Why men leave their wives after 30 years of marriage

The breakdown of a marriage at any stage of life is heartbreaking.

Whether you are the one who decides to leave, or the one who has been left blindsided by your partner’s decision to go, the pain and confusion from the fallout can feel unbearable.

Perhaps one of the most palpable questions that can almost drive you crazy is why? Why does a man after 30 years of marriage decide to leave his wife?

In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common reasons a marriage can end in later life.

Is it common to divorce after 30 years?

Whilst most divorces happen early on (after around 4 years of marriage) getting divorced later in life is becoming increasingly common.

In fact, a 2017 study from Pew Research Center shows that divorce for over 50’s has doubled since 1990. Meanwhile, it’s an even bleaker picture for people over the age of 65, with the divorce rate for this age group tripling since 1990.

Whilst it’s more common for older people who have remarried to get another divorce, amongst these figures are also what is sometimes referred to as “gray divorces”.

These are older couples in long-term marriages, who may have been together for 25, 30, or even 40 years.

Out of the adults 50 and over who divorced during this time period, one-third of them had been in their prior marriage for 30 years or more. One in eight had been married for over 40 years.

According to a wave of new research, splitting up after the age of 50 can be particularly detrimental to both your financial and emotional wellbeing, far more than divorcing when you’re younger.

So why do couples divorce after 30 years of marriage?

Why do marriages break up after 30 years? 12 reasons men leave their wives after so long

1) Midlife crisis

It’s a cliche I know, but more than half of adults over the age of 50 claims to have gone through a midlife crisis.

There is certainly evidence of people reporting a decline in life satisfaction when they hit middle age. For example, surveys have singled out ages 45 to 54 as some of our gloomiest.

But what do we even mean by a mid-life crisis? The stereotype is of the aging man who goes out, buys a sports car, and pursues women half his age.

The term mid-life crisis was coined by psychoanalyst Elliot Jaques, who saw this period of life as one where we reflect on and struggle with our own mortality.

A midlife crisis tends to create conflict between how someone perceives themselves and their lives and how they wish life were.

It is often characterized by a desire to change your identity as a consequence.

A man who is going through a midlife crisis may:

  • Feel unfulfilled
  • Feel nostalgic about the past
  • Feel jealous of people he thinks has a better life
  • Feel bored or as though his life is meaningless
  • Be more impulsive or rash in his actions
  • Be more dramatic in his behavior or appearance
  • Be drawn to having an affair

Of course, happiness is ultimately internal. As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl stated, the  “last of the human freedoms [is] to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

But a midlife crisis can lead us to believe that happiness is an external event, yet to be discovered, that lives outside of ourselves.

That’s why plenty of older men may experience a midlife crisis that causes them to leave a marriage, even after 30 years or more.

2) Sexless marriage

Differences in libidos can create challenges at any stage of a marriage, with many couples experiencing mix-matched sex drives.

Although it’s not unusual for sex within a marriage to change over the years, people still have sexual needs at all ages. Sexual desire can also change at a different rate between men and women.

Studies have more widely reported that a decline in sexual interest is more common as women age, compared to men. Some of this may be as estrogen levels drop, reducing the libido.

If one partner still has a strong sexual appetite and the other doesn’t it can create problems.

Whilst sex in a relationship certainly isn’t everything, a lack of sex in some marriages can lead to less intimacy too. It can also create feelings of resentment which bubble under the surface.

According to a survey, over a quarter of relationships are sexless, and that rises to 36% for the over 50s, and 47% of those aged 60 and over.

Whilst there aren’t any statistics available on how many marriages end because of a lack of sex, for some partnerships it can certainly be a contributing factor in the demise of the relationship.

3) Falling out of love

Even the most passionate and loving of couples can find themselves falling out of love.

Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., who is the co-founder of a research lab that focuses on relationships and social psychology says the reality is that the way couples experience long-term love is different.

“Research has shown that couples in stable relationships tend to perceive that their love is growing over time. People who experience problems, break up, or are heading toward breaking up perceive their love as declining over time.”

There are many stages to a marriage, and couples can fall at any of the potential hurdles as love shifts and takes on new forms in the relationship.

Some marriages of over 30 years can turn into friendships and others into relationships of convenience. This may even work for some people if it’s a situation that suits both.

