“What do you think about divorce at mid-life or in peri-menopause?” she asked me. I think she was wondering if I worried about hormones influencing women’s decisions in these stages of life. Could a woman’s estrogen or Sex Surge hormones cause her to make a bad decision?
It’s an important question. And in this post I am referring to marriages and partnerships of just two people- no affairs, no multiple partners (which are fine! just not what I’m talking about here!). Partnerships and divorces that extend beyond monogamy are more complicated and therefore another branch on the same tree.
All that said, I think divorce at mid-life is good.
That may sound like a blanket statement (and perhaps it is) but there is a lot of detail behind it.
[As an aside: I do think divorce is great. But it’s also awful. Sometimes hellish. Is divorce fun? No. But it is good in the sense of ‘useful?’ Yes.]
First, as a woman and a feminist, I think women being able to choose to whom and when we will be partnered (in whatever way that works for us and our partner/s) is DOPE. I think it’s the shit. I think it’s all that and a bag of chips. Because if we can’t choose our partnerships, then we’re in real trouble and our life is not our own.
That said, I do think it’s terribly sad when a marriage ends. But there are so many reasons for marriages to end; good, valid reasons. And divorce honors those reasons.
We know that humans are capable of many types of intimate relationships. Society heavily pressures all people towards lifelong monogamy (think of all the Disney movies and teen magazines and love songs), and so we hope for that. But monogamy isn’t for everyone, AND our partnership needs and desires change over time, AND our sexuality can change over time, AND humans are probably meant for 2-3 long-term intimate relationships over a lifetime (contrary to the monogamy-until-death model).
I strongly believe that you have to do your own inner work if you are considering divorce. Partnership can bring up our emotional wounds (we also call this ‘our shit’) better than anything else. And sometimes divorce thinking stems from wounded places rather than emotional honesty, gathering good data about our relationship, and personal growth. But sometimes it’s also super clear, in a matter of a few hours or days, that divorce is the right answer.
Also: you don’t need to ponder or do inner work if your partner is abusing you in any way, shape, or form. You get a pass on all of the other issues surrounding divorce because you deserve safety above all else.
In my practice I see a lot of things leading to divorce, but they tend to circle around these areas:
- male depression and a refusal to address it (or sometimes even to acknowledge it)
- growth by one partner that is not matched by the other (and a refusal to explore growth)
- clarity either from the Sex Surge or the reduced estrogen of peri-menopause that This Thing Is Over
- trying and trying and trying and realizing it isn’t going to change (especially in terms of women feeling abandoned in their marriage)
My husband and I have walked up to the edge of the ‘cliff of divorce’ on two occasions- I know what that feels and looks like. During the Surge I contemplated divorce just so I could feel less shame and guilt about getting my sexual needs met. For a lot of reasons we didn’t. But that is just our story. I still believe divorce can be a blessing and a sacrament.
There are times when I worry that people are seeking divorces because of their hormones- that’s why knowing what happens at peri-menopause and with the Sex Surge is so important. If we know what our hormones are doing to our brain’s software, we can balance it out with logic and other tools. But most of the women I know, and most of the women who read this newsletter, take great pains to make sure they aren’t being influenced by anything or anyone but themselves and their values. Most women I’ve dealt with don’t take divorce lightly.
More often than not, when I hear from women getting divorced, or watch it happen on Facebook or other social media, there is a sense of release and clarity and authenticity to it all. No, it’s not fun, but it’s right and it’s good. For many women, the divorce – the decision, the moving out, the new space -brings them everything they have felt and believed about themselves for some time. They finally know that they are good, that they deserve space, that they are becoming someone else and they have the space to live it out.
In the end, I believe that we all have our own work to do when it comes to relationships and contemplating divorce. We have to see if the issue is us, or if the issue can be resolved; we have to try everything we can so we know, once we make the decision, that we’ve done our best with it. But I do believe divorce is good. And I think mid-life is a fine time to sort through it all and step authentically into the next phase of life.