It’s hard sometimes to understand why couples divorce after many years together, especially in situations when you had no idea there were difficulties. Obviously, no one truly knows what goes on in someone’s house and there are lots of different reasons people decide to call it quits. But late-in life-divorces can get messy. There are shared children, family relationships, friends and/or finances to consider.
Statistically, the overall divorce rate in the U.S. is on a slight downward trend. Yet, despite this fact, a surprising number of couples in my circle of close friends divorced recently, all married 30+ years. The truth is that while the number of divorces among younger people significantly decreased over the last 30 years, the divorce rate for those aged 55-64 more than doubled. There’s a term for this increasing trend of late-in-life divorces: “Gray Divorce”.
Why Do People Divorce After Decades Together?
Through the course of a marriage, the two lives become intertwined. The longer the marriage, the more woven together they become. You might wonder, why do people divorce now after all this time?
There are lots of different reasons people decide to call it quits after a long-term marriage. Here are the ones I hear most:
Postponed divorce: Unhappy couples decide to stay together until their children are in high school or graduated.
Empty Nest hood: Partners who focused primarily on their children while raising them sometimes find they no longer feel connected once the kids leave home.
Retirement: Too much time together or changing expectations of a partner can be problematic for some couples and lead to conflict.
Taboos are less prominent: Some couples stayed in a marriage previously because they believed they should. Now, they perhaps are willing to consider the possibility that while their partner was the right match at one time, that may no longer be the case.
A new chapter in a longer life: As we live longer than previous generations, some may want to start a new chapter after raising kids or supporting a spouse through a career. They realize they still have many years ahead and decide to reinvent themselves. Sometimes, a third party is involved, which may accelerate the decision to break up.
How to Help a Friend Through a Gray Divorce?
Your friend who’s divorcing might not want to talk about it, but surely needs your support. Divorce can leave people feeling lost and destroyed, even when handled in a friendly and mature manner. No matter who initiated the divorce, a major lifestyle change is hard. Additionally, the process is often financially and emotionally draining.
Supporting friends going through a divorce is not only listening and offering non-judgmental advice when asked. That type of support is wonderful but stay open to helping in other ways to provide comfort and show your love. Below are some ideas.
8 Ways to Help a Friend Through Gray Divorce
There are simple ways to support your friend through their gray divorce. These efforts may not seem like a big deal to you, but can be extremely helpful for your friend.
Don’t bash your friend’s spouse. If both individuals were your friends before, it’s nice to maintain some type of relationship with each, though sometimes doing so may prove awkward. Even if the spouse is someone you don’t like or respect, keep your personal opinions to yourself. They may need to continue a relationship outside the marriage due to factors such as a shared business or children. It doesn’t help to fuel their fire. And what if they end up resolving their differences and getting back together? Your words may later drive a wedge through your friendship.
Accompany Your friend to a Potentially Uncomfortable event
Soon after a friend’s divorce became final, her future daughter-in-law invited her to a brunch along with her ex’s family. She was uncomfortable and considering not going, but she wanted to be part of the wedding festivities. I offered to go with her to be sort of a buffer; I knew this event was only the first of many to which both sides of the family would be included, and that once she got through the first, the rest would be easier. Don’t wait until your friend asks; they may not want to bother you or even think to ask. It’s better to make the suggestion, then, respect their response. They will appreciate your thoughtful gesture even if they do not want or need you to attend the event.
Allow Your Friend to Not Talk about the Divorce
Sometimes people need you to listen, and sometimes they don’t. Don’t force a conversation because you think that’s what they need. Friends tell me that there are times they prefer not to talk about the situation to feel “normal” and not be identified only as “the friend going through a divorce”. So, talk about your life, your family and your job. Don’t be afraid to discuss your struggles because your complaints seem minor in comparison; it’s not a competition. No one has a perfect life and chances are if you want to be there for your friend, they want to be there for you too.
