So, you’re considering a divorce. You know there will likely be destruction and loss of time with your kids of your home, and, probably, your finances. And you’ll have to construct a new life. It’s enough to make you stay in your marriage and power through. As a dad, you’re used to tabling your happiness. But no one is benefiting by the way it is. You weigh these two sides constantly, then wonder many things. One of them, understandably is, “What is the best age to get a divorce?”
It’s certainly an interesting question to ask. The divorce rate in America has certainly shifted over the past few decades. For instance, according to data from Pew Research, the divorce rate of U.S. adults 50 and older has roughly doubled since the 90s. The rate has also climbed for those in their 40s, although not as drastically as it has for the 50+ demographic. As for those in their 25-39 age rage, the divorce rate has fallen.
Despite these numbers, do men in their thirties fair better than, say, men in their twenties or forties? Is there an “ideal” age to get divorced — that is, is there an age where men are able to recover better?
Age, as they say, is just a number. So the answer is, well, not really.
“Chronological age on some level is meaningless,” notes Deborah Carr, professor and department chair of sociology at Boston University. A 45-year-old man, she points out, can have kids in college or in grade school, making different pressures on keeping a family together. The closest she’ll say is that the least worst time to get a divorce might be before five years old and after 15.
Why the range? Well, while divorce does effect younger children, the impact is not as severe. When they’re older, they have a more mature understanding and “they are also past the rough patch of puberty, which can make life difficult and emotionally volatile regardless of what’s happening in one’s family,” says Carr. But during that in-between stage? They’re old enough to be aware and young enough to blame themselves, as endless shuttling between homes goes on.
That’s one way of looking at it, however. John D. Kaplan, a psychotherapist and co-founder of Marriage Labs in Canton, Massachusetts, says the age range is plausible, but notes that kids aren’t predictable. The ones who you think will be fine might not be, and vice versa.
With such a big decision, it’s easy to desire the ultimate, clarifying checklist. But, “it’s not a cognitive decision,” says Kaplan, adding that it’s more like, “the house is on fire and you have to get out.”
Kaplan advises that if you’re still thinking about it, to “stay as long as you can,” as it’s probably better until the kids are older. If you want something of a litmus test, it’s if you can’t stand who you are any longer – the potential becomes “once the knot is untied,” you become free and so do the kids.
So, the question is not so much when is the best time to divorce, but how to get through, whenever you decide, as unscathed as possible. Some factors, you can’t control, since other players are involved. But with certain elements, you have a direct say. It means staying disciplined, having intent, and taking care of yourself. These are easy to say, but much harder to implement. They do offer the chance to eventually get to happiness.
The Choices You Can Make
A divorce offers many points of negotiation, which can easily slip into contention. It depends on whether you prefer to fight or can concede, and how you and your ex already interact.
“If you couldn’t stand her during the marriage, you’re not going to stand her during the divorce,” Kaplan says.
Even if you’re naturally even-keeled, it takes intention to remain so as you figure out visitation, who gets the house, and spend money, adding to a financial strain you might already be under.
As Corey Shapiro, a New York City family attorney and author of Getting Divorced Without Losing Your Mind says, “it’s about managing the internal volcano.”
People who successfully get through, Shapiro notes, keep it simple and establish early boundaries. One, for example, is not constantly texting back and forth with your ex. When young kids are involved, contact is certainly. necessary. But regularity makes you react more, think less.
Patience is key, as well. Experts say to treat divorce like grieving, because it is and you are. Kaplan estimates one-to-three years before someone can emotionally recover from a divorce. Like most processes, there will be bumps. As you look to rebuild your life, your old one invariably pops up. You’ll want to deny or avoid memories, but, “Thought-stopping doesn’t work,” says Laura Silberstein-Tirch, New York City licensed psychologist and author of How to Be Nice to Yourself.
Ruminating is common; it keeps you stuck. One thing that helps is writing in a narrative form, says David Sbarra, professor of psychology at The University of Arizona. The story gets out of your head and onto paper with a structured beginning, middle and end. “You have a vision of, ‘What will I do now?,’” he says, which benefits your well-being. Research Sbarra was part of shows that it can lower your heart rate and increase your heart rate variability, a sign of resilience and flexibility in the face of stress.
It also helps to be around supportive people, get into or back into hobbies, and start defining yourself as more than a father, job title, or divorced man. There’s no one “best activity” here, but a cooking class checks many boxes. If you’re now responsible for feeding yourself every night and kids some nights, you’ll have more repertoire and keep everyone healthy. And, like exercise and sleeping, it’s self-care that you know that you can do.
“That maintaining of order is a big deal,” Carr says. “It provides a sense of routine of daily life.”
Look at the Big Picture
Even as you’re considering divorce and continuing to deal with ongoing battles and little joy, Kaplan mentions another reason to actually stick around: This just might be what marriage is at the moment, and what it is is hard. You and your partner have your personalities, family histories, and responsibilities, one being young kids, who Kaplan says can make life, well, a “shitshow”.
You’re exhausted. You’re not having sex. You miss your old relationship. Forget the back burner. “The marriage isn’t even on the stove,” says Kaplan. But divorce still might not be the solution, because kids get older, demands change, and then the way spouses interact might as well.
It might simply require time to experience that shift. As Kaplan says, “There are many marriages within a marriage.”