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Empty nest syndrome

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Not every couple stares divorce in the face when their children leave home but there’s no doubt it’s a risky time. If your children have been the main focus of your relationship, in their absence you may struggle to re-establish yourselves as a couple. For some unlucky duos, the result is mid-life divorce.

No shared hobbies

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While it’s definitely not a good idea for a couple to live in each other’s pockets, some shared hobbies and interests help strengthen the bond. Without any hobbies in common, it can become all too easy to get out of the habit of spending time together. Ultimately, this can result in not wanting to spend together – and divorce.

The sandwich generation

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Contrary to the expectation of many harried parents of young children, mid-life is often when times get really hard. The competing demands of financially and emotionally-demanding teens plus the needs of aging parents often place great strain on mid-life couples. Something has to give and, sometimes, that’s the marriage.


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Redundancy is hard on anyone. However, it can be particularly hard on middle-aged people who may struggle to find a new employer. The effect of the loss of, or drop in, income is obvious but loss of status, too, can have a calamitous effect. Together, these problems can drive a couple apart – and towards the divorce courts.


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Frequently cited as the top divorce predictor, contempt is bad news for any relationship. And, because contempt festers and grows over time, it’s a particularly common issue for couples in mid-life. Addressing the sarcasm, disrespect, mocking and eye-rolling that makes up the contempt is hard but, with commitment from both sides, is sometimes possible.

Mid-life crisis

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A relationship can come under great strain if one half of a couple has a mid-life crisis. However, it manifests itself – depression, irritability, profligate spending, time-consuming new hobbies, a preoccupation with appearance – it can cause a potentially irrevocable schism in the marriage. Patience, a sense of humor and counselling may help avoid divorce.


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No one enjoys criticism – especially if it feels unjust or unsolicited. In a marriage, excessively critical behavior can result in one spouse feeling unappreciated, not valued or disrespected by their partner. If this state of affairs goes on for long enough, divorce may be the inevitable result.

Lack of respect

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Often adopted as a favorite phrase by angsty teens, “you don’t respect me” could equally also be the cri de coeur of someone heading for mid-life divorce. Maintaining a relationship in the absence of respect is pretty much impossible. Unless you catch the problem early and address it satisfactorily, divorce may be inevitable.

Poor communication

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Couples who stay together for the long haul throughout everything life throws at them usually have one thing in common: excellent communication skills. Without this, you’ll struggle to agree on what to cook for dinner, never mind reaching agreement on more serious issues. In short, good communication keeps you together but poor communication splits you up.


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Stonewalling is not poor communication. Rather, it is a deliberate lack of communication. The guilty party may refuse to engage in a particular discussion or may be deliberately evasive. Whatever the technique, the initial result is deep frustration and emotional upset for the other person. Meanwhile, the end result can be relationship breakdown and divorce.

Loss of intimacy

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Most long marriages go through peaks and troughs of intimacy, especially once the honeymoon phase has worn off. Children, illness, work, money worries and the menopause can all also play their part in upsetting a couple’s intimate life. While some couples can cope with this, most will struggle. For some, the struggle will end in divorce.

Incompatible schedules

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It’s hard to sustain any relationship if you don’t see enough of each other or spend sufficient quality time together. While it’s possible to cope with conflicting schedules for a certain period, it gets harder as time goes on. Whether it’s work, hobbies or caring responsibilities, if you can’t find time for each other, your marriage may fail.

Two daughters

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Scoff if you must but studies show that the presence of two daughters in a family is a predictor of mid-life divorce for their parents. One such study suggested that a couple with two daughters have a 43% risk of divorcing, compared with a 37% risk for a couple with two sons.

Silent treatment

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Responding to an argument, disagreement or criticism by doling out the silent treatment is not the hallmark of an emotionally mature individual. Marriages in which one spouse habitually resorts to ignoring the other are less robust and the couple is more likely to end up divorcing.


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Deliberately undermining or manipulating your spouse’s perception of reality is unacceptable in any marriage. Unfortunately, it’s also something that may take the victim many years to recognise and decide how to deal with. This is why it’s a relatively common factor in many mid-life divorces.

Loss of attraction

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If you’re lucky, the butterflies in the tummy never stop beating their wings. Sometimes, however, they go quiet and you stop feeling the flutter of anticipation when you hear your spouse’s key in the lock. Again, if you’re lucky, this is a temporary aberration. If not, sadly, the loss of attraction is a clear sign that the marriage may be nearing its end.


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A spouse who can’t – or won’t – switch off from their job is difficult to live with. Inevitably, the other person ends up picking up the slack when it comes to child-raising, housework, and life admin – and doing so even where they have their own job outside the home. In the long-term, the put-upon spouse may decide they no longer want to stay in the marriage.

Loss of trust

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As with any long-term relationship, marriage depends on trust. If that disappears, the whole edifice starts to look shaky. Marriages in which one spouse starts questioning their trust in the other – perhaps over where they are in the evenings, or what they’re spending money on – risk irretrievable breakdown that can only end in divorce.

Parenting style differences

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Couple who don’t discuss parenting styles before having children are more likely to find themselves having acrimonious disagreements at all stages of childrearing. In the early years, this might be over sleep training. Later, in mid-life, it could be over how to handle a rebellious teen. For some couples, it’s the differences between themselves that will prove too much for the marriage.

Financial disagreements and debt

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Poverty is the precursor to many divorces. So, too, is debt – especially if a couple doesn’t agree on how to tackle it. However, financial disagreements can also take other forms and pose equal challenges to the stability of a marriage. For instance, one spouse may want to put as much money as possible into pensions, while the other wants to take a more short-term approach.

