The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) finds less of us are divorcing while we have school-aged kids, but more are divorcing after they turn 18.
The AIFS report shows the proportion of marriages ending after 20 years has more than doubled from 13 per cent in 1980 to 28 per cent in 2011.
Kids were caught up in two-thirds of the divorces in 1971 – but fewer than half today’s divorces involve children.
We’re told people are “sticking together for the kids”, but in the cold light of the kid-free day more are reassessing their choice to remain a couple.
The institute describes it as “the 20-year itch”, but one commentator on radio this morning gave a more likely explanation: “(With longer life-spans now), till death do us part means something very different than it did even 100 years ago”.
Divorce stories are often greeted with sadness in the reporting, and a good dose of ‘where are we going so wrong’, but I don’t take such a maudlin view.
If you’ve been through your parents’ splitting when you were a school-aged kid, as many people who are parents of school-aged kids now will have, you may choose to hang in there to save them the same upheaval. The fact more people are finding they can last together longer to give kids stability could be seen as a positive.
Then, when you feel you have done your very best to give your children a great start, I don’t think it is entirely unhealthy to run the emotional ruler over all aspects of your life.
Some people finding their marriage no longer fits them will choose to put in the necessary hard work to recreate the romance that brought them together with their partner 20-something years earlier.
Some will decide that they have grown and changed so much there’s just not enough in common left to keep both happy enough.
As someone who did go through a parental divorce as a school kid, I am not a huge fan of it. But I completely respect and admire people who are brave enough to act when they realise that they are not where they want to be in life, and tackle the problem honestly and head-on.
The saying “you only live once” has been boiled down into the annoying catch-phrase “YOLO”.
But it’s true, you do only live once, and if you’re not the same person you were pre-kids and in the early days of wedded bliss then you can either live out your days with this uncomfortable fact or work on one solution or another.
I don’t think the fact that more couples are splitting in mid-life is necessarily a tragedy, but I do think that there is so much stress attached to World’s Best Practice Parenting now that couples are under massive pressure while kids are zero to Uni-aged.
That increasingly heavy load must be contributing to pushing people apart.
It’s that factor I’d like examined: How can couples have the pressure turned down a bit during the child-rearing years, and how can women, in particular, help themselves to come out the other end of child rearing still feeling optimistic about their future with their partner.
Statistics still show with monotonous regularity that no matter if they work outside the home or not, women are still doing the lion’s share of domestic work at home too.
Research showing women still shoulder the majority of the burden of child-care even if they have their own job also comes around regularly.
Years of feeling let-down or burned out by the expectations of those around you to do all that drudgery (without accumulating feelings of resentment or dissatisfaction) must surely be a push-factor.
Sixty-per cent of the new “20-year itch” divorce statistics are initiated by women. “It comes a as a shock to most men”, says Professor Hayes of the AIFS.
Interestingly, women who split in mid-life are less likely to remarry, or to move in with future lovers/partners. This would also seem to imply all those years of “looking after” other people during the intense family years wears down women’s desire to keep putting other people’s needs first.
So, there is food for thought in these statistics for couples in the teeth of raising kids, working, and generally operating at full-bore now should they wish to avoid the statistical trap in however many years’ time.