It’s shocking. After 25 years of marriage, a couple decides to get a divorce. From the outside looking in, things could not be any stranger. The pressures of establishing a career have subsided, the kids have grown-up (and hopefully moved out), and a desired lifestyle has been obtained. After all, surely this couple has been though just about everything and survived it. Or have they?
It is precisely when a lack of distractions from career, kids, schools, and community subsides that underlying long-term issues rise to the surface. The defense mechanism of denial no longer works. Instead what is revealed is prolonged hurt, deep seeded resentment, a lack of forgiveness, virtually no real communication, and zero intimacy.
A marriage falling apart after such a long duration isn’t about a lack of commitment. Rather, the dedication to staying together is what allowed the marriage to last as long as it did. Yet society vilifies the desolation. Instead of understanding and compassion for the long suffering, insensitive remarks are made about the character of those who decide to divorce.
Here are some reasons marriages fall apart after 25 years:
- Undiagnosed mental illness. In an effort to avoid a label, many people refuse to seek treatment for a variety of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, or even the more serious illnesses of schizophrenia and dementia. Some of these appear later in life and are not present early in the marriage. These disorders can vary in concentration and levels, there can be multiple co-occurring issues, and they can dramatically and negatively affect the perception of life and relationships. There is only so much a married person can take from a spouse with an undiagnosed mental illness who refuses to seek help.
- Personality disorders. Most couples will agree that their personalities are different and even clash. But a spouse with a personality disorder brings a level of intensity, extremism, and trauma that is far more significant than a personality difference. Within the definition of a personality disorder is the inability to accurately perceive reality, history of impulsive or controlling behavior, and a trail of interpersonal relational problems. Even with counseling, the effects of a personality disorder on a spouse can generate levels of anxiety and depression that are dysfunctional and can contribute greatly to their deteriorating health.
- Abusive behaviors. There are seven ways a person can be abused: mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually, financially, verbally, and spiritually. Just because a person doesn’t have bruises, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering from abusive behaviors. In many cases, the abuse is done in secret with very few people aware of the dysfunction. While ideally this won’t be tolerated for a long period of time, the reality is that many people need a combination of awareness, knowledge, time, energy, support, and courage to finally walk away.
- Hidden addiction. Equally frustrating is a hidden addiction. There are many types of addictive substances such as alcohol, drugs (prescription and illegal), gambling, sex, shopping, smoking, stealing, food, video games, work, exercise, hoarding, and cutting. At some point, a spouse stops enabling the addiction, communicates hope for recovery, sets new standards, and erects boundaries. But if the partner does not respond positively, the spouse finds they can no longer watch someone they love destroy both lives.
- Unresolved major issues. There is a wide variety of possibilities in this category including unprocessed trauma from an accident, repeated infidelity from a workaholic, continued grieving over the loss of a child, escalated health issues due to mistreatment, and misguided coping mechanism such as hoarding. At some point a spouse has said everything and it becomes too painful to watch the self-destruction knowing that it could be avoided with help.
- Lack of growth. Personal growth is not meant to stop with the completion of schooling; rather it should be an ongoing journey that doesn’t seize until death. However, some people arrogantly believe that they have “arrived” and therefore do not need to continue this process either personally or professionally. For the spouse who continues to develop and change, watching the stagnation of their partner is painful. This frequently manifests in different goals, interests, retirement plans, and unfortunately an escalation in controlling behaviors designed to hold back the growing spouse.
When one spouse is willing to work on these issues and the other is not, there are little options. Some chose to live parallel lives with no further connection, others live in separate states and residences, and still others pick divorce. A person cannot be forced into realization or change, they must want it, make a decision to move in a healthy manner, and then follow through.