Money isn’t the only glue that can hold a marriage together

The concept of the division of property.

In the first quarter of 2021, a simple school teacher in Seattle, USA, would find himself thrust in a world that he had probably never imagined. On that fine day, in a world battling a pandemic, Dan Jewett said “I do” to Mackenzie Scott, the world’s third-wealthiest woman. And he would also officially become the step-father to the four children of the world’s richest man. Dan also happens to be a teacher at the prestigious school the Bezos brood attend. Mackenzie Scott and Jeff Bezos were together up until 2019, wrapping up 25 years of marriage with one deft signature on the divorce papers.

And as though the world was contriving to teach the common folk that all the money in the world doesn’t make for a strifeless marriage, another couple, the Gates (or the Gateses), announced their divorce barely two weeks ago. They had been married for 27 years.

This got me thinking. You have probably heard about the seven-year itch. But until recently, I learnt that there might also be a 20-something itch. That maybe our parents, those who are still together, or those couples we see on social media with the hashtag “goals” (#Goals) for lasting through decades, may not be out of the woods yet. Why do I say this?  Because of the spiking phenomenon known as “grey divorce”. Simply put, a grey divorce refers to a marital split that occurs late in life; among long-term couples aged over 50.

Interestingly, recent global statistics show that while divorce rates have been going down among the younger generation, they seem to have tripled among the over 50. This is one area millennials are trumping the baby boomers. The study by Pew Research Centre further shows that in 1994 only one in 10 persons over 50 was divorced. But in 2010, that would change to one in four people. And the numbers have grown since.

I would think that at 50, depending on when you got them, your children are either fully independent or getting there. A divorce from the one person you toiled and turned with in your heydays feels like a bad turn because this is the time you have gotten back your freedom.

By freedom I mean you don’t need to rush back home every day to attend to little people, or spend every last dime of your pay on diapers and school fees instead of that trip you could really use. This is the time, after years of catering to needy toddlers and/or brooding teens, you can now start the second chapter of life together; being selfish and loving it. You have also earned the right to be that greying, cute and annoying couple jostling for space on the dance floor with 20-year-olds.

That said, the rising divorce cases could also tell a different but positive story. Today, walking out of a marriage is not as stigmatised as it once was. That if one is miserable in a relationship, they can walk away instead of spending their sunset years dragging a toxic weight.

Also, money is not always the balm that makes the nasty bearable. If it was, the Gates and the Bezos would still be together because they could afford all the counselling and distance needed to solve any conflict. In fact, the Gates could be in their 66,000 square feet (think 1.5 acres) house and not see each other if they chose to. But if money isn’t at the root of the rising divorce rate among older couples, what is?

Often, the reason for grey divorces, relationship experts explain, is that once children leave the nest, some couples realise they do not have much in common anymore, and decide to cut their losses.

Another reason given is that is the time many can afford it. Unfortunately, statistics also show that the chances of subsequent marriages being successful are slim. Why? Because, if you have survived a divorce before, another doesn’t seem too much of a tragedy. Other relationship gurus argue that second and third marriages fail because many get into them while they haven’t completely healed from their previous ones.