More and more couples are divorcing after 40, 50 years

More couples divorcing after 40, 50 years

Food. Charlotte* waited 44 years. But when enough was enough, "I walked out that door and never looked back". Not after the man she shared all those decades with, not after the father of her son, not after the home, the marriage, the times spent together. "I wish him all the love in his life," the 64-year-old says. ‘But I’m not part of it anymore’."

Charlotte divorces.

It’s mostly the women who go. And more and more go late. Separations after 40 or 50 years of marriage are no longer the exception: from 1975 to 2005, the number of divorces after 25 years of marriage doubled, and since then it has continued to rise. Never before have there been so many old marriages – but never before have so many broken up. Nearly 14 percent of the 179,000 divorces recorded nationwide in 2012 fell on a date after the silver wedding anniversary. North Rhine-Westphalia, which also differentiates according to this, counted 85 divorces last year according to the golden. Why? Because with increasing life expectancy, people still want to have something (nice) from this life.

Charlotte’s husband was ‘never a faithful soul’. A "stranger," she says calmly, because she thought it was much worse that he lied: "One of his worst traits." She put up with it too, "I can take a lot," she kept up the facade, as women her age have learned to do. He took care of the family, they rarely argued – it was the way it was. But then came the diagnosis. Cancer, with him. And what did he do? Took a girlfriend. Charlotte asked him: "I live here, I cook for you, I wash for you, soon I’ll take care of you – is that how you imagine it??"It all "hasn’t hurt for a long time," says the 64-year-old, but that the constant injuries have now become public – "I didn’t need that.

When he leaves, there is usually a younger one involved

When HE leaves, knows family lawyer Heike Dahmen-Losche with practices in Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Munich, "the reason is usually a new, much younger partner". Mostly, however, he does not go. "Men sit it out," complain their wives, in a divorce forum on the Internet one writes: "In my circle of acquaintances I have often experienced it: husband cheats, but sees no reason to end the marriage because of this." Why should he, with the roles that are often still classic at this age, he would lose his "housekeeper" and a sum of money. Studies have also shown that married men live longer and healthier lives.

And women in this generation have mostly taken care of it. "She had his back," says lawyer Dahmen-Losche, "her only goal in life was often to make life nice for him."She often hears from her clients that they were subordinate, "I could never do anything for myself. Today, however, these women often go through a "late emancipation," as psychologist Insa Fooken says. Precisely because they statistically live longer, longer even than their husbands, many asked themselves: "Should it go on as before??"Researcher Fooken from the University of Siegen has presented an empirical study on divorces after long marriages, which shows: War and post-war daughters are often committed to the classic division of roles, but in the modern age in which they are growing old, they see that things could be different – and now ensure clear relationships. They want to be free. "I imagined my last years," writes one woman on the web, "and knew I couldn’t live like that." She no longer wants to be "just a mother and a cleaning lady, a practical piece of furniture.".

It doesn’t always have to be that bad, but in fact late separations are often preceded by long phases of wasteland, days, weeks, years in which people had nothing more to say to each other. "He doesn’t argue," says Charlotte, for example. "He doesn’t listen at all." She says her marriage has been "a speechless story lately. My monologues always went against the wall." Now this is something that many women complain about – and also a reason why it is mainly women who talk in this story – but in the generation of post-war children it has a system: they often have not learned to communicate. "There was nothing to talk about with him," writes a woman in another separation forum.

You think you already know your partner’s answer

The Essen professor of clinical social work and certified pedagogue Michael Vogt found out "that certain questions are no longer asked at all, because you think you know your partner’s answer in advance". In his counseling sessions, he recognizes, especially in people who have been together for a long time, the "negative characteristic" of a communication that consists primarily of generalizations: "You are," "you have," "always," "never.".

