Statistics show that 65 per cent of divorces involving couples over the age of 50 are initiated by women. In her new book, The Female Brain, Dr Luann Brizendine puts forward one reason for this: The menopause changes the balance of chemicals in a woman’s brain, giving her a drastically altered reality. Her instinct to keep the family unit intact is weakened and she is liberated from her need to turn a blind eye to her husband’s faults.
She gives the example of Sylvia, who had spent 28 years of marriage being accommodating and always letting her husband win. She kept the peace in order to keep the family together and in the traditional belief that having a husband was a good thing and meant she was better protected than if she was on her own.
Then came the menopause – and Sylvia changed. No longer was she prepared to put up with her husband belittling her in public, forgetting their wedding anniversary and always putting his needs first. She walked out.
Many of my clients are like Sylvia – women in their 50s who have devoted their adult lives to keeping house, rearing children and attending to the needs of their husbands and who, once the kids have flown the nest, decide they’ve had enough.
Even without a chemical shift in the brain, it is not surprising that an increasing number of older women are walking out on their long marriages: many, fed up with their husband’s moods or infidelities, have been biding their time until the children have left home. Others discover how dire is their marriage only when the kids are no longer around to plug the emotional gaps.
Even if a marriage isn’t in crisis, women who gave up a promising education or career to be a wife and mother can suddenly realise that it’s still not too late to retrain or go to university. This can be the first step to a new life – and an old marriage can often get in the way.
Post-menopausal women have greater opportunities than ever before and many are prepared to break out of a constraining marriage to grasp them with both hands. Their husbands, who over decades have been lulled into thinking they are in the driving seat, are – too late – jolted out of their complacency.
So, to all you 50-something husbands out there, I would say this: don’t be surprised when your wife stops tolerating what she’s put up with for 30 years. Once her ‘mummy brain’ is refocused, she is likely to start putting her own needs and aspirations before those of her family. Bear in mind, too, that your life might be slowing down, but hers is gathering pace. Unless you keep up and change your ways, you run the risk of your wife following your children out of the nest.