Identity crisis: Tackling the challenge of divorce in midlife

Kimberly Rothman on divorce in later life and how to offer support when a relationship ends.
divorce after 40 - identity crisis
Many older women experience an identity crisis after the breakdown of a marriage.

My best friend Emma was 48 and, so she thought, happily married when her husband of 27 years, Dan, announced he wanted a divorce.

Emma coped admirably with the practicalities of divorce, she grieved for the loss of her marriage and accepted that life had to get back on track. She went back to work and even started socialising again but it became obvious there was something missing… and it wasn’t Dan.

Looking back at it now, I can see that Emma was struggling with her identity. Who was she now that she wasn’t a wife? Who was Emma really? Following her divorce, she didn’t know.

Identity crisis after divorce

It’s easy to lose yourself in a marriage. Before we tie the knot, we’re individuals with our own personal hopes and dreams; once we enter into wedded bliss, we strive to move forward together. That union of husband and wife can be wonderful but it can also be a sacrifice; it’s far too easy to stop growing as individuals and rely on each other to be everything. The ‘me’ becomes ‘we’, which is all well and good until one half of the partnership is torn away.

Emma’s story is not unique, nor is it unusual nowadays to see older partners divorcing after 20, 30 or more years of presumably not all marital bliss. The highest rate of divorces up to 2019, according to the latest report from the Office of National Statistics, was among men and women aged 40 to 49; likewise, older baby boomers have a divorce rate that is triple that of their parents.

The good news for women over 40 or 50 is that we are much more independent than our mother’s generation and have the resources deep within us to start again.

Many women face an identity crisis after divorce – Emma was only 21 when she married, her identity wasn’t even fully formed then – and the best way to tackle it is to remember that you are more than just a wife; take the time to define who you are in terms of the other roles in your life – mother, friend, daughter, colleague.

At the same time, try to create new roles that don’t rely on other people for definition, such as artist, blogger, photographer, traveller… find a passion you’re excited about and let that become part of your new identity. Try a few and see which ‘sticks’.

Studies show that being self-sufficient, assertive and autonomous helps to boost your self-esteem, much needed after divorce.

Other studies also stress the importance of being charitable to yourself. Those people with self-compassion – the ability to be kind to oneself and to accept your feelings of hurt without judgement – are less likely to feel anxious and isolated and therefore better able to cope with the emotional toll of divorce.

Emma will now tell you that she is ‘glad’ she got divorced, words I thought she would never say. She now sees divorce as an opportunity for reinvention – find out how she did it in our next article.

Read how Emma rediscovered the ‘real her’ in the next article in our series: Divorce after 40 –  Reinvent Yourself 

Read part one of this series Divorce after 40 – What Next?

Kimberley is a serial entrepreneur and ex gold medalist who connects passionate teachers with women who want more from life. Kimberly is an active blogger, CEO and mother of three children.

Last modified: August 22, 2023

Written by 11:39 am Relationships and dating, Relationships