Q: I'm shocked that my husband of twenty years of marriage is divorcing me. Is it common for long-term marriages to end in divorce?

A: Divorce later in life is common, and many of these marriages share reasons for the break up.  The following situations are common reasons that can lead to breaking off a long-term marriage.

Having Nothing in Common 

Some couples, like the Gore's, met or married young, had children and possibly dual careers and then discover that at some point they share little in common other than their children or some core values in life. Many of these marriages are work and/or child-focused unions.  They spend time talking about work--even in shared areas--or the children's schedules and needs. 

Over time, especially as the children can drive or require less monitoring, each spouse feels more and more alone. By this time, too, their shared career interests might have diverged and changed. This scenario especially applies to what the Gore's said. The years have gone by, the couple is older, and, as they look at the diminishing years of life left, at least one of them says, "No more. If I don't get out now and forge a new life or find a different partner, I might never get out."  The other spouse sometimes realizes that he or she has sensed all along that they were "going through the motions" of being a couple.  In other couples, one of the person feels that he or she has "out-grown" the partner. 


To minimize the chance that you and your partner are drifting apart, do these tips.

1. Private Time. Carve out even half an hour with your partner to talk about something other than your children or work. You could plan a vacation, the weekend or another shared activity.

2. Affection.  Don't go more than a day without touching, kissing, hugging or using affectionate names for each other.

3. Communicate.  Leave each other sweet notes or messages. Use the Ask and Tell technique. For example, tell your partner if something is bothering you.  Ask your partner what's wrong when you sense that something is amiss. 

4. Solution-Focus. Don't play a game of He Said/She Said. Instead, move directly to developing a shared solution.

5. Sex.  Busy people often feel they want to make love, but they don't specifically include sex on their To Do list.  Make time to have sex.

6. Take vacations. Create new experiences. Long weekends can do wonders for recharging relationships.

7. Charity. Families who give time together to charitable events or recipients say they feel closer and more vital.

8. New and Old Interests. Some couples get active in religious activities. Others renew or strengthen the interests that brought them together. 

Falling in Love with Someone Else 

About a third of marriages report that--with much work--they have done more than recover; they triumphed over their previous marital unhappiness. Few couples marry with the assumption that affairs are acceptable.

Affairs are misguided attempts to resolve dissatisfaction. Some people even unconsciously let it be "discovered" that there is an affair. Other partners have "revenge affairs" to get back at their partner's affair. Regardless of the reason, affairs are one way to "check out emotionally" from the relationship. To reduce the possibility of one of you having an affair, do these suggestions--and all the ones listed above.


1. Respect and Honesty Pacts. While you are dating, discuss your values, importance of honesty, your willingness to forgive and agree to develop fail-safe emotional pacts.  If you are already married or committed, establish a pact now.

2.  Self-Control. When you feel yourself flirting, confiding or spending too much "innocent" time with someone who intrigues you and makes your heart go pitter-patter, the best strategy is to stop. Recognize that you have rationalized this connection, and see it as a big sign that you and your relationship are in need of help. Use all the exercises and seek professional counseling if you are not making any progress.

Simply "Had Enough"

Some marriages end because a spouse no longer agrees to tolerate abuse, neglect, disrespect, substance abuse, or other unacceptable behaviors. Don't wait until you cannot "take it any more."  Use all the tips above and the ones below to lessen the chance of physical, sexual, emotional, financial abuse and other serious behavior.

1. Professional Counseling. Abusive and intolerable behaviors seem like obvious things to avoid, yet many spouses find themselves excusing harmful actions. Many of us have heard a spouse say, "Well, my partner is really a very good person. This black eye was really just an accident."  If you find yourself doing this "mind-dance," go get help immediately.  ou do not need your spouse to go with you. 

Another scenario is that your partner develops serious problems later in the relationship. Often, a trauma such as a financial loss or death of a loved one can trigger maladaptive strategies to cope with emotionally painful situations.

2. Self-Pact. Renew your self-pact frequently about what you will or will not accept.  If you have trouble coming up with a list, think about what you would tell your children or best friend about what to accept or expect in a relationship.  Would you want your daughter, for example, to marry someone who acts like your partner? 

3. Intervention.  Before you bolt from your marriage, consider doing an intervention. If you don't want to do it alone, seek help from the family and friends to confront your partner.  Develop a plan such as sending your partner to a treatment facility.

Of course, no list can include every situation, but these top ones are a good place to start.  It may not be too late to work on your relationship.

LeslieBeth (LB) Wish Ed.D. MSS, both a psychologist and a licensed clinical social worker, is nationally recognized for her advice about love, life, family and career. The National Association of Social Workers has named her as One of the Top Fifty social workers in the country.  She is the subject of biographic entries in many of the Marquis Who's Who Publications, and her website www.lovevictory.com has been named as one of the top 101 websites to watch.