As Vicki Larson, author of The New “I Do”, was reading Avivah Wittenberg-Cox’s Late Love: Mating in Maturity, she noticed that when the author talks about her “gray divorce” – her divorce after 22 years of marriage, “one thing kept coming up” as a good time to start anew. Her children had left home or were about to, and “she talks as if that’s the scenario for all 50-somethings.”
This led to her ask – what if you don’t have kids? Do couples without kids “have the same urge to re-create themselves with someone new at midlife?”
She contacted me and asked what I have seen with childfree couples. Here are some of my thoughts I shared with her:
More Similaries than Differences
Over the years I have communicated with many childfree couples about marital issues. I have seen that couples can split when these kinds of things happen:
- there are big changes such as a job loss or a move that one partner made for the other, and one person feels lost
- life no longer feels challenging like it used to, a feeling of stagnation but not knowing what to do about it takes over
- someone’s living a life that lacks meaning (however that person defines “meaning”)
- the responsibility of meaning or fulfillment has been put on another person — and he or she has not delivered (surprise, surprise)
- one partner is over-invested in a particular self-identity (sometimes professional) and that identity is challenged or taken away when circumstances change
A Big Difference
As Larson writes regarding what I shared with her,
“the big identity that’s missing, however, is motherhood. Many women have huge investments in being identified as a mother. This does not exist for childfree women, obviously. And even fathers, who are more hands-on than ever nowadays, are feeling adrift once their kids leave.”
Then There are Tipping Points…
I also comment that:
…children or not, there are periodic ‘times of growing pains’ for long-time couples. The 17-to-18-year mark is one of those times and, yes, that often coincides with children leaving the nest, but it’s more than that.
Whatever stuff is unresolved [and] not tended to hits a tipping point where there is no return, and this can be the time. It can be the issues that keep coming up over and over. If it has been put under the rug too long, the partnership may very well not survive.
…This is not to say childfree couples don’t have distractions they can use to keep issue(s) in denial. For [the] childfree, it can be the last tipping point time of unresolved things between them, which, of course, points to things that have not been dealt with individually.
Lots of factors can lead to a grey divorce, and the desire to start anew at midlife can happen whether one has kids or not.
Then there are couples who have no children not by choice. Larson discusses gray divorce as it can pertain to couples who struggle with infertility as well.
If you are willing, childfree out there who have experienced gray divorce, please share your experiences.
This is an area of discussion that needs more attention and understanding.