Ending long marriages becoming more common

Jun 3, 2010, 2:55 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

AlTipperGoreThe separation of Al and Tipper Gore, after 40 years of marriage, came as a shock or surprise to many. There aren’t statistics on the number of long marriages that end in divorce, but a Seattle relationship expert says those kinds of unhappy endings are becoming more common.

People might have stuck with their marriages when they were in their 60s thinking they only had about five more years to live. University of Washington Sociology Professor Pepper Schwartz points out people are living longer now, and the age of 60 people have 20 or 30 more years of life ahead of them.

Then-Vice President Al Gore and wife Tipper at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. AP Photo/Stephen Savoia

She says, “They’re are asking themselves, “Do I want to stay, if there’s not much here for me?”

The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t keep track of marriage and divorce rates for specific age groups. An American Community Survey from 2008 asked people if they had divorced in the past year, and of those one out of four had been married for more than 20 years.

Schwartz, who is also a friend of the Gores, didn’t want to talk about their marriage. By most accounts, there were no affairs, no major issues, and no fights between Al and Tipper. Their friends say they just “grew apart” after four decades of marriage. Schwartz, who is also a friend of the Gores, didn’t want to talk about their marriage or separation, but she says having a relationship “fade away” is not unusual.

“Neglecting the relationship, not keeping it alive, putting that energy someplace else, and then one or both people finally say, ‘you know we’re not doing this right anymore and it just doesn’t feel right anymore,'” she says.

In part she blames technology, which intrudes on marriages because there are “so many ways to be busy.” I talked with a local couple earlier this year who go so far as to call Facebook the biggest threat to marriage in 2010.

MarriageRelationship counselors – and those who are married or have been through a marriage or two – know keeping a relationship healthy takes work.

Schwartz says if you’re neglecting your partner now, for whatever reason, the marriage won’t improve on its own. And don’t think you’ll find time for each other after the kids are gone.

“People aren’t used to having that much time alone after the kids leave,” says Schwartz. “Even the intensity of having more time together and really not knowing what to do with it can put into sharp focus that you’ve been away so long, you don’t know how to find your way back together.”

What can you do to create a long and happy marriage? It’s not a secret.

“Create a world together, not just efficient management of the family,” she says. “Do a sport together, a hobby, travel, take a class, learn to cook. You have to be playmates together. You have to do something you honestly want to talk about.”

Schedule time together when you’re not talking about the kids, or work, or bills. Have a date night. You’ve heard that advice before. And take one trip a year without the kids.

“The stuff that made you fall in love was a meeting of the minds, talking about life goals, having fun together, being sexy together,” Schwartz says. “If those things haven’t been happening in a while, then you have to make time for them.”

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Ending long marriages becoming more common