Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Middle-Aged Divorce


It's not that we didn't have our parents' ethics to stay together no matter what. It's just that baby boomers see the world as options more than blind obligations. 

The unexpected element of being a baby boomer is that our parents were eager to let us benefit from the rising economy. We got our own cars. We went away to college. We had advantages they did not. Those advantages meant more choices. 


In our parents' day, they worked for the same company, working their way from a grunt job to something more responsible, but they stayed. We came into a job market eager for us, schooling that got us more choices in career, and also for women, as well. Those dynamics allowed us to ask more of ourselves, our employers and our situation, as we saw we had options. 




And so, in middle years after working hard and shifting focus, we often realize we have a whole set of new challenges ahead - to live our dreams. And the options are open. Often relationships struggle in this period as one or both spouses want to change their focus. A big game changer, like going abroad to live, downsizing, buying a Harley, or raising grandkids can stress any marriage. 

Before, the directive might have been to advance careers and raise the children. Now, it is "what did I always want to do that I didn't get done when I put others first?"

In the old days, mom might not have been able to leave. Or perhaps dad just lived a life on the side that mom didn't know about. Today, we really do want it all. It may seem selfish but it's also realistic. Baby boomers know that the sky is the limit for happiness and opportunity. 

Unlived dreams dog us like nightly specters. We are haunted by what we DIDN'T do, not by what we DID do. 

Phases of life are always painful: The loss of loved ones, leaving home as a young adult, the disruption of the first child, and moving. Somehow, we adapt to these new realities. The very resilience of the human spirit says that we quit grieving what was and let go so we can grab what can be. 

When I went through my divorce in my late 40s after 26 years of marriage, I looked to role models for how to get through the strange new reality. I had never lived on my own before. I started studying successful trailblazers like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and others who had tons of setbacks and reasons to quit, but believed that what they wanted was - out there - and they kept reaching. Trailblazers are not followers. They are independent leaders. They don't look to their social group to try and stay in the same place, not offend anyone by jettisoning from the collective's directives. They say "hey, I'm chasing this dream. Support me or eat my dust." 

I also found tons of inspirational/motivational videos on YouTube that helped me gain daily perspective to look forward and not backward.

The very active of dissolving a marriage involves break off from a life partner, family and friends associated with that individual, and starting a new life without the old markers. This is an ideal time to chase a dream, do something "out of character" and test the waters. If you try to maintain the same life in a different setting, you're just prolonging your pain.

Change cannot occur in a setting of stasis.

Everything needs to be fashioned by you alone and not you and a partner.

What do you want? What do you need? What did you envision when you were younger before you had to compromise for someone else's needs?

Here's some things I asked myself :

What are my strengths? (for example - I have tons of initiative and enthusiasm, I start things on my own, I'm organized, etc)

What are my weaknesses? (for example- I have trouble delegating tasks, I never say no, I'm very shy, etc)

What are my talents? (for example - music, the spoken word, singing, flower arranging, etc)

What are my assets? (for example - physical things I have to work with - job, health, money assets, possession, properties, etc)

Who supports my success? (for example - sister, best friend, minister, etc)

What kind of place do I need to live in? (for example - do I have too much square footage, in the suburbs but want the city, hope to hit the road and be nomadic, or maybe go to a better climate or closer to relatives, etc)

What did I always want to do and will regret I never did? (for example - patch things up with my parents, see another country, publish a book, own a Harley, etc).


This is a framework. I referred to it often and realized that many things about my strengths, my talents, and my life experience led me to an obvious arena. My initiative and ability to learn fast and act on it helped me enter many new industries. 

Forgive yourself for not sacrificing your soul to maintain something that was dead in the water.  The guilt usually hits you in terms of children. You don't want to show them they can give up. You don't want them to see you as the bad guy. You want them to have healthy relationships. But, somehow we accept responsibility for how they assimilate the new reality. The way you help them is to show by example and not by talking. When you talk, you might lower the ex-spouse so you were the wronged individual and this makes the children have to take sides. Instead, show civility and compassion for your ex and that shows them how mature such a decision can be and that it's not the end of the world.

Allow yourself to seek your dreams - your own way. Be certain the  ex-spouse's voice isn't still in your head - criticizing, telling you how to do things, telling you what your priorities should be, how you should live and comport yourself. This voice can be very strong - it had many years (decades) to lay itself down in your thought tracts. Begin to look to others to show you that you're funny, kind, smart, ambitious, talented, etc. Let that sink in. Relationships can often be isolating where your only sense of self comes from your partner. That's a dangerous and powerful role for them to be allowed to perform. Start varying the people who give you input so you get a consensus rather than a narrow view of yourself. 

Stop yourself from trying to do things "the right way" or "perfectly" and be damn happy you do them at all. There is experience in showing you are brave enough to poke new opportunities with a stick and see if you can make a feasible go of it. There is no "should," "must," "ought to," or "perfect" in life. That's why life is a dynamic verb instead of a static noun. Living - go out and have a living! 



Disclaimer: I am not a trained counselor. I have a had a lifetime of recovery from panic disorder and written much in terms of self-help about how to overcome anxiety, feeling trapped, bad situations, panic, PTSD, and depression. I used to run a self help group in my area, wrote articles, gave workshops, and have a very good understanding of how we get in our own ways. Any advice I offer here is from my own life experiences and observations. Going through divorce can be a very traumatic experience and counseling is recommended. Please seek out a neutral voice to help you see where you might be getting in your own way.

Remember: Replace fear with love. We fear the unknown because we don't know if we can handle it, yet everything we have done in life is handling whatever came our way. Love is unconditional, expansive, and hopeful. Come from love, not fear. Doors open. Relationships happen. Love your life, love what you do, love you. It is infectious and a huge attractant to positive energy/positive people/positive opportunities.

Another statistic to consider: The divorce rate of people over age 50 has doubled in the U.S. since 1990, and that's not the only bad news. If you experience what is often referred to as a "gray divorce," you can expect your wealth to drop by about 50%, according to a new study. Incomes may also dwindle, and more so for women. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research reveals the standard of living plunges 45% for women who divorce after age 50 — about double that of younger divorced women — while older men reportedly see their standard of living drop 21% after a divorce.

The truth for many is that you will be working the rest of your life. Other options include taking a room in someone's home, splitting an apartment, sharing the burden with another person in the same situation - a la "Odd Couple."




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