a lucrative career and never looked back. It never occurred to that cheating could happen in OUR marriage. D-day was seven years ago, and I am now 54. I depended entirely on the life we built to sustain us in retirement. His bad choices extended to giving his whore half of our business, and it cost us dearly to get her out of it. The financial fall out has been tremendous. Two years of therapy for me, him and us (not covered by insurance) at about $90/hour adds up to frightening sums of money. Add in husbands depression, which impacted his ability to work and make money (no paid time off when you’re self employed!). For longer than I care to admit I could just get the basics done, so we ate out A LOT. I’m sure we could do an entire blog post (and I think Linda did?) on the financial impact. Ultimately his business floundered and he dumped our savings into trying to keep it afloat, not being able to stand the idea that his actions largely contributed to a catastrophic failure on many levels.

      I do love him and I have wanted to make this work. I have put tremendous effort into recovery. Financially, neither of us would survive retirement on our own without combining households and expenses. So on the hard days, I just try not to let my mind “go there”. It isn’t an option.

      Side note? My husbands maternal grandparents divorced in their late seventies. Everyone was shocked. They just assumed they would stay together unhappily since they had done so for over 50 years. After the divorce, they remained friends. She blossomed and became very active in an assisted living community. He……was himself until he died, LOL.

      • Sarah P.

        Hello ExerciseGrace,

        It’s always great to hear from you. You have suffered so much due to your husband’s affair. You have lost so much financially. Of the two of you, who do you think has spent the most time working on affair recovery? After all these years, has your husband had true insight into the harm of his choices?

        I am sorry to hear all about your financial losses. You have been affected by his affair at every level in your life.

        That’s an interesting story about your H’s grandma divorcing grandpa, but it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprised me that she blossomed and he stayed the same.

        But the truth is, many people don’t have the financial luxury of going through with a gray divorce.

        What is the current status of your relationship?

        Big hugs,

    • Cheryl M

      My husband and I have been married for 29 years. He had an affair that began about 2 years ago. He finally ended it about 8 months ago but the question of “ should I stay or should I go” plays in my head often. Our kids are grown and there is no reason to stay together. He claims he will be faithful the rest of our marriage as this has caused so much pain and destruction for both of us. He wants to stay together and on good days so do I. But do you ever truly recover and have good days consistently? When I “go there “ in my head I think I have to get out to finally feel better
      Never thought I would be facing this in my late 50’s and at times I’m still pretty angry about it all. We get all the pain for something we had no say in.

      • Sarah P.

        Hi Cheryl M,
        I hear you and this must have been so disappointing for you. You make a great point when you said that “We get all the pain for something we had no say in.” Isn’t that the truth. The statement is resounding in my head like a large, ringing bell.

        You will feel better sometime, but it takes time.

        Big hugs,

      • Shifting Impressions

        Cheryl M
        The question of whether to go or stay plagued me at first as well…..I gave myself permission to “not know” the answer. I don’t know about you but I was such an emotional wreck for the first few years after d-day I wasn’t in the best shape to make such a difficult decision. I knew that if I walked away prematurely I would probably regret it. There will be grief and pain whether you go or stay…..but I encourage you to take the time to ask yourself what you want and maybe get some help dealing with the pain of it all.

    • Hopeful

      My husband’s affairs started when we were fairly young, early 30’s and he was highly successful. I am fortunate that as far as I can tell there were no financial implications. Even with his success I think he would have been more successful if he did not go down that path. Since dday he has grown so much in his profession and success. I do attribute it to him being less detached, more focused and maturing through the recovery process.

      For me the lies and actual cheating was bad but what hit me the hardest is I thought we were a team and always would be. For me that was the greatest betrayal. As you know my husband is in the mental health field. I was highly successful, worked really hard and put him through his higher level education and started up his business with all of my bonuses I had earned. I remember my accountant telling me if I use it for that there is a good chance I could lose all of those earnings if anything happened between us or if his business was not successful. I did mention that to my husband but I never gave it a second thought. For me it was really hard since I gave up my optimum career and location for his career. I was fine with it since we were a team. And my husband assured me if I decided to leave him he would not hide assets etc. However it was hard to get the point across how devastating it would be since getting half of our marital assets even though that would be a lot cannot at this point replace or make up for all I invested in him and gave up of my own career. He kept telling me not to worry about that but it was crushing. I still struggle with that and as a man and the one who has the amazing career, who is revered and highly successful it seems easy for him to say that if he or I decided to part ways. He has admitted he would not be where he is today career wise without me.

      My last thought related to this is since my husband’s affairs happened at a “younger” age I was actually happy about that. First if we did divorce I felt like it would give me time to enjoy my life an create one I would be happy with alone or with someone else. I also will say I am glad it all came out when it did. I feel like we are a team now and dealing with the stress of teenagers, health issues, becoming empty nesters some day etc. Also we both (especially my husband) look forward to having a lot more time together once our kids are in college. We love our kids and spending family time together but he looks forward to it being us. From what he sees professionally this is not normally the case.

      • Sarah P.

