Divorce is a difficult and challenging life event no matter what age it occurs, but divorce after 50 presents its own unique psychological effects. As relationships are broken and changed, social structures that provide support and companionship often evolve and people rebuild their lives. Divorcing in midlife and late adulthood provides opportunities for psychological adjustment and conflict. While challenging, divorce in later years is a catalyst toward personal growth.
Although unwanted divorce creates feelings of depression, anxiety and anger, the initiating spouse feels a sense of relief at the conclusion of an unhappy union. The marriage relationship is not the only one to break during divorce. Most people who divorce during midlife and beyond also have deeply established ties with their partners' families. They also lose relationships with stepchildren for second and third marriages. The severance of these relationships creates a void in divorcing individuals. Midlife and late-life divorced adults frequently become more social and outgoing to fill that social void.
The Effects of Erikson's Theory of Development
According to Erikson's Theory of Development, during midlife individuals are experiencing the conflict of generativity versus stagnation. While most adults are experiencing generativity as they devote more time and attention to future generations, divorcing individuals often do not have enough energy to deal with the stresses of divorce and invest in younger people. Those who have depression or feel overwhelmed sometimes instead choose stagnation. Late adulthood has its own conflict of ego integrity versus despair. A well-adjusted older adult feels acceptance with his life and choices, while someone embroiled in divorce has despair and regret over their marital outcomes.
Effects on Adjustment
As people transition from early to middle and late adulthood, they become more adept at handling stress. Throughout life, individuals retain mental images of their identity. Midlife marks a point that these possible selves begin to diminish. An unwanted divorce sharply damages both current self-concept and the mental images of possible selves that people hold. A divorce over 50 sharply changes the course of what people expected in life.
The Effects for Women Versus Men
Women and men experience the psychological effects of divorce differently. Women experience more anger, guilt and shame. They also are more likely to have the additional stresses of poverty because divorced women of all ages typically have a 30 per cent decrease in standard of living, according to author Laura E. Berk. Men, while not facing the same financial setbacks, struggle with adjustment to single life. They do not have the social support system in place to help them cope with divorce stressors that women usually do.
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