Silver or Grey Separations – Seeking to Reconcile

lorisa stein silver or grey separations seeking to recouncileThere’s no question that older adults after decades of marriage are saying “enough!” The oft-reported statistics, locally and internationally, show that this demographic group of Baby Boomers (you know who you are!) have the highest rate of separation and divorce.

While it may be shocking to think of a couple who’s seen as the pillar of the community or the grandparents of the neighbourhood separating, they are just like everyone else. If the relationship is no longer working for either of them, it may be time to move on. Or not?
Is there a subtle new trend underfoot?

The darnedest habits get in the way

Clients offer varied answers to the question: Why the decision to separate at this time? The responses often do not reflect an event that occurred recently. No, it’s often a long list of irritating habits building up over the years.

The lyrics Gershwin brothers wrote for their song They Can’t Take that Away from Me offers a list of enduring traits lovingly held sacred by the romantic left behind:
The way you sip your tea / … The way you sing off-key /
The way you haunt my dream/…
The way you hold your knife /… The way you changed my life
Lucky for the romantic who cherishes these sweet little peculiarities. Not so enduring for the other spouse who finds these habits annoying and irritating. No amount of nagging could change the tea slurping or the squeaky singing in the car on the way to visit the grandchildren. Label them the last straw after decades together. The clients in my family law office have decided to call it quits.

It’s a forest and trees problem

As the person outside the relationship who doesn’t know what’s going on, the question from the Y Generation is “Really?! That’s it? That’s why you’re separating?”
Wait a minute. Let’s have a conversation first. Maybe that conversation is with the lawyer, maybe the lawyer and a family specialist, or maybe alone with a family counsellor.
When the list of transgressions is read aloud – well, sometimes even the reader is blushing with embarrassment. After 35 years of marriage, it’s the dirty cereal bowl left on the table or at the side of the sink but never in the sink with some water splashed in. Expecting it to be washed and dried is just not part of the conversation. And then there’s the issue with the toothpaste, the socks…and well you know what’s coming next.

What if the conversation between the spouses included drafting a list of all the grievances held by both spouses. They then focused only on future solutions, not a rehashing of decades-old stories? Here are a few to start with:

  • If the clients are both retired, what occupies their time alone and their time together?
  • If both are working in the family business, can their schedules be arranged so personal contact can be reduced from 24 / 7?
  • If there are surplus funds tied up, is it possible to untie some?
  • Has a financial planner been consulted to look at the actual needs, desired luxuries and a new big picture instead of just the day to day living expenses?
  • Would a regular cleaning person help relieve some of the cleaning chores?
  • As odd as it may sound, would separate bedrooms allow both spouses to get a good night’s sleep?

Could Reconciliation be a Possibility?

Of course, it would be absolutely naïve to expect that all family law matters will result in reconciliation by asking a few questions. Some spouses have given up on their marriage and want to live the next chapters of their lives alone to pursue their dreams and whittle down their ‘bucket list’.

Others are sitting on the fence. There is some doubt in their minds about taking the leap back into singlehood. What would be the harm to spend an afternoon exploring new ideas under the guidance of someone who knows something they don’t?  Maybe a couple of hours could be worthwhile sitting together with an impartial financial planner who knows about spreadsheets, and projections, and a different allocation of resources.

Asking the questions and working hard to see IF maybe reconciliation could work, would a life- long investment in each other be worth saving? Some of my clients are saying yes, they want to give it a try.  And a small number (3% exactly) are thrilled that they did.