        Hi Hopeful,
        *gritting teeth over here*

        The thing that always gets me riled up about your story is that you worked your butt off for his career and sacrificed your high-powered career for his career. Of course what you were doing was correct because that’s what a team does. And as you said, you were a team.

        But, what I see in many marriages is one person agreeing to everything while the other person has their fingers crossed, behind their back. They want their spouses to follow certain rules while they do what they want. I am not saying that this happened to you, but it feels like your H went through a phase where he felt teaming was optional on his part.

        There is this humorous (but vulgar) image I have in my mind about cheaters. I imagine them dressed like Charlie Chaplain and moving around in uncoordinated ways until…whoops…! One of them just stumbled and fell onto the genitals of someone else when they were just talking a quiet walk in the park and minding their own business. I call it “crotch tripping.”

        Hopeful, so glad your husband is over that period in his life and I am glad he is being a team again.


        • Hopeful

          I do think for him it was parallel lives. And I think at his core his is selfish and was indulged in all ways as a kid compared to how I grew up. I think he hid/covered it up well. Or it only came out once in a while, not a constant issue. During the affair years it was hard to identify since they were sporadic. Now that I know everything it makes sense. I could never understand how things could be so good and then so bad. But as we figured out the longer time went by without contact he would be more like I guess you would say himself (less detached, depressed and disconnected). For him he said he just kept the affairs going since he felt like he messed up so bad and it could not be fixed. Yet he finally decided after 10 years to end it on his own. So he had flashes of doing the right thing. I do think it is still a struggle for him not to be selfish. Nothing related to women but he naturally takes care of/thinks of himself first. I guess it is the reverse of me I take care of others first and have to work to put myself first. I think the fact that we both have better awareness is critical. It still can be hard and we have to work at it after so many years habits form and a dynamic has been created between us.

          Thanks for all your work, thoughts and comments!

    • Shifting Impressions

      I have so many thoughts regarding this post. As many of you know, D-day came only a few weeks away from our FORTIETH wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, right?? I felt like someone cut off my air supply. And if that wasn’t enough almost a year later there was another d-day….I inadvertently stumbled on the fact that he had another EA about 15 years previously.

      The last six years, since d-day have been incredibly difficult and I can honestly say I have fantasized of walking away. But how do you walk away from a lifetime of memories together? We started dating at 17 and are now 66, So many years together…four children and four grandchildren. We have seen each other at our best and at our worst. So a lifetime of ups and downs….of joys and sorrows.

      Fortunately our finances aren’t dictating our decision to stay together…..there is enough to go around. Taking financial implications out of the mix has given us more freedom in our decisions. We stay because we still want to be together. Anything less wouldn’t work for me. Our family is everything to us. There have been times when I have been tempted to run away from it all. But that temptation comes in low times and is steeped more in fantasy than it is in reality. You know the fantasy that running away will solve all my problems. I think in reality it would create more problems then it would solve.

      Should he be unfaithful again I don’t think I could go through it all again. The fact that he shows true remorse and we work hard to not cause more damage, by treating each other with care, makes staying possible.

      • Sarah P.

        Hello Shifting,

        I had no idea the news came right before your 40th anniversary. What was he thinking? And even more, did you put on a happy face and celebrate your 40th anniversary? If I were in your shoes, I would have been crying all day.

        Honestly I don’t know how you suppress your rage against your husband. Or maybe you are fortunate enough not to have rage. I sure as heck would have had it. My hand would have been itching for his nice clothes, a match, gasoline, and the front porch. But, then again, why ruin a perfectly good front porch? Yeah, the front porch wouldn’t deserve such treatment.

        Shifting how do you reconcile the horrible timing of D day with concepts like forgiveness. You are a far better woman than I am.


        • Shifting Impressions

          What were any of the Cheating Spouses thinking?? They were only thinking about themselves. I’m sure he didn’t think he would get caught….especially not two weeks before the anniversary.

          I was completely shattered…….the rage was only one part of it. If not for the rage, I probably would have been a puddle on the floor, completely unable to function. For the anniversary we had a really special dinner planned with our children and their partners. The kids had put together some really amazing and funny cards and gifts etc. I went to that dinner feeling like a shocked zombie. At that point I couldn’t celebrate the marriage because the moment I stumbled upon that incriminating email, I no longer felt married. So I decided to celebrate the amazing adult children that came out of the last forty years together. That’s what got me through that night.

          The thing is he had been so completely miserable the year before at our 39th anniversary and the whole following year….it all made sense When the 18 month EA came to light. But he did cut all contact with the OW, the day I found out. If he hadn’t done that the match and gasoline thing might have been a distinct possibility!!!

          So the timing was just the way it happened. As for forgiveness, I’m not sure if I have come to the place of complete forgiveness even six years later. It’s been a long hard journey that is not completely over yet…..I’m not sure if it ever will be. We talked about it last week and I mentioned that he had never really asked me for forgiveness. So as you can see we are absolutely still a work in progress. I never really did suppress the rage….I embraced the grief and all that it encompassed (including the rage). I gave myself permission to feel all those things but to try to find the least hurtful way to express that grief etc. You can be sure I failed several times.

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