But as the spark dies (especially as we all continue to live much longer) many men are spurred on to rediscover that lost passionate love elsewhere.

Whilst it is possible to rekindle a marriage even after you have fallen out of love, both partners need to be invested in doing it.

4) Feeling unappreciated

It can happen in any long-term relationship that spouses forget to or neglect to show each other appreciation.

We become used to roles in a partnership that lead us to take one another for granted.

According to research, marriages where husbands who do not feel appreciated are twice as likely to break down.

“Men who didn’t feel affirmed by their wives were twice as likely to divorce as those who did. The same effect didn’t hold true for women.”

Researchers suggest this could be “because women are more likely to receive such affirmations from others — a hug from a friend or a compliment from a stranger in line at the deli.” Meanwhile, “Men don’t get it from other people in their lives so they especially need it from their female partners or wives”.

It suggests that men are more likely to suffer if they feel they are underappreciated or disrespected by their wives or children.

5) Growing apart

Many couples who have been together a long time, let alone 30 years of marriage, can find they have fallen into a relationship rut.

After decades of marriage, you are bound to change as people. Sometimes couples are able to grow together, but sometimes they inevitably grow apart.

Particularly if you meet at a young age, you may discover at some point that you have little in common anymore.

Even if you have always had different interests, the things that once bound you together, after 30 years of being married, may no longer stand.

Your values and your goals will change as you age, and the things you wanted 30 years ago may not be the same things you want now.

You may have had a shared vision for life when you first got married, but for one or both of you, that vision could have shifted to leave you wanting different things.

Spending less time together, a lack of any physical touch, feeling lonely, and bickering over the little things but avoiding difficult talks are some of the signs that you may have grown apart from your partner.

6) A lack of emotional connection

Marriage relies on intimacy, it is the silent cement that often underpins a deeper connection and holds it together.

A man may turn around after 30 or more years of marriage and say he wants a divorce when he has already emotionally checked out of the relationship.

This explains a common experience for many women who find their husband, seemingly out of nowhere, announces he wants a divorce, suddenly turning cold overnight.

It can come as a shock to an unsuspecting spouse but may have been bubbling under the surface for a while.

A widening gap in emotional intimacy can mount over the years and be made worse by a number of factors like stress, low self-esteem, rejection, resentment, or a lack of physical intimacy.

When an emotional connection fades in a marriage for a man he might start to withdraw. Either partner can feel increasingly insecure or unloved.

As a consequence, the relationships may start to have increasingly poor communication.

You may feel like the trust is gone, that there are secrets in your marriage or that your spouse has hidden emotions.

If you have stopped sharing your feelings with one another, it could be an indication that your emotional connection is struggling.

7) An affair or meeting someone else

There are two types of affairs, and both can be equally damaging to a marriage.

Not all infidelity is a physical relationship, and an emotional affair can be just as disruptive.

Cheating never “just happens” and there are always a series of actions (no matter how naively taken) that lead there.

What makes a man leave his wife for another woman? There are of course plenty of reasons to cheat.

Some people do so because they feel bored, lonely, or dissatisfied in their current relationship. Some men cheat because they are looking to get unfulfilled sexual needs met. Whilst others may simply cheat because the opportunity presents itself and they decide to take it.

According to the American Psychological Association infidelity is reported to be responsible for 20-40% of divorces.

Whilst both men and women cheat, it seems to be the case that married men are more likely to have affairs (20% of men compared to 13% of women).

The stats also show this gap gets worse as men and women age.

The infidelity rate among men in their 70s is the highest (26%) and stays high among men aged 80 and older (24%).

The reality is that after 30 years of marriage the “newness” is well and truly gone. After so long together it’s natural that the excitement wears off.

A key component in desire is novelty, which is why an illicit affair can feel so thrilling.

If a man has an affair after being married to his wife for 30 years, the new woman may bring new compelling aspects to his life for him to share and explore with her. Whether that lasts once the shine has worn off is another matter.

8) The kids have left home

Empty nest syndrome can impact both men and women in a marriage.

There is evidence that marital satisfaction actually improves when children finally take their leave, and it’s a time that can be enjoyed by parents.

But that isn’t always the case. During the childrearing years, plenty of couples come together with a strong common goal of raising the kids.