They had a lot of time to rehearse something like this over the decades. Because many have found themselves together like Charlotte and her husband once did: they met when they were 18, "he really wanted to get married," but at that time you were only allowed to do that if you were under 21 and had a child. "For this generation," says Professor Vogt, "meeting external demands, such as those of children, was often more important than nurturing one’s own relationship." They were parents, later perhaps grandparents, breadwinners, housewives, but partners? In the role as a fellow human being, many have never really gotten to know one another. Or grow apart. And along with the roles, the balance of power has changed.

Expert: "Basic needs don’t age away"

"But, as Michael Vogt knows, "basic needs do not age away." Even old people want love, intimacy, a partner with whom they share desires and values. Life time, notes a divorced 70-year-old on the web, is "too precious to be wasted in a loveless relationship". Another ventured to take stock even before retirement: What would it be like if they were suddenly both at home?? "I would have a culturally disinterested, narrow-minded, intellectual dwarf at my side."

Charlotte, meanwhile, holds no grudge against her husband; she loved him until she realized "that the constant steps on him were too pointless". "He lived next door to me as a single man, and I let him have it." That’s why she’s not afraid of being alone either. "I was always alone." She feels she doesn’t have to wait in line anymore, she wants to get to the front of the line now. She still works, is physically fit, "so – hey"! She approaches her new life, she wants to "experience" it, but she has lost two men over it: Her son does not understand her.

Many couples do not separate while the parents are still alive

At the same time, Charlotte believes that his marriage is also in crisis. Psychologists recognize patterns in this: because older people see that their children separate more quickly and start anew, they discover this kind of "life planning" for themselves as well. They also look the other way at their parents, says Insa Fooken: "They don’t separate as long as their mother and father are still alive, because they don’t want to do that to them. If these are deceased, one must be also no longer the good daughter or the good son."In addition, there is no longer any shame: "In the past, it was not proper to separate," says pedagogue Vogt. "Today, divorces are a legitimized form of life arrangement."

Also for older people. Recently, the former prime minister and manager Lothar Spath and his wife Ursula separated – in the year after their golden wedding anniversary. Actor Danny DeVito divorced after 30 years, Vladimir Putin did too. Attorney Dahmen-Losche reports on a couple that had been married for over 60 years: He beyond 80, she 75, it was initially about money, now the couple is totally estranged. "They can no longer talk to each other at all, everything goes through lawyers." But she also has cases in her offices where an old love sparks an old marriage: several times it happened that a class reunion brought school friends closer together again.

Another couple, 55 years together, is trying with some desperation to breathe life into their planned aging together. In the consultations with Professor Vogt, she looks forward, he only looks back to his childhood. Still working on their marriage, another could not save Vogt: To 60. Wedding day the husband gave the wife a cash voucher. Generous, he thought. Thoughtless, she said. And subsequently found that her needs had actually always come up short. Love, affection, appreciation, many kids in their 40s never really learned to show that either.

Charlotte put cookies on a small plate, she has a few cups that don’t match, the pictures on the wall of her tiny apartment are self-painted, she doesn’t own much else. Recently they had amicable meetings, she and her still-husband in their city in the western Ruhr area, "but there is no more kindness". Charlotte now sees it pragmatically: she just wanted to separate, but then her own money would never be enough, they told her, "and I can’t wait for the master to die.". She has become a bit bitchy in the old days of her relationship and has noticed it herself, "bitchy" is her own word. It was at that moment that she decided, "No more." She was packing and looking for a place to stay, in that order, and now she’s gone. Her husband says she only cares about his money. She cannot even feel sorry for him anymore.

Many men have not learned to care for themselves

When she saw him, she was still shocked. "He looked bad," that’s how it often is: Men in particular, psychologist Fooken knows, tend to neglect when they are suddenly left to their own devices after a long relationship; they often can’t, don’t want to, lift what the wife has taken from them for decades. They have not learned to take care of themselves, and they do not admit it. "They do not even confess that they are grieving." Most, knows the researcher, fall from all clouds, if the wife leaves. And they are having a hard time. "May I then leave my husband?", they ask the lawyer Dahmen-Losche, they are struggling with breaking their promises, with giving up their responsibilities, which they finally vowed to do when they got married.

