Couple sitting by the ocean contemplating their marriage now that they're in their 60s.

What To Do If You Realize You’re In An Unhappy Marriage At 60

Reaching the age of 60 is often seen as a time of reflection, celebration, and wisdom. It’s a moment to look back on achievements, cherish memories, and plan for the years ahead. Yet, amidst these milestones, it can also be a time when some profound realizations come to the forefront. One such revelation that many face is the unsettling awareness of an unhappy marriage at 60.

A bond that has spanned decades, weathered storms, and witnessed countless shared experiences suddenly feels less fulfilling, leading to a host of emotions ranging from confusion to heartache. Understanding the depth of this realization and the emotional whirlwind it brings is crucial to being able to move through it.

Accepting that your marital bond isn’t as joyful or satisfying as it once was is challenging, especially after so many years of togetherness.

But, it’s important that you know it’s possible to navigate this phase with grace, compassion, and hope. Whether it’s reigniting the spark, seeking personal growth, or considering new pathways, acknowledging your unhappiness is the brave first step toward a brighter horizon.

Understanding the Unique Challenges of Recognizing Marital Unhappiness Later in Life

The years have a way of adding layers to our identity, woven intricately with experiences, choices, joys, and sorrows. When one reaches their sixties, the reflection often deepens. 

The realization that you’re in an unhappy marriage at 60 is not just a statement about the present; it’s an echo of past decades.

It’s crucial to understand that such revelations aren’t sudden whims or fleeting thoughts. They are often the culmination of years of suppressed feelings, unresolved disputes, and buried aspirations. The psychology behind it is intertwined with the process of aging itself. 

As we grow older, our tolerance for pretense wanes, and our need for genuine contentment increases.

With children grown up and many responsibilities lifted, there’s a newfound space for introspection, which sometimes brings with it uneasy truths.

Society has long influenced our views on marriage, especially lasting ones.

The golden anniversary is celebrated not just as a testament to love but also as an emblem of commitment, endurance, and societal values. There’s an implied narrative that long-lasting marriages are a pinnacle of success. Hence, admitting unhappiness after decades can be daunting due to the perceived judgment, both self-inflicted and societal.

On top of all that, the onset of retirement ushers in a profound shift in daily life and relationship dynamics.

Couples, previously occupied with work and separate routines, suddenly find themselves spending a significantly larger amount of time together. For some, this proximity reveals cracks, while for others, it may widen existing ones. With work no longer acting as a distraction or buffer, the raw state of the relationship stands exposed.

Then there are the societal and personal aspirations associated with retirement – visions of peaceful togetherness, travels, and shared hobbies – that can weigh heavily if you find your marital reality distant from such dreams. The discord between the anticipated golden years and the lived experience can accentuate the feelings of unhappiness.

The intersection of retirement and relationship dynamics also brings with it financial concerns, fears about health, and the overwhelming question of ‘What next?’. For many, these concerns compound their unhappiness, making it seem not just a personal failing but a disruption of the expected trajectory of life.

The Importance of Self-Reflection

In navigating the choppy waters of an unhappy marriage at 60, introspection can act as your compass. Just as a mirror reveals our external appearance, self-reflection shines a light on our inner emotional landscape. But why is this internal gaze so crucial at this juncture?

By the age of 60, we’ve gathered a vast tapestry of experiences, memories, and lessons. However, it’s easy for many of these to be buried beneath the daily grind, unspoken expectations, and sacrifices made for family or stability. Acknowledging that you are in an unhappy marriage can be the tip of the iceberg. 

There’s a depth of emotion, often layered with instances from the past, which need understanding. It is through introspection that you can begin to decipher the nuanced feelings that accompany such a realization.

Understanding the root of your feelings is akin to locating the source of a river. It provides clarity, offers a sense of direction, and helps in making informed decisions. Are these feelings stemming from recent changes, or are they residues of past resentments? Is your unhappiness more about personal unfulfilled aspirations than about the partner? Such clarity is invaluable.

If you are wrestling with these feelings, here are some additional reflective questions to ponder:

  • When you think of your marriage’s happier times, what made them joyous? When did you first notice a shift in your feelings?
  • Are there personal dreams or passions that you set aside over the years? How much of your current feelings can be attributed to these unfulfilled aspirations versus issues within the marriage?
  • With significant life changes, like retirement, did you anticipate changes in your relationship? How has the reality differed from your expectations?
  • When was the last time you shared your deepest fears, joys, or aspirations with your spouse? Is there a lack of understanding, or has communication broken down?
  • What emotional needs do you feel are currently unmet in your marriage? Are these recent developments, or have they been consistent gaps?
  • How much of your feelings are influenced by societal expectations, peer comparisons, or the perceived notion of a ‘successful marriage’?

Engaging with these questions can be both enlightening and emotionally taxing. However, they form a crucial step in the journey toward understanding yourself and the dynamics of your marriage. Remember, self-reflection is not about assigning blame – to yourself or your spouse – but about seeking clarity and, hopefully, a path forward.

