Any major life change, such as death of a parent, child birth, loss of a job, a major illness, living apart from your spouse, or becoming empty nesters when your children leave home, can produce a mid-life crisis and lead to divorce. People who experience significant loss or other life changing events may suddenly begin questioning whether they want to continue the way they live now for the rest of their life. What sorts of people are most likely to suffer mid-life crises? Those who do what is “expected” of them, individuals who try to please others, and people who avoid conflict at all costs. These individuals never have the opportunity to do what they really want because they are fearful of rejection and always trying to please others.
1. Death of a Parent
Research shows there is an increase in divorce rates after the death of a parent. Why does this happen? It may be that after a parental death, the person suffers an attachment crisis because they are suddenly flooded with fear of abandonment. Alternatively, death of a parent may trigger concerns about one’s own mortality and raise questions about what the person wants to do with the rest of his/her life. After the death of a parent, many individuals feel they need to make changes to be happy because they aren’t getting any younger.
Some couples have marital problems because they can’t conceive. More often, the birth of a baby and the accompanying pressures of caring for a newborn create significant stresses in an already fragile marriage. Studies show that two thirds of couples report lower marital satisfaction two years after the birth of a child. Having children tests a couple’s ability to communicate and compromise, and if they fail, they may be headed for divorce court.
3. Loss of a Job
Losing a job and worrying about financial security can have a damaging effect on marriage. The loss of income and changes in how a couple spend their time can have a major impact on marriage. A job loss can shift attention to such things as the person’s own unhappiness, wondering what to do with his/her time, and being bored because they no longer have a job. All these stresses can lead to discord and divorce.
4. Major Illness
When one partner gets seriously ill, this can have life changing consequences for the couple. The ill person is no longer able to hold up his/her end of the marriage bargain and instead needs constant care. Surprisingly, when a wife becomes seriously ill and her husband must take over her care, there is a significant increase in divorce within the next year. By contrast, when the husband becomes ill and the wife becomes his caretaker, the couple is not so likely to divorce. It seems to be more difficult for men to take on the role of care-giver, although this depends to some extent on how house hold tasks were allocated before the illness.
5. Living Apart
Studies of military families find a strong association between length of deployment of a soldier and the divorce rate among these families. Longer deployments lead to a higher divorce rate. Veterans suffer a double dose of stress from deployment overseas and the difficulties of readjustment when they return. Couples who choose to live apart because of jobs in different cities or family obligations also show higher rates of divorce compared with couples living together.
6. Becoming Empty Nesters
Grey divorces are happening at a higher rate as our population ages. Over time, couples lose their connections to each other and drift apart emotionally and sexually. Once the children are gone, many couples feel there is no reason for them to stay married because they now have so little in common. Moreover, women are more often educated and employed these days and they don’t need to stay married for financial reasons. Educated women are initiating the vast majority of current divorces.
The keys to avoiding a mid-life crisis and resulting divorce caused by a significant life change are to be open and honest with your partner about how you feel and ask for help if you have trouble dealing with grief. If you begin to feel that time is short and you need to make changes, talk to friends or a counselor before you do anything drastic and give yourself three months to think about a significant change before making it. Rather than getting a divorce, add a new activity to your life. Take up golf, sailing, hiking, or other hobby you enjoy. Marriage doesn’t mean spending all your time with your spouse. You can have an individual life as well.