Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
College for Community Health
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
W. Matthew Shurts
Later-Life divorce, occurring at age 50 or older, also referred to as gray divorce, has become increasingly common as the population ages (Brown & Lin, 2012; 2022). With gray divorce comes experiences that may differ from those faced by younger divorcees. The research demonstrates that divorce in laterlife brings unique challenges, especially for those who divorce after a long-term marriage (20 or more years, Sommerville, 2017). Few researchers have examined divorce in later life after a long-term marriage, and fewer yet when combined with a particular generational cohort. Additionally, there has been a lack of research exploring positive experiences and the potential for personal growth through a later-life divorce transition. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to fill the gap and illuminate the self-reported personal growth experiences of baby boomer women who divorced over age 50, after a lengthy marriage.
In this qualitative interview study, I employed two rounds of semi-structured interviews to explore the participants’ journeys as they transitioned out of their marriages. Divorce did not begin when the legal documents were signed (i.e., legal divorce). It was a complicated process for this group of women as they navigated the various types of divorce: emotional, financial, psychological, physical, and social. Highlighted are challenges and changes participants experienced along the way. Data analysis revealed two overarching themes: Getting “There” and Reconceptualizing the Self, which emphasize participants’ experiences of personal growth through their divorce transitions.
From the women’s narratives, getting a divorce after a long-term marriage emerged as a process that often began years prior to legal divorce. Personal growth was also a process that began anytime throughout the divorce transition from contemplation through postdivorce. Most of the women realized the importance of having a “positive attitude” and being “forward thinking” early in their journey. Without being positive and working through issues, they would have remained stuck in the past and unable to move forward. Their positive attitude set the stage for the ensuing growth.
While this life-changing transition had the potential to be psychologically, emotionally, and financially draining, it also held tremendous potential for growth for those involved. Having a positive mindset, acceptance, purpose, authentic connections, and solid support system appeared as instrumental to the baby-boomer women’s personal growth through their divorce transition. The women experienced growth in all domains of life. Participants said they were finally able to be their “authentic self,” they became who they were “meant to be,” and they had a newfound “sense of freedom,” and “a lightness of being.”
Mental health counselors can prepare for the rise in later-life divorce by viewing divorce after decades of marriage as a complicated process that unfolds uniquely for each client. Counselors can work towards understanding the nuances of the cultural environment in which baby boomer women were raised and can explore the meaning this holds for them. Counselor educators can provide coursework on various cohort cultures, stereotypes of aging, divorce in later life, and how to promote personal growth through later-life transitions. Further implications for counseling practices and directions for future research are discussed in Chapter 5.
McHale, Lisa Silva, "Women Baby Boomers’ Experiences of Personal Growth Through Later-Life Divorce After a Long-Term Marriage" (2023). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 1351.