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  • The 27-year itch (cont)
  • By Claire Halliday
  • The Age
  • 10/06/2007 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 59 articles in 2007 )
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Her husband's initial bewilderment at the prospect of her leaving him, she says, was a case of "too little, too late". He knew she was unhappy with the lack of intimacy in the relationship, but they seemed to have drifted too far from each other.

"I remember one night, we were watching something on TV about people's sex lives - introducing spanking and things like that - and he turned to me and said, 'Is that the sort of thing you want?' He really didn't get it."

And when it comes to the issue of finding a new partner after a divorce, it seems those issues again bubble to the surface.

A few years ago, when counsellors at Relationships Australia did some research on the issues facing older people who were re-partnering, two very different fears emerged.

"Men feared taking on more financial obligations - having already raised a family - while women's concerns were around having to look after somebody again," Hollands says.

For now, Maureen is just looking after herself. "I wouldn't say that I am ecstatically happy," she says. "But I am on the way to being happy."

For many men, though, that post-divorce happiness is harder to find.

Jim Andrews, 79, still remembers the day that his wife of 35 years left the family home where they had raised three children. He'd been enjoying his retirement for almost two years, drifting between home and mates at the pub. Maybe watching the footy. Having a few beers. He had just been down the pub for a couple of hours. It was Saturday.

"When I came home, my daughter said, 'She's gone'. I didn't see it coming at all," he says.

It was the emotional shock of the situation - the idea that she just didn't love him any more - that first knocked him about. Then it was the reality of not being able to simply pick up the life he had known for so long.

"I'd never even cooked for myself," he says.

"I had to learn how to look after myself."

The embarrassment of being one of the few people in his social circle to go through a marriage breakdown followed soon after.

"It can be a hard time, the retirement years," he says. "I was hardly ever around, running my own business, and then suddenly I'm home every day. I guess it makes some people think they are sick of each other. I think it depends on how much love is there. I reckon I loved her more than she loved me. I did feel like a failure," Jim says.

According to Tony Miller, from post-divorce support group Dads In Distress, Jim's feelings are not uncommon.

"Men do worse in the older age group, after divorce," Miller says. "They have not learnt how to look after themselves independently. They have relied on the nurturing provided by their partner. When that just goes, they are lost. We certainly get a lot of guys in that age range. To a lot of guys at that age - a guy who has been married for 35 years - he doesn't know what to do. They are absolutely devastated. Their confidence has gone."

They are offered guidance through the basic legalities but, Miller says, the main issue (especially with older men) is more about keeping them alive.

"They're often in retirement and suddenly life has just gone through this massive change," Miller says. "They are left thinking, 'How can this be over? I thought we were in this until death do us part.' Suddenly, life can get really lonely."

Miller estimates that Dads In Distress sees between 400 and 500 men each week in support groups across the country.

"Out of a meeting of 10 people, you'd probably have three or four who are older. I think it is increasing. A lot of guys are coming out of the woods," he says. "Often a guy can be 10 years older than his wife, so he's 63 and wanting to slow down and she's in her 50s and wants the sea change. A lot of them really struggle to come to terms with that. Suicide is a real worry. The older guys are on our watch list all the time."

At Mensline Australia, manager Terry Melvin shares the same concerns.

"Statistics show that 65 per cent of separations are initiated by the women. Many men don't recognise the warning signs," says Melvin. "They have been together for a long time and established certain patterns of behaviour - often the man is the breadwinner and the woman has taken care of the domestic life. Older men can't fend for themselves. When the relationship ends unexpectedly, it is often more difficult than it is for women. A lot of them just think that it was going to last forever. They don't think about a life after."

WHEN she got married, with people dressed in cheesecloth tops in the heady times of the 1970s, Dianne*, 53, was never really sure if love would last forever.

"I thought it might last a very long time. I thought it might last until we get old, but I did think that setting yourself the goal of it lasting a lifetime is unrealistic," she says.

After 10 years, when she was 30, they separated for the first time. "I had started to think this isn't really the life I wanted; I got increasingly unhappy and I left," she says.

They lived apart for a year, drifted back to each other and, when she was 32, had their only child, a son.

"They say that's a critical point in any marriage. I was really tied down by motherhood. Just before he was due to start school, we broke up again," Dianne says.

Her husband, she says, was "a real romantic" who talked about perfect love that would last forever. She disagreed but agreed to try again for their son.

Now, having separated again last year, Dianne, the chief executive of a non-profit organisation, says that her son is old enough to no longer "really need me".

"It came after a more general reappraisal of my life and where it was at," she says. "I needed to be in a different place."

The shift, she says, has forced her to change as a person.

"I had always sort of relied on (my husband). If I heard a loud noise in the night, I would expect him to be the one to jump up," she says. "I suddenly found out that I wasn't frightened of the dark."

She is not sure, though, if she will ever take the current separation through to its legal conclusion.

"Just like I didn't really believe in getting married, I don't really believe in divorce. As we get older, unless we re-partner, if one of us becomes frail, it's likely that the other would step in and take control of it. But I like where I'm at right now," Dianne says.

"I do feel that I have done things over the last year that I never got a chance to do before. I needed to take more risks. Do I miss him? These days, I live alone. "Sometimes I am elated about it and sometimes it's like the Bobby McGee thing - freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. I don't want to go back. I do miss him. I don't regret it."

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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