Separation in later life
Relationships can break down at any stage in a person's life. MensLine
Australia receives around 3000 calls per year from men over the age of 55, many
of whom are going through separation and divorce. Losing a relationship is a
very painful experience at any age, but several factors can intensify the
distress when separation occurs in later life. Older men may feel pessimistic
about the possibility of forming a new relationship. They may also feel
overwhelmed at the prospect of having to make a 'new start' late in their lives.
To cope successfully with late life separation, it is critical to seek out help
and support from professionals, friends and family. Trying to 'tough it out' on
your own places you at great risk of depression and other mental and physical
Even the end of a bad relationship is a loss. It's not only about the loss of
that person and their company. There may be social losses (friends you shared
who you lose after separation), financial losses, and, no less importantly, the
loss of ideas: ideas about who you are and your place in the world, and
how you thought your life was going to look as you grew old.
response to loss is grief. Everybody experiences grief differently, but some of
the things we know about grief are that:
- Everyone grieves differently. There is no way 'right way' to grieve and no
time at which you 'should have gotten over it by now'.
- It is far better to accept the pain of grieving than to deny it or repress
- Sharing your emotions with friends, family, or a counsellor can lessen the
- Grief is a healing process. It does get better with time, although there may
be times when it seems like it never will.
Managing loss is a process of allowing the feelings of sadness to come and
go, respecting the fact that these feelings are normal and healthy. Avoid
unhealthy coping strategies such as drinking or playing the pokies to numb the
pain. It may make you feel better in the short term, but the longer term effects
are not worth it.
Staying socially active
Social isolation is a risk for all older people. It is an even greater risk
for separated older men. Many men rely on their wives to be the social
'diary-keeper'; she is the one who makes the 'keeping in touch' phone calls and
organises get-togethers. After separation you need to take up some of the slack
yourself. Make a list of all your friends and regularly check in to see who you
haven't spoken to in a while.
You may also need to make new social contacts,
especially if the separation has resulted in your losing contact with some of
the friends you and your ex-wife used to share. Here are some suggestions:
- Join a Men's Shed.
- Join a club, book group, choir or church.
- Use the internet. There are online communities for just about every possible
interest, and while it's not quite the same as face-to-face contact, it can
help. If you're feeling game, you could even try internet dating. Many seniors
- Try a men's group or men's gathering. The MensLine Australia website
regularly promotes men's gatherings and other events on its News and Events page.
Be gentle on yourself though. Social contact is important, but you don't need
to have a packed out social calendar. It can be as simple as getting in touch
with one friend you haven't seen in a while.
Tips for positive living
In the early stages after separation, it can be very difficult to think
positively about your situation. The losses and the pain are real and need to be
acknowledged. However, being as positive as you can be in your thinking and life
choices will allow you to recover much more quickly and build a strong, healthy
- Look after yourself physically: eat healthily and exercise regularly.
Exercise produces hormones that lift mood and combat depression.
- Watch your thinking. Try to replace pessimistic thoughts with more positive
- Focus on what you have rather than what you have lost. As long as
you are alive, what you have still far outweighs what you don't.
- Don't let your lifestyle stagnate: get out and do something you haven't done
before. Take a class in something. Visit the museum or the art gallery.
- Don't get drawn into power struggles or emotional wars with your ex.
Remember, if you are having a hard time dealing with a separation, or are
concerned about your relationship, MensLine Australia is available 24-hours a
day, seven days a week throughout Australia.
Call 1300 78 99 78.
© 2008 MensLine Australia
Author: Pierz Newton-John