It’s also important that you know you are not alone in facing an unhappy marriage at 60. Marital unhappiness, especially later in life, is more common than most assume. You are not alone in your journey.

In fact, a study by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research found that among those who divorce, the rate for those aged 50 and above has doubled over the past two decades. This phenomenon, dubbed “gray divorce,” reveals that many older adults are re-evaluating their long-term relationships.

And, according to the Pew Research Center, in 2015, for every 1,000 married persons aged 50 and above, 10 got divorced. This is up from just 5 in 1990. These statistics indicate a significant shift in the marital landscape for this age group.

What is Contributing to the Increasing Number of Gray Divorces?

The first is life expectancy which has been steadily rising. With people living longer, couples who reach the age of 60 may have another two or even three decades together. This extended time has prompted many to reconsider what they desire for their later years. Do they want to spend it in an unhappy marriage, or do they seek a different kind of fulfillment?

Additionally, societal norms have evolved. Previous generations often bore marital unhappiness silently, bound by societal expectations or lacking the resources to contemplate alternatives. Today, with more emphasis on individual well-being and mental health, the stigma around late-life divorce or seeking marital therapy has diminished.

Today’s society values personal happiness and self-fulfillment more than ever. This focus has given many the courage to address unhappiness head-on, irrespective of age. The notion that it’s “too late” is becoming archaic as people recognize that at 60, there’s still a substantial amount of life waiting to be lived.

Steps to Address an Unhappy Marriage at 60

Regardless of your age, when you become aware that you are unhappy in your marriage, the path forward is rarely cut and dried. However, there are some steps you can take to gain clarity.

  1. Open Communication

    Marriage, regardless of the age or duration, thrives on open dialogue. At 60, you might feel that certain patterns are too ingrained to change. However, initiating a heart-to-heart conversation with your spouse can be illuminating for both of you.

    It’s essential to approach the topic without blame, focusing instead on expressing your feelings and listening to theirs. Remember, it’s not about pointing fingers, but about understanding each other’s emotional landscape at this juncture in life.
  2. Seek Professional Guidance

    There’s a misconception that therapy or coaching is only for “younger couples” or those on the brink of divorce. In truth, relationship counseling can offer valuable insights and tools, especially when facing the unique challenges of unhappiness at a later age. Whether you choose to explore relationship coaching, couples counseling, or a private couples retreat, professional guidance can help you gain clarity by providing guidance on communication, understanding each other, and reaching a resolution.
  3. Focus on Your Well-being

    As mentioned previously, it is imperative that you take time for self-reflection before diving into resolving marital issues. But it is also important that you take time to engage in activities that bring joy, whether it’s revisiting a long-lost hobby or picking up a new one.

    By nurturing your well-being, you bring a rejuvenated self to the relationship. This self-care extends to mental health as well, ensuring you’re in the right frame of mind to approach challenges constructively.
  4. Explore Your Options

    Just because you are currently experiencing an unhappy marriage, it does not mean your marriage is doomed. It is possible to rekindle your relationship. Consider revisiting places that once held special memories or trying out new experiences together. Activities like dance classes, couples’ retreats, or even reading a book together can foster connection. The goal is to recreate moments that allow you both to rediscover each other, away from the routine.

    On the other hand, it is also possible to love someone deeply yet recognize that individual happiness might lie on separate paths. If, after sincere efforts, mutual contentment remains elusive, it’s okay to consider what life might look like separately.

    Living separately can mean many things. It could mean living separate lives while still living together. It could mean living separate lives in separate homes yet remaining married. And it could mean divorce.

    As you and your spouse are exploring options, the emphasis should be on mutual respect and understanding, ensuring both of you find your respective paths to happiness and fulfillment.

Addressing an unhappy marriage at 60 requires courage, patience, and introspection. By exploring the above avenues, couples can aim for clarity, understanding, and hopefully, a renewed sense of happiness, be it together or apart.

The Silver Lining

The beauty of life is its unpredictability. While the societal narrative often dictates a linear trajectory, especially regarding happiness and relationships, the reality is far more nuanced. Every age holds the promise of transformation, new lessons, and fresh starts.

At 60, with a wealth of experiences and wisdom, one is uniquely positioned to turn challenges into opportunities. Maybe it’s a latent business idea waiting to be birthed, a community cause that ignites passion, or simply the joy of learning something new every day.

Add to that the evolving societal norms that celebrate individuality and personal growth. Age is increasingly viewed not as a limitation but as a badge of wisdom and experience.

Recognizing unhappiness, even later in life, can be the nudge needed to explore uncharted territories, both within and outside. It’s not about erasing the past, but about painting the future with the colors of passion, wisdom, and hope. Whether it’s reconnecting with an old hobby, traveling to unseen lands, or simply finding peace in solitude, the possibilities are endless. The key is to stay open, and curious, and believe that the best chapters may still be unwritten.

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.

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Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats