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Why Long-Married Couples Get Divorced

Why Long-Married Couples Get DivorcedIt can be shocking to find yourself facing divorce after 20 or more years of marriage. However, you are not alone.

Bowling Green State University states that “Between 1990 and 2021, the divorce rate decreased for those aged 15 to 44, whereas it increased for those aged 45 and older.” The AARP also reports, “In fact, the divorce rate for people older than 50 doubled between 1990 and 2010. As of 2019, that’s 10 divorced people per 1,000 married folks 50 and older.”

Every marriage ends for a reason, and these reasons can be complex, especially after 20 or more years. Some of the reasons older couples get divorced include the following.

Divorce has become more acceptable

It’s likely not that older couples are automatically more unhappy. The rise in “gray divorce” shows that the stigma of divorce is lessening, and people may feel less compelled to remain in an unhappy marriage. And, with the increasing secularization of society, marriage may be seen as more of a contract than a sacrament. More and more people also believe that removing children from the source of conflict is a better idea than “staying together for the children.”

Empty nests

Psych Central reports that many couples in long-term marriages seeking therapy “report that the problems have been there all along.” However, these issues can be easier to deal with when faced with the task of raising a family. Once children leave home, underlying problems can rear their ugly heads. Elena Herrara, licensed clinical psychologist, adds, “Many couples’ identities can be wrapped around being a provider or a parent. When those roles change or require less of them, it can lead people to reexamine their lives, and often, their marriages.

People are living longer

People used to retire earlier and die earlier. Now that we can look forward to many active years after the age of 60, your future might look different than you imagined it during your marriage. As Psych Central notes, many people get to a certain age and think, “Is this marriage still working for me?”


A variety of reader stories on Buzzfeed highlights the issue of infidelity in long-term marriages. The vast majority of these stories include cheating and infidelity, with one person stating, “I was married for 20 years. When my mom died suddenly, I was devastated and fell into a deep depression. My wife seemed distant, but I thought we were just going through a terrible time together. A few months later, when I started climbing out of the depression, I figured out that she had started an affair two months after my mom’s death.” This person noted they tried to work things out but eventually filed for divorce.

Money issues

Financial issues can cause stress in any marriage, not just long-term marriages. As couples age, discrepancies in financial approaches tend to become more apparent. In the initial phases of marriage, when both partners are typically employed, differences in spending habits may not be as noticeable due to consistent incomes and the anticipation of salary increases. However, as couples near retirement, one partner might maintain a liberal spending attitude while the other sees the dream of a secure retirement slipping away. Such conflicts often escalate and can ultimately result in divorce, even after years or decades of marriage.


Work gives us purpose and structure, as well as limits the amount of free time we get with our spouse. When work is over and retirement begins, couples may discover they lack common interests or just no longer enjoy each other’s company. Retirement can also lead to an identity crisis for those who have built their identities on their careers. And, for a stay-at-home spouse, the sudden and constant presence of the other spouse can feel like an intrusion on their space. These issues can lead to conflict, and later, divorce.


The illness of a spouse can play a significant role in the dissolution of a long-term marriage. It might be that one partner, who vowed to stand by their spouse “in sickness and in health,” finds themselves unable or unwilling to shoulder the responsibility of caring for a severely ill partner. Alternatively, a spouse who survives a serious illness like cancer or a heart attack may realize the shortness of life and opt to reassess their priorities, realizing that they do not wish to continue living as they have. Illness may not disrupt an otherwise strong marriage, but for some it can be a flashpoint in an already contentious one.

Unresolved conflicts

Unresolved conflicts in relationships are like knots, tightening and stressing a bond between people. These conflicts, whether from misunderstandings, different views, or unmet expectations, have a way of sticking around, brewing under the surface and causing unhappiness. If not dealt with, unresolved conflicts can spread, affecting different parts of the relationship and weakening the trust and closeness that used to be there. They create tension and distance, making it hard for people to truly connect. This can lead to separation or divorce.

For example, the AARP tells the story of Bernadette Murphy and why she decided to end her marriage:

Meanwhile, Murphy believed that her husband had an unresolved issue with his mother, who had passed away. Murphy sought therapy and felt herself growing as a person. Her husband, however, not only eschewed individual therapy but, she says, liked the way she was — “a quiet person who stuffed everything down” — and wanted her to stay the same.

Murphy notes that although friends and family were shocked the couple were splitting, she had been thinking about it for almost 15 years.

When you do decide to divorce

If you’ve decided it’s time to end your long-term marriage, the Charlotte family law attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC can help.

Our Charlotte divorce attorneys offer comprehensive assistance throughout the divorce process. Firstly, we provide personalized legal advice tailored to your unique situation, ensuring you understand your rights and options under North Carolina law. Our attorneys are adept at navigating complex legal issues related to asset division, child custody, alimony, and other crucial aspects of divorce.

Furthermore, we serve as strong advocates for your interests during negotiations with your spouse or their legal representation. We work diligently to reach favorable settlements that prioritize your needs and protect your rights. In cases where litigation becomes necessary, our attorneys are prepared to represent you effectively in court, presenting compelling arguments and advocating vigorously on your behalf.

Beyond legal representation, our Charlotte divorce attorneys offer compassionate support and guidance throughout the emotional challenges of divorce. We provide a supportive environment where you can express your concerns and explore your options with confidence.

At every stage of the process, our attorneys strive to minimize stress and conflict while pursuing the best possible outcome for you and your family. We understand the challenges that come with unraveling a long-term marriage, walking you through the process with compassion and understanding. Talk to the attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC today. Please call our office or submit our contact form, and we will schedule your free consultation at one of our office locations in Charlotte, Weddington, Concord, or Boone today.