Bring over a Meal
Don’t underestimate how lonely it can be to cook for one. Bring a meal and stay to enjoy it with your friend if you can. It doesn’t need to be fancy; the idea is to spend time together and show you care.
Invite Your Friend for a Family Holiday
Quite often, divorced people are no longer included in family gatherings with the ex’s family. Perhaps they have family of their own with whom they can spend the holiday, but that is not always the case. Invite them to your table this year – what’s one more person? The gift of inclusion is one of the best gifts to give someone feeling isolated and unwanted.
Help Them Move
Generally, people need or want to move out of the home they shared with their ex. While a new home provides the opportunity for a fresh start and to create new memories, it’s also physically and emotionally exhausting. Offer to help when the time comes. Your efforts to help pack, unpack or move boxes will be appreciated and remembered.
Remind Them They are Wonderful and Loved
Encouraging words can change someone’s outlook on life. Remind them, often, of all the positives you see in them and that they are lovable. Remind them not to let hurtful words spoken by an angry spouse define them. I heard a clergy once say to a newly divorced woman, “You no longer let him live in your house, why would you still let him live in your head?” Don’t let someone else have power over how you feel about yourself.
Tell Your Friend “Everything’s Going to be Okay in the End”
One way or another, things have a way of working out. And if they don’t, then it’s not yet the end; there is more to the story. Share your optimism with your friend and let them know that time has a way of lessening pain. Help them to learn what they can from this situation and let that wisdom help build their future.
The Bottom Line
There are lots of ways to help a friend in their new life after gray divorce. Be present and sensitive to what they’re going through. Provide a safe space where they can find comfort in whatever way they need. Find a way to provide support in a way that works both for you and your friend.
Life after gray divorce involves adjusting to a new phase of independence. How can you support your friend during this time? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or say. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions.
How can I best support a friend who has gone through a gray divorce?
Offer a listening ear without judgment, validate their feelings, and assure them that you’re there to support them through this transition.
What are some practical ways to help a friend after their gray divorce?
Offer assistance with tasks like moving, organizing their new living space, helping them establish new routines, or accompanying them to social events.
How can I help my friend cope with the emotional challenges of post-divorce life?
Encourage them to seek professional support if needed, such as therapy or counseling. Offer your emotional support and engage in activities that help uplift their spirits.
Should I give advice to my friend about their life after gray divorce?
While sharing insights can be helpful, avoid imposing advice. Instead, ask if they’re open to discussing certain topics and share your thoughts in a non-judgmental manner.
How can I help my friend rebuild their social life after a gray divorce?
Suggest engaging in social activities together, introducing them to new people, and encouraging participation in clubs, groups, or events that align with their interests.
Is it appropriate to talk to my friend about dating or new relationships?
Gauge their comfort level and openness to discussing dating. If they’re receptive, be supportive and non-intrusive in your conversations.
How can I help my friend deal with financial challenges post-divorce?
Offer guidance on creating a budget, connecting them with financial advisors if needed, and helping them explore options for managing their finances effectively.
What’s the best way to help my friend with their changing family dynamics?
Encourage open communication with their adult children and provide a supportive space for them to share their feelings. Offer to mediate conversations if both parties are open to it.
How do I help my friend find new interests or passions in this new phase of life?
Explore activities together or suggest hobbies they might enjoy. Be open to trying new things with them to help them discover their passions.
What are some strategies for helping my friend maintain a positive outlook?
Remind them of their strengths, celebrate their accomplishments, encourage them to set new goals, and remind them that this new phase presents opportunities for personal growth and happiness.
Should I initiate conversations about their divorce, or should I wait for them to bring it up?
Be attentive to their cues. If they seem comfortable discussing it, let them know you’re available to listen. If they don’t bring it up, focus on offering companionship and positive experiences.
How can I strike a balance between being supportive and giving them space?
Respect their need for alone time, but also show that you’re there when they’re ready to connect. Check in periodically without overwhelming them.