Late divorces harder to adjust to

AFTER 33 years of marriage, Martha McDowell's husband told her he wanted a divorce. He provided few reasons. They were trivial, and to her did not justify ending their union.

“He just didn't want to be married anymore,” says McDowell, now 60. “But he was my best friend, and I expected to spend the rest of my life with him.”

That was four years ago. Today, McDowell is a new woman. She is a grandmother and works for an arts college, a job she loves.

“My commitment to forgive was the most important thing for me,” she said. “I didn't want to become bitter and I didn't want my bitterness to poison my children.”

Couples divorce every day yet it is surprising when a marriage of more than 30 years ends.

Sociologists agree that most people who have been married for a long time are happy nevertheless, some couples still drift.

Marriages of 40 years or more account for 4% of divorces, according to Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociology professor who studies families.

It jumps to 8% for marriages of 30-39 years, likely because these couples are closer to life's empty nest stage, when children are grown and out of the house.

Late-life marriages dissolve for the same reasons any marriage does. Sometimes, there is abuse. Or infidelity. More often, the causes are simpler: they grow apart, develop different goals, or no longer feel fulfilled.

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