I don’t recall the source of the piece of statistics: The fastest-growing age group applying for divorces in Bangalore courts are those who had been married for 17 years or more. We are not talking about the absolute numbers but the fastest-growing segment. That means compared to a decade back, the percentage of people applying for divorces is the highest in those who have been married for longer than 17 years.
Melinda and Bill Gates’ recently announced divorce brought the focus back on the “Grey Divorces’, couples who are divorcing at an older age.
In the Indian context, where a marriage is held sacred and for life, older couples getting divorced initially raised a lot of eyebrows. Even today, it is not very common but it is getting slowly accepted. What makes a couple married for so long go in for the divorce?
From my experience of dealing with a few, I can say that there are a number of reasons for this. Generally speaking, both the partners are well educated and are more aware of the world. They are not afraid of leading a life alone. A marriage suddenly does not break down in the 17th year or so. Often the marriage would have died long ago but the burial is happening now.
One of the things that glue a marriage is children. For the sake of children and not wanting to give them a broken home, many couples hold on to marriage even though there is nothing in it for them. Their dealing with each other has turned purely transactional. The romance died a long time back, the passion got cremated with the birth of children. Sex is a distant vague memory. Essentially two paying guests sharing a common space.
By the time the marriage is 17 years or older, the children have grown up and don’t need the parents on a 24-hour basis and have either moved out to a college hostel or are in a better position to understand if the parents decide to part. In our country, the 10th class and the 12th class are the markers in a couple’s marriage. If the children need them less and they were the reason to hold on to the marriage, now the adhesive has melted and the couple seriously considers moving out.
Sometimes but not in all cases, one of the partners is already involved in another relationship and wants to make that official. The empty nest is the go signal they were waiting for. With wider exposure, society grudgingly accepting single women, women also do initiate the divorce. They no longer feel like putting up the pretence of being married for the sake of society. Some of them are eagerly looking forward to peeling off the mask. If the woman is financially independent and her parental family supports her the decision is easier for her. If there has been abuse in the marriage, this point in time really spurs their decision.
The downside is that often one of the partners is caught off-guard. They would not have expected this to happen although they had an inkling it might. The one not prepared really goes through a lot of shocks and takes a lot of time adjusting to the new reality.
Whether we like it or not, the trend is likely to continue and grow with time.