For some time now, researchers have been pointing out at the rise in the number of silver separations across the globe. Even in a conservative country like ours couples filing for divorces in their fifties has been on a rise. But what is prompting them to seek a divorce, after almost spending a lifetime together? When a couple can withstand a seven-year itch, raise kids, tend to ageing parents, stressful jobs and bear endless expenses and EMIs, why are they going separate ways, when the hard part is about to be over, and it is time to finally enjoy each other's company? Are such relationships so beyond repair, that couples can't bear to live with each other, minus the glue of responsibilities?
- Many couples in their fifties are calling it quits, after spending decades with their partner.
- The rise in the number of silver separations has exposed fault-lines in the institution of marriage.
- Couples would rather walk in separate directions, than suffer in each other's company for the rest of their lives.
Isn’t companionship in the latter half of middle age something many couples look forward to? Being done with duties towards the family and then enjoying retirement?
I’ve seen many parents watch their kids move out, pay off all the major loans, and then rediscover each other. They start going out again together, watch movies and plays, have dinner dates and even indulge in a hobby or two together. But seems like that trend is taking a back seat now, as grey divorces are on the rise. In 2015, for every 1,000 married persons ages 50 and older, 10 divorced – up from five in 1990, says a report by the Pew Research Centre. Besides rising divorce rates doesn't mean that couples are unhappier in marriages today than they were earlier. It is just that it is much easier to walk out of a relationship today than it was earlier. Also, it is an indication of changing individual priorities than anything else.
Flaws in the traditional concept of marriage
When baby boomers got married, the institution of matrimony came with a certain set of gender-specific rules. A husband must earn enough money to keep his wife comfortable. A wife, on the other hand, should run the house and take care of the kids. It created an interdependence among couples, which made it hard for them to leave each other, even if they were unhappy or dissatisfied in their relationship. Today, more and more women are financially independent, while men can take care of themselves. The end of dependency over each other thus, makes it hard for couples to stick around each other, when love makes an exit. Why stay together when they are better off on their own? This is the questions couples in unhappy marriages are asking themselves more frequently today.
Loss of will to adjust
This is true especially among women, who with changing times and sensibilities are finding it hard to adjust with uncooperative partners.
Generation X women grew up with traditional beliefs about marriage. A wife must always be obedient and should always remain a step behind her husband. Through decades, there has been a rise in awareness regarding their agency among women. They aren’t duty bound to be obedient. They now fully understand the concept of consent and are in fact in control of their sexuality. This has led to numerous clashes among couples where husbands do not want to give up their old ways, while wives do not want to be stuck with them. Gradually, wives lose their will to adjust and they begin bidding time to cut marital ties as soon as they have fulfilled all obligations.
Rise in indifference to social pressure
There was a time when “what will people say” used to keep people from taking steps which could invite social ire. In tight-knit and family-oriented communities, a marriage binds not just a man and woman, it binds their families and friends too. Hence there is a lot of pressure and scrutiny involved. In fact, familial and social coercion is a big reason why couples refrain from getting a divorce. The grip of social pressure has however gone down considerably in urban sectors of our society. Which is why, people no longer fear about the social repercussions of their actions. Divorce used to be a big social taboo even two decades ago. It still incurs shame in orthodox parts of our country. But most men and women don’t care much anymore.
In fact, many couples who stayed in unhappy marriages due to divorce being a taboo earlier, are fast opting for separations today.
Prioritizing individual happiness
How could a husband think of being happy as a bachelor, when he has a duty to forever remain with his wife's side? How can a fifty-something wife walk out on her husband, when she knows that he is dependent on her for everything from ironing his clothes to feeding him three meals a day? We are always taught to be devoted to our family. To sacrifice individual happiness for the sake of the family. But there comes a time in every person’s life when they begin questioning this mandatory sacrifice of personal fulfillment, that comes as a clause in matrimony. I guess most of us begin seeing an end in sight as we enter our 50s. As the certainty of death begins looming overhead, we realise that we have a choice to walk away from an unhappy marriage and spend the rest of our time independent and in command of our own lives.
A rising number of silver separations are not a social epidemic. We shouldn’t panic as if we are facing an existential crisis. What we are facing is a crisis of happiness in the current format of matrimony. Marriages aren’t meant to be endured. So if silver separations concern you, perhaps you should be asking just what is wrong with the concept of marriage, that it is falling apart today?
Picture Credit : NDTV
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.