FeaturesTop Features

Coping with Divorce After 55

Loss of a partner can be more painful when it happens later in life

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant


An acquaintance in his 50s once shared with me that he had been divorced — three times.

I responded, “Ouch.”

He threw back his head and laughed, saying, “That’s the best response I’ve ever heard.”

But it’s true. Divorce hurts, regardless of why it happens. The older one is, the more painful the loss can feel. After so many years of building a life together, making mutual friends and planning for forever, it’s done. Over.

Each person likely faces challenges previously unknown. There’s also social and familial awkwardness, and possibly financial struggles. Plus, they need to work through the difficult reasons that caused the divorce, too.

Many factors can influence divorce, according to Grace Harlow Klein, PhD, psychiatric nurse and owner of Center for Human Encouragement in Rochester. She said that at this age, reasons for divorce may include growing apart, infidelity, mid-life re-evaluation and divergent goals. Some people finally gain the ability to leave their abusive spouse after years of delay because of fear, lack of resources or feeling obligated to parent together.

“If a person has a therapist to talk with and work through feelings of grief and loss, that helps,” Klein said.

She encourages people to discuss what worked and what didn’t in their relationship as well as discover tools for rebuilding their lives.

“Social connections is a key of living longer and healthier,” Klein said.

She added that some people have no idea what to do next; however, “gradually, if they work on their own feelings and come up with more real interpretation of those, they can find their own voice and find out what they want to do now.”

She thinks that identifying and understanding one’s own emotions begins the journey to healing.

“Use the correct words,” she said“ ’I am sad, happy, lonely, angry, disappointed.’ Then you have to put the connection with the situation, ‘I am angry because I was left: Or, ‘My spouse left me, so I am sad.’ Then the person is centered in themselves. It’s a very empowered place to work from.”

She said that once the individual’s feelings are in context, the person more easily realizes what to do next.

“Find someone to talk to, to sort it out,”

Friends and family may mean well, but most of the time, they’re too eager to dole out advice and take sides than to truly listen and honor the feelings present. Klein believes that a professional can help in sorting out the feelings so the person feels more ready for the next chapter.

After a time of mourning and healing, it’s time to rebuild.

Anne Marie Farage-Smith, licensed mental health counselor and owner of Counseling Connection, a private practice in Greece, encourages people who have experienced divorce to rediscover who they truly are now. “Go back to activities or interests you had before you were a couple or raising children. Embrace your new role.”

That could mean joining a club or gym, getting a makeover, signing up for a class or attending events. Redecorating, moving, finding a new career or furthering the education all represent larger-scale changes.

“It can be difficult to reinvent yourself in new role,” Farage-Smith said. “You can’t be afraid to try out new things.”

Volunteering can also help direct the attention outward, to others less fortunate. This strategy can also help develop a spirit of gratitude and reduce bitterness.

As for figuring out the nuts and bolts of life — tasks the former spouse always did — Farage-Smith encourages divorced people to take the initiative to learn. Plenty of classes, books, and videos offer terrific how-to tips.

“It’s a matter of just reaching out for help, asking friends and taking a course or two,” she said. “It goes back to not isolating yourself.”