Avoiding Gray Divorce: The Dos and Don’ts of Empty-Nesting

Gray Divorce

According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate among U.S. adults ages 50 and older has roughly doubled since the 1990s. This coincides with a time in life, usually between the ages of 40 and 60 when parents begin empty nesting. But how big a part does empty-nesting actually play when it comes to gray divorce? And is there a way to protect your marriage? Check out these dos and don’ts of empty nesting.

Understanding Empty-Nesting

An empty nest is defined as a household in which the parents continue to live after the children have left home. Whether it leaves said parents feeling elated, depressed, or somewhere in between, one thing for sure is that empty-nesting will impact the marriage. And it’s not uncommon for one or both spouses to feel that:

  • They have grown apart
  • They are different people than they used to be
  • There are long-standing issues that can now bubble to the surface
  • They want different things in life

It’s not necessarily empty-nesting that causes these feelings, rather it creates an environment where it’s more likely for one or both spouses to realize them. After all, when you’re in the throes of raising kids, it’s easy to put yourself and your relationship aside to focus on parenting. What’s more, with time and life experience, you’re each bound to change at least somewhat from who you were when you first married.

Empty-Nesting Tips

But a gray divorce, the term for couples divorcing when they are over the age of 50, certainly isn’t an inevitability. And if fact, there are some tips to help you avoid it including:


  • Process your feelings – It’s OK to feel sad (or relieved) that your children are out of the house and don’t feel like you have to cover it up. Even if you feel differently about it than your spouse. You both have the right to your feelings without judgment so acknowledge them and take the time to process them fully. It’s a big change!
  • Try to reconnect as a couple – Start making a point to get to know each other again. Invite your spouse to join in your hobbies and vice versa, plan date nights, share a meal together daily, watch each other’s favorite TV shows; basically, spend quality time just the two of you. 
  • Remember the small things – Somethings it’s the small things that can do the most to renew intimacy. Greet each other or say goodbye with a hug and/or a kiss, ask each other about the day, do small gestures that show you’re paying attention, and, above all, treat each other with respect.
  • Communicate about the future – Don’t just assume your spouse understands how you’ve changed or that you want different things in life now. As you begin empty-nesting, it’s the perfect time to talk about each of your needs and hopes for the future, openly and honestly.
  • Try counseling – If there are issues that have been simmering over the years, consider counseling to help you work through them. After years of buried frustrations and lack of communication, it may take an objective third party to truly help you move forward.


  • Make knee-jerk decisions – It’s an emotional time and as you’re adjusting to the changes an empty nest brings, it’s best not to rush decisions. Yes, your marriage may have some challenges, but really think things through before you do something you can’t take back.
  • Rely on someone else to define you – Often parents define themselves as Jane’s dad or John’s mom then when the children leave, they feel adrift looking for someone else to fill that void. It’s unfair to look to a spouse for that when you and you alone are responsible for your purpose and happiness.
  • Wait for the issue to resolve itself – Without the children to distract your focus, there’s no reason to avoid the issues in your marriage. If they haven’t resolved on their own as of yet, don’t expect them to as time goes on. Yes, it’s hard and it’s scary, but so is spending the rest of your life in an unhappy marriage. Now is the time to really consider how you plan to take action.

If you and your spouse do decide to go your separate ways, mediation is an alternative to the gray divorce process that is easier, quicker, and less expensive than court litigation. For more information, and to learn about the virtual mediation services we offer, contact our experienced team today!

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