Monday 23 October 2017

Divorce: You are the weakest link...goodbye

Anne Robinson
divorced her
husband John
after 27 years of
Anne Robinson divorced her husband John after 27 years of marriage

Grey divorce, silver divorce, senior divorce. Whatever the label, the phenomenon of older couples separating is on the rise, and Ireland is no exception.

Recent headlines tell the tale. England football legend Peter Shilton(62) was said to have been heartbroken at the breakup of his 40-year marriage to wife, Sue.

Anne Robinson(67), former presenter of BBC's The Weakest Link, divorced her husband John after 27 years of marriage, stating they "simply grew apart".

Last year, Irish celebrity chef Paul Rankin (51) separated 'amicably' from his Canadian wife, Jeanne (49) 25 years after they'd wed.

In the US, the divorce rate among the over-50s has doubled in the last 20 years. In the UK the number of over-60s choosing to end their marriages has risen by almost one-third in the past decade.

In Ireland, while divorce rates remain the lowest in the EU, middle-aged partners constitute the demographic with the fastest growing rate of break-up.

The most recent CSO figures from 2006 show that middle-aged couples account for one in five of all splits. Marital breakdown peaks at around 47 years of age, dropping below 10pc from 60 onwards.

But professionals believe the statistics under-represent the scale of marital separation among older couples.

A counsellor with the charity Relationships Ireland, Tony Moore, reveals that a growing number of people who have been married 25 years or more are seeking help because they are dissatisfied and do not want to put up with a bad relationship any longer.

"About 20pc of my clients are older people and that has doubled in the past five years," he says.

He points out that the recession is forcing many separating couples to continue living in the same house, making the true number of split-ups even more tricky to determine.

As social stigma around separation wanes, older couples are re-assessing their marriages, often after the children have grown.

Professionals say financial dependence can often be the only thing holding a woman back from walking out of an unhappy marriage.

One counsellor recalls a client who waited until the first day she qualified for the state pension to leave her husband of many years. Usually it's the woman who is the instigator of the break-up.

Tony Moore cites "poor behaviour" as the biggest issue propelling them to terminate long marriages.

"In my experience this has got worse. We are not talking necessarily about physical violence, but a low level verbal and emotional abuse over a long period.

"They put up with it often because of children and because they are financially dependent on the man. But there are more and more support groups out there and women are realising they don't or shouldn't have to put up with it," he says.

Couples can also find that the business of their younger lives diverted them from potential problems but as they get older and spend more time together, those problems explode. The so-called mid-life crisis is often blamed in a marriage break-up when, more typically, the husband becomes involved with a younger person.

Tony points out that offering counselling to couples at the latter stages can be very challenging.

"A couple comes along with a very-long term problem in their relationship. They are at a very low ebb and it is extremely difficult for a counsellor to help them sort through this long history.

"Usually, one or other partner isn't that interested in sorting it out. They say it has been going on too long."

He adds that a spouse, more often the husband, can on occasion, use the counselling session to reveal a secret affair. Despite the negative history, the other party is often left "completely gobsmacked'.'

"They have assumed everything is okay. This can happen because they have taken their eye off the ball. Very often people get to the age of 60 or 65 and the assumption is 'I might as well live this out'.

"They assume nothing is going to change so it can come as a huge shock if the other person decides to leave."

Afterwards, even the person who has initiated the break-up can experience sadness and loss following the initial euphoria, Tony says.

Anne Dempsey, Head of Communications with Third Age, a voluntary group which celebrates the contribution of older people in Irish life, says older couples who break up sometimes find themselves "out of step" with those around them.

"We get a number of calls to the Third Age helpline from older people who feel out of step with their peers. Most of their friends, family, siblings have remained married and this exacerbates that feeling that they are on their own," she says.

Being single again after a long marriage creates new challenges, particularly for women who are more often left financially disadvantaged.

And with Irish divorce both lengthy and expensive, it is not surprising that many older couples settle for the alternative of legal separations.

Irish Independent

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