Copyright 2010 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
June 3, 2010 Thursday Main Edition
SECTION: LIVING; Pg. 1D
LENGTH: 758 words
HEADLINE: When lengthy marriages come to end; Many couples, like Gores, grow apart.; Separating also can bring emotional, financial challenges.
BYLINE: Vikki L. Conwell; For the AJC
Couples who grow old together do not always stay together.
Look at Tipper and Al Gore. After four decades of marriage, the former high school sweethearts announced their “mutually supportive decision” to separate. Close friends say the couple grew apart over the years and had begun living separate lives.
We expect seasoned marriages to last because it’s a throwback to our parents’ generation when couples stayed together no matter what, said Roswell-based relationship therapist Beverly Bird. They grow apart when couples neglect their relationship. The children leave home and people get busy, and the marriage is the first thing to suffer.
Despite the milestones, child rearing and hardships that have connected them, couples forget to work on the small and meaningful activities that created loving feelings. Eventually, they are left with a mutual love and respect but feel dead within the marriage.
“It’s that ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you syndrome,’ ” said Bird, married for 24 years. “Feeling alive [again] trumps almost everything else.”
Atlanta divorce attorney Randy Kessler agrees.
“It sounds sad for an older couple to get divorced, but it would be sadder for them to spend the rest of their lives unhappy,” said Kessler, whose office averages one divorce each month of couples who have been married a very long time. “People are not going to stay married because they’re almost dead. They don’t want to live the rest of their lives wondering ‘what if.’ ”
Couples such as the Gores can rebuild their marriages and regain a deeply committed love by putting effort into activities they enjoy and rekindling those old emotions, Bird said. If both parties want to revive the marriage and commit to working at it, the relationship can be salvaged.
If the marriage cannot survive, older couples can find the emotional and financial challenges of separating overwhelming.
“Divorce is not planned, and when it rears its ugly head, we’re terrified and sadder than any time in our lives,” said Margot Swann, founder of Visions Anew, an east Cobb County nonprofit that provides seminars, resources and support groups to help women transition through divorce. “You feel like such a failure.”
Being alone and winding up a bag lady are the biggest fears, especially those who never worked outside the home, Swann said. “If you can support yourself with dignity and make good decisions, not only will you survive but thrive.”
Atlanta divorce attorney Tina Shadix Roddenbery, who handles one such case a year, recommends that older couples seek advice from a financial expert. They are no longer dealing with income-building assets but Social Security and retirement income that can be liquidated without penalty and taxes for post-retirement couples. A medical insurance broker can help secure cheaper rates if the couple applies before the divorce. Alimony for nonworking spouses, life insurance and even long-term care are additional factors to consider.
Couples should explore all of their options before and during divorce, Kessler said. Even post-nuptial agreements can safeguard their assets and provide for division in the event of divorce. The couple can choose to remain married but lead separate lives. “It’s nice to not file for divorce,” he said, “because you don’t have the pressures of a court deadline, and you can create your own formula for resolution. People should be telling the lawyers what they want to do and not the opposite.”
Reviving your union
Certified marriage therapist Beverly Bird offers some tips:
Be intentional. Do something every day that makes your partner feel loved.
Review your marriage contract. Consider the vows you made and determine what’s working and what’s not.
Look in the mirror. See what you need to change about yourself.
Seek help. Attend a workshop to get insight about your relationship before making any permanent decisions.
Getting back out there
“Finding yourself alone later in life is disorienting,” says Barbara Bellman, author of “Flirting After Fifty.” Some of her tips:
Choose to survive. The newly single person has to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the challenges.
Take small steps. Take a class, go on a trip to a place you’ve never been or host small dinners or brunches with friends.
Volunteer. Consider working at a museum or hospital or nonprofit.
Smile and make eye contact. People who are greatly wounded by their loss have a difficult time lifting their heads and making eye contact. They anticipate rejection and, therefore, encourage it. Work on these small opportunities and build upon them.
LOAD-DATE: June 3, 2010