When it’s time for those children to fly the nest, it can change the dynamic in the marriage and leave a void.

For some marriages, the children have been the glue that held the relationship together as they focused on the daily activities associated with caring for them.

Once children leave the family home, some men may come to the realization that the marriage has changed and they no longer want to be in it.

Or a man may have felt compelled to stay in his marriage, despite its problems, for the sake of the children.

9) Imagining the grass in greener elsewhere

We tend to like novelty. Many of us engage in daydreams about how life could be. But rather unsurprisingly that imagined life is also deeply steeped in fantasy.

It becomes an escapism from the unpleasant realities of our own daily lives.

But when we start to focus on the grass being greener elsewhere, we can lose sight of what we already have in front of us. This may be particularly the case when dealing with a long term marriage that you have started to take for granted.

Men who leave their wives after 30 years of marriage may well be willing to take a chance that the grass is in fact greener on the other side of the fence.

Of course, some may definitely find themselves happier after leaving their marriage, but research has also found plenty of downsides which could suggest a different picture too.

An article in the LA Times for example pointed out some grim statistics for couples who split up after the age of 50.

In particular, it cited a 2009 paper which showed recently separated or divorced adults have higher resting blood pressure. Meanwhile, another study said that: “divorce led to considerable weight gain over time, especially in men.”

As well as health determinants, there are also emotional ones too, with higher levels of depression found in people who have gone through a divorce later in life, perhaps notably, even higher than those whose other half died.

Lastly, the financial side of so-called grey divorce is also particularly hard on older men, who will find their standard of living drop by 21% (compared to younger men whose incomes are only negligibly affected.

10) Wanting freedom

One of the most commonly given reasons for a partner to give for a split is wanting their freedom.

This freedom may be to pursue one’s own interests or experience a new type of independence for the latter years of their life.

There may come a point where a man becomes tired of thinking as a “we” and wants to act as an “I” again.

Marriages require compromise, everybody knows that, and according to social science writer, Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D., MPP, the reality is that relationships do, to a certain extent, require relinquishing freedom.

“Relationships are inherently constraining. In our dreams, we could have it all including complete safety and complete freedom within a partnership. You could do whatever you wanted always and your partner would always be there for you. In reality, that’s obviously absurd and unfair, so don’t complain. Don’t say “You know, I’m feeling constrained by this relationship.” Of course, you do. If you want a relationship, expect some constraints. In any intimate relationship, you’ll have to mind your elbows, tucking them in to make room for your partner’s freedom, and extending them where you can afford freedom. The more realistic you are about relationships, the more freedom you can gain fairly and honestly.”

After many years of marriage, one partner may feel unprepared to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of their relationship any longer.

11) Retirement

Plenty of people spend their entire working lives looking forward to retirement. It is often seen as a time for leisurely pursuits, less stress, and greater happiness.

But it certainly isn’t always the case. Some of the downsides of retirement can be a loss of identity, and a change in routine that even leads to depression.

Retirement often has an unexpected impact on relationships too. Whilst it’s meant to signal the end of certain life stresses, it can create many more.

Whereas at one time when you were in full-time employment, you may have spent limited time together, all of a sudden, retired couples are thrown together for a lot longer.

Without separate interests to focus on or some healthy space, this can mean way more time spent in each other’s company than you would like.

Retirement doesn’t always live up to expectations, which can cause a certain amount of disillusionment or even frustration that can end up being taken out on a partner.

Even if only one partner retires, this too can be problematic, with research showing that retired husbands are least satisfied if their wives remain employed and had more say in decisions prior to the husband’s retirement.

In short, retirement can change the balance in a long term marriage.

12) Longer life spans

Our life spans are increasing and baby boomers are experiencing better health into later life than previous generations.

For many of us, life no longer begins at 40, it begins at 50 or 60. The golden years for plenty of people are a time for expansion and embracing a new lease of life.

Whereas your grandparents may have made the decision to stay together for their remaining years, the prospect of a long life ahead can mean more people are making the choice to instead divorce.

According to statistics a man aged 65 today could expect to live until he is 84. Those additional 19 years are substantial.

And around one in every four 65-year-olds can expect to live past 90 years of age (with one out of ten living until 95).

With this awareness, and as divorce becomes far more socially acceptable, some men decide that they cannot stay in an unhappy marriage any longer.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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