“Salt and Pepper” Divorces: The Fight for Control When Long-Term Couples Split (Part II)

Stacy D. Phillips 

This is the second in a two-part series examining how older couples experience divorce and separation differently through the prism of the six big issues that I identified in my book, Divorce: It’s All About Control—How to Win the Emotional, Psychological, and Legal Wars, as the main causes of divorce. 

As previously mentioned, I have seen much interest in so-called “gray” divorces, or marriages that end after 25 to 35 years. I personally prefer the term “salt and pepper” divorce because most often these couples are not considered elderly. With the COVID-19 delta variant causing renewed uncertainty, many older couples are once again facing exacerbated tensions. In Part I of this series, I discussed how “salt and pepper” couples approach three of the main causes of divorce—money, property, and wealth; children; and health. In Part II, I focus on loss of love/intimacy; growth; and fear. 

Loss of Love/Intimacy 

A common cause of salt and pepper divorces is a waning desire for intimacy after many years together. Midlife crises and health issues are often at the root of these break-ups. A common divorce stereotype is that older men will ask for a divorce when they already have someone else who is more exciting and willing to take care of them. For women, the divorce stereotype is that their husbands have grown older faster than they have, and they have more energy later in life. For both men and women, there could be affairs that their spouses have suspected or known about for years, but have put off confronting or seeking divorce until they have built the confidence to do so. As the COVID-19 pandemic has lasted longer than anyone anticipated, many people in marriages where one spouse is satisfied with a more celibate relationship and the other is not, may have realized that life is too short to live this way. They are propelled and compelled to seek a divorce in order to spend their remaining years either contently alone or in an intimate relationship with someone new. 

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