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Florence Williams was 50 when her husband told her he wanted a divorce. They’d been together for 32 years, and for Williams, the breakup was devastating. “I’d never been an adult without him,” recalls the Washington, D.C., science writer.
While getting dumped is always painful, it can be particularly wrenching in your 50s, experts say. “When you’re younger, you are surrounded by people getting together and breaking up,” says Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles and the author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. But long-settled friends and colleagues don’t always know how to support a peer whose relationship gets yanked out from under them. “They’re, like, ‘Oh, you’ll find someone else,’ ” Gottlieb observes. “They just don’t understand the pain and the uncertainty.”
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“The 50s are a huge marker,” adds Jane Greer, a New York City–based marriage and family therapist and the author of How Could You Do This to Me? Learning to Trust After Betrayal. “Suddenly you’re at the point in your life where you take stock, and life is either working the way you’d imagined … or it’s not.”
Brett Bender, an artist in Philadelphia whose boyfriend of two decades left him when he was 57, agrees: “You think this is your person and you will grow old together. And then you don’t.”
Breakups By the Numbers
- 57% of divorced or widowed people remarry
- 25% of people in their 50s have been married at least twice
- 22% more people ages 55 to 64 remarry today than in 1960
More at stake in older heartbreak
While people in their 50s are more vulnerable to heartbreak than one might expect, they may also be more resourceful in their healing. Marjorie, an IT professional in New York City who asked to be identified by her first name only, has been divorced twice—once at 25 and once at 54. The first time, Marjorie did everything you’d expect a heartbroken 25-year-old to do. “I bought a red car. I slept around. I drank,” she remembers.