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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


It is a shock for us when we hear that one of our friends is getting a divorce after being married for 30 or more years.  After all these years of marriage, we wonder, "Why now?"

Unfortunately, this is more common than we thought. It has been reported that the second largest divorce rate is among those who had recently retired and who have been married for 30 to 35 years.  We would think that after being married for so long, surely, they could have done something to save their marriage. What went wrong and why after retirement?

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Before we explore the reasons for the high divorce rate, we need to say that some couples find the empty nest and retirement years the best times in their relationship. Some of the reasons: they now have time to renew their friendship and continue to develop their relationship. They can go on dates and do some fun activities such as traveling, recreational activities, and fulfilling some dream that has been on the back burner.

Back to the question, "Why is the divorce rate so high during the empty nest and retirement years?"

It has been reported that the second
largest divorce rate is among those
who had recently retired and who have
been married for 30 to 35 years.

Lack of investment: Where we invested our time and energy in our relationship before retirement is a contributing factor for the high divorce rate. If we spent our time and energy on our career and children and little on developing our relationship with our partner, we will discover that our partner is like a stranger. Sometimes our career and children were used as "escapes" from dealing with the difficult problems in our relationship. It is as though we were living as "married singles,"  with parallel lives to avoid facing difficult issues with each other. Unfortunately, when we retire these unresolved issues will be staring us in the face.

Unresolved issues: If we have not spent much time in communication with our partner, we will find communication awkward.  What do we talk about? Since we did not deal with "hot topics," we have created a huge gap in our relationship. Now we are afraid to talk to each other - afraid that we will touch on one of those "hot topics." And since the "hot topics" weren't confronted, resentments were formed. Some resentments were a result of unfulfilled needs and requests. So in retirement, these resentments will become obvious.

The next series of articles will be very important because we will continue exploring the causes of this high divorce rate and what we can do now in order not to be one of those divorce statistics.

Additionally, for those of us who are already retired and find ourselves in an unsatisfying relationship, we will explore ways to make it better.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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