June 3, 2010

USA: Al, Tipper Gore split puts focus on late-stage divorces

WASHINGTON, DC / USA Today / News / Health & Behaviour / June 3, 2010

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

The split that nobody saw coming isn't such a shocker to those who deal every day with marriage, separation and divorce.

Divorce attorneys and relationship counselors around the country say they've been seeing more "late-stage" divorces among Baby Boomers.

And it's not because the kids have grown up and moved out.

Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper Gore wave as they walk down a sidewalk at the White House after posing for photos with then President George W. Bush and other Nobel Prize winners in 2007. It was announced June 1 that Al and Tipper Gore were seperating after 40 years of marriage. By Mark Wilson, Getty Images

These separations occur well after the nest has emptied. Breakups after 30 or 40 years of marriage, as in the case of Al and Tipper Gore, stem from a variety of factors, including longer life spans, different generational expectations about marriage, and feelings about divorce, personal fulfillment and happiness, divorce and marriage experts say.

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"It's the whole phenomenon of living longer, of having sex longer, of being healthier, oftentimes of being wealthier and feeling that they can easily pursue a no-fault divorce," says divorce lawyer John Mayoue of Atlanta. "I think we're seeing persons in long marriages questioning whether in fact there's a better life out there."

Mayoue says he has seen an increase in such splits over the past five years.

"Baby Boomers are part of the 'Me Generation' — what's better for 'me.' I think we're going to see more late-stage divorce in this country."

Marlene Eskind Moses of Nashville, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, says she can't recall just when she noticed the shift, but she's seeing it, too.

"It's an option to terminate a long-term marriage more now because people live longer. ... Staying in the relationship for the purpose of longevity is not necessarily a good reason."

When physician Robert Butler first started looking at aging in 1955, he says life expectancy was around 70. Now, he says, a 65-year-old man can expect to live 18 more years and a woman another 20 years.

Butler, 83, is founder of the non-profit International Longevity Center in New York City and is founding director of the National Institute on Aging. He says he's also aware of those in long marriages contemplating divorce — and he says it's usually the women who bring it up.

"They wanted out," he says. "They were tired of too much pressure or inadequate emotional support from the husband. He was too preoccupied with other things. He didn't carry his weight. He didn't help around the house. They didn't have the kind of support they wanted to have."

Butler's new book, The Longevity Prescription, says people are not only living longer but also are healthier in older age. "If they don't feel totally happy and have possibilities for new relationships, late-life divorce is not totally uncommon."

Still, Butler says, he was saddened when he heard former vice president Gore and his wife were splitting. He has met them on several occasions, including a White House conference on aging.

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"You really sensed this was a couple who were happy," he says. "On the other hand, the split seems to be mutual and what they both want."

The Gores say they just "grew apart," according to an e-mail they sent family and friends.

Psychiatrist Dennis Lin of the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan says that can easily happen when partners don't spend time together, which in turn weakens the relationship.

But in this case, Lin says, the split may make sense, especially in the 10 years since Gore's presidential bid. "They're no longer invested in a singular life like they were before," he says.

The Gores' marriage is often compared with that of former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who "are invested in a singular life together. ... They are very much a couple. They have a political life together and there's a stronger emotional bond. The Gores may once have had a strong emotional bond, but they have clearly grown apart.

"Their relationship was probably having troubles over time, and they were less and less invested in each other and less invested in making this relationship work," Lin says. "They have their separate lives and they were both relatively happy being without the other person."

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