Charlotte also believes that her husband "thought I would come back". But she doesn’t want any more, no more washing socks, no more cooking for anyone, no more being cheated on, with other women and for her own freedom. "I can no longer help him."

This is what the law says about divorce in old age

"A marriage," writes family law expert Heike Dahmen-Losche, "is considered to have broken down when the marital cohabitation no longer exists and the spouse seeking divorce expressly wishes there to be no more marital common ground". This and every other legal regulation of course also applies to the so-called "old marriages". However, paragraphs on separation and postmarital maintenance may have a special meaning for elderly people: According to Section 1361 of the German Civil Code, one spouse can claim reasonable maintenance from the other Maintenance demand, "if he himself is not able to provide for his needs". This is often the case with older women who have taken care of the household and children and have not been employed.

The postmarital maintenance Is, according to Dahmen-Losche, "the most hotly contested divorce consequence matter.". This also includes claims due to old age, illness or infirmity.

Especially important Pension equalization. "Its purpose is to equalize the pension and retirement rights acquired by both spouses during the marriage period." In practical terms, this means that if the husband was the "breadwinner" and his spouse the "housewife," he must give her half of his pension. Even if both would then have to apply for top-up.

The Equalization of gains also regulates the division of all assets earned during the marriage. This is difficult to calculate, but here too the following applies: the person who has earned the higher gain must pay the other half of it.

Read more: Heike Dahmen-Losche: Marriage contract. Advantage or trap? dtv, 148 p., 10.90 euros

Expert talk about the reasons – lack of plan and love

Prof. Michael Vogt, A qualified pedagogue and social worker, he was head of family counseling in the Essen diocese for many years, is still active in counseling, and now does research at Coburg University, especially on the subject of life and love in old age. Annika Fischer spoke with him.

Why do people still separate at an advanced age and start a new life??

It is one of their last chances to give their lives a new turn; it is a matter of balancing the possibilities of life. We are now experiencing three major waves of divorce in Germany’s major cities: after four years, after 25 years and now increasingly after 50 years. Nowadays, even after the golden wedding anniversary, the "ship is not yet dry". Life expectancy has increased, never before have couples been able to live so old together.

Who leaves, the wife or the husband??

Majority the women, because the emotional bond is no longer enough for them to get on with it for the rest of their lives. Women often say: "I’ve always taken the lowest road, kept my back to him." Now they want to talk about their own needs. Men have a lower life expectancy, women there often rethink their situation. Some feel, especially when the husband becomes immobile, "living widowed". In addition, there is the view of the life development of adult children. When separations and divorces take place there, it draws attention to one’s own life choices. This has something "infectious", it is about freedom. Nothing is as important as being in control of your own destiny.

But why do people wait so long when everything is in a mess??

The hope is ineradicable that everything will turn out for the best. Even in old age they do not only experience resignation. Desire plays a very important role. In addition, there is the handling of one’s own finiteness, which is getting closer, with illnesses. The question comes to mind how to spend the remaining years.

When you’ve put up with each other for so long, what drives you apart??

When the relationship has lost its vitality, many feel a great loneliness. Lovelessness is a very big issue. For some, this even manifests itself in psychosomatic illnesses. But a lot of it also has to do with the joint design of the new phase of life. Becoming grandparents are once again new roles that can lead to a good bond. But then when the grandchildren become more independent, a couple falls back on themselves, they have to learn to be together 24 hours a day, to manage that time together. Couples counseling usually deals with four major issues: Intimacy – living next to each other but not coming into contact -, sexuality – what do I do to remain attractive to my partner, to maintain an erotic arc of tension -, shared values, and the autonomy of the individual.

Are older people not afraid of a new beginning?

But, they have great fear. Of what remains when they are alone. Even before the changes in the social network: What happens to friends, family, acquaintances – odd numbers are never welcome there. And especially women who have been there for their partner all their life have a very strong sense of responsibility. They do not leave the other person alone so easily.

Read more: Michael Vogt (Ed.): Life and needs in old age. Publisher Ziel, 232 p. 19.80

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