Difficult children

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It’s probably no surprise to learn that challenging children threaten a couple’s unity. Whether it’s ADHD, Autism Spectrum Condition, a teen getting involved with drugs or gangs, or some other issue, the stress placed on the parents is immense. Excellent communication, mutual support and, preferably, shared agreement on the best way of tackling the issue is essential if the couple is to stay together.


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Some couples seem to argue all the time, even thriving on it. However, perhaps these are the couples who take the old saying to heart and never let the sun go down on their latest argument. Couples who argument and allow their arguments to fester are more likely to divorce, especially as they reach middle age and their tolerance for their tumultuous home life decreases.


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While marriages can recover from affairs, they’re often a predictor for divorce – particularly in mid-life. Sometimes this is because one spouse leaves the other for someone else. Equally, the wronged spouse may react to the discovery of an affair by ending the marriage. Repairing a marriage following an affair inevitably takes time and trust but, understandably, these are things that may be in short supply.


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Infertility is a heart ache that may separate a couple at a relatively early stage of their relationship. Less talked about is the scenario where one person – often the woman – puts aside or delays their desire for a baby until it’s biologically too late. These decisions, whether involuntary or not, can catch up with a couple in middle age and may signal impending divorce.

Rewriting history

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Part of the joy of a long-term, successful marriage is the shared history. Consequently, when histories start to diverge, marriages frequently implode. The rewriting of history – who said what, who gave up what, and so on – often takes place as a couple enter mid-life. Perhaps it’s a form of mid-life crisis but, whatever the cause, divorce is frequently the result.


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Over-analyzing any relationship is potentially detrimental to its health. While it’s no doubt sensible to check in with a spouse and discuss anything concerning either of you, too much analysis risks the marriage becoming purely transactional. Ultimately, it can lead to a loss of trust and, if this goes on long enough, can even prompt divorce.

Married too late

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In bad news for anyone who waited a long time for Mr or Mrs Right to come around, the evidence suggests that marrying after the age of 32 is associated with an increased risk of divorce. It’s likely that this reflects their independent personalities and difficulties in adjusting to the shared horizons of marriage.

Wife older than husband

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Maybe there’s a reason why more marriages consist of a husband who’s older than his wife than the other way round. Apparently, marriages in which the wife is older – no matter by how much – are more likely to end in divorce. Moreover, this risk does not seem to diminish as the marriage progresses and the couples get older.

No fun

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At times, marriage can seem like hard work. And yet, in the midst of the child-rearing, the juggling of two careers, the money worries, and the caring for infirm parents, there also needs to be room for fun. Without that, the glue holding the couple together is less sticky. Eventually, it may lose all adhesive qualities and send the pair into the divorce courts.

Making new friends

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While some successful marriages involve a duo whose social circles overlap almost completely, others thrive when they both have separate friends. However, whatever the social arrangements, new friends can threaten a marriage. This isn’t necessarily because they represent new romantic possibilities but because they can upset a pre-existing equilibrium.

Married young

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Although once commonplace, many people now frown on the idea of getting married young. Whatever their personal reasons for disapproving, there’s a sound reason for delaying wedlock: couples who marry too young are more likely to divorce. Frequently, these divorces occur as the couples reach middle age and realise they have grown apart.

Pre-wedding jitters

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It’s normal to be nervous before your wedding – right? Well, whether it is or it isn’t, if it’s the woman who has pre-marital nerves then the risk of the subsequent marriage ending in divorce is more than double. Interestingly, the same effect isn’t noted if it’s the man suffering from pre-wedding jitters.

Frowning in childhood photos

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This one may make you frown in disbelief but studies conducted by psychologists have shown a link between frowning in childhood photographs and divorce in later life. The effect is apparently particularly strong when it’s the man who was the childhood frowner. According to the authors of these studies, frowners are five times more likely to divorce than non-frowners.


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Differing values are always problematic in a marriage but smoking is one of the most intractable. Studies show that marriages consisting of one smoker and one non-smoker are more likely to fail than those where either both people smoke or neither does. Typically, mid-life is the time when differing values often catch up with a couple.

Always right

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In another example of the significance of a couple’s attitudes to each other, marriages in which one person believes – and acts as if – they’re always in the right are more likely to end in divorce than more harmonious relationships. While the affected person may be able to stomach their partner’s sanctimonious behavior at first, it almost always eventually becomes too much to tolerate.


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On an individual level, hobbies are a very good thing. They can also benefit a marriage, giving each person a separate sphere of interest. However, taken to extreme, a hobby can become all-consuming. Tales of golf or cycling widows abound but whatever the hobby and whoever is engaged in it, if it’s too immersive it effectively removes one person from the marriage. Divorce may follow.


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Perhaps you think that pre-marital cohabitation makes divorce less likely. And, while this may be true for some couples who decide to call it quits before tying the knot, overall, cohabitation is thought to increase the risk of divorce by 12%. Some of these one-time cohabiters who eventually divorce will be middle-aged couples who’ve finally had enough.

Shotgun wedding

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Of course, a shotgun wedding can result in a marriage that’s as happy and long-lasting as any other marriage. However, statistically, a shotgun wedding – one in which a baby is born to the couple in the eight months after the ceremony – is 24% more likely to end in divorce. This divorce may happen relatively soon after the wedding or not until much later.

The wrong occupation

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Statistically, some professions and occupations have higher divorce rates than others – and they’re not always the ones you might expect. Yes, military personnel and police do make the list but so too do nurses, bartenders, dancers, and choreographers. The reasons differ but the results are the same: higher than average divorce rates at all points in a marriage, including mid-life.

Higher earner

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In an era that’s supposed to be all about equal rights, it rankles that those marriages in which the wife out-earns her husband are more likely to fail than those in which she earns less. The effect is even more pronounced if a woman’s earnings increase significantly in mid-life.