Like many who spent the last year with a whole lot of extra time to focus on themselves, the recent clients I speak with about divorce are saying they had new revelations about their marriage that might have gone unexamined but for the pandemic.
During the past year, many couples stuck it out as they hunkered down in crisis, but it is expected more split-ups and divorce among all age groups as the pandemic recedes will occur. For couples over 50 in particular, counselors say, the pandemic has amplified the soul-searching that often hits people at this age.
The pandemic is “the perfect storm” for couples, with lockdowns and social distancing causing them to spend increased amounts of time together. This has, in many cases, acted as a catalyst for break-ups that may already have been on the cards, especially if previous separate routines had served to mask problems. I don’t think that the reasons that people are divorcing have necessarily changed. You’ve always had the underlying current of ‘I’m unhappy with this or that at home’. But I think it has brought the focus on domestic arrangements really into much more sharp focus than they would ordinarily be.
Before Covid, empty-nesters or new retirees had other activities to distract them from an unfulfilling relationship, says Susan Brown, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University who studies marriages and divorce. “The pandemic made them think differently about their own mortality and goals in life, what they are willing to accept and not accept,” says Dr. Brown. “People are less willing to stay in these empty-shell marriages that are not conflictual, but also not happy.”
Longer, healthier lifespans are also playing a role, says Jocelyn Elise Crowley, professor of public policy at Rutgers University and author of a book on gray divorce. “We have better access to medical care, the quality of lives in terms of overall health is improving,” she says. The sense of duty to marriage prevalent in previous generations is less pervasive now, she adds.