Lessons Learned from one Divorce Story Close to Home

As the "Gray Divorce" points out, older Americans are splitting up in record numbers-one quarter of all divorces now involve people over 50. This is a true story about a couple, Ram Samuel, 66, and Barbara Samuel, 54, who met at a party in 1980, bridging geography, age and race. Married for nearly two decades, their lives took turns in different directions. They lived in Pueblo, Colorado and raised two sons, now 30 and 28, and are friends to this day. Certain lessons can be gleaned from their marriage and later, their divorce. Here is their story.

The couple's marriage lasted from 1983 to 2003. They married when he was 35. She was 23. He is a carpenter. She is the author of more than 40 romance and contemporary women's novels and teaches writing workshops.

They both grew up in close-knit families: He in St. Louis, she in Colorado Springs. They met in 1980 at a party. The chemistry was strong. They both were briefly married before. At the time of their meeting, she was in college. She thought he was a great storyteller, charismatic with a Southern accent and had a beautiful voice. He was the happiest person she had ever met. They lived a few hours apart and he wrote her letters. He thought she was beautiful, smart, a great listener and immediately a good friend.

They had been talking about marrying for a long time but when she became pregnant, that decided it; They married before the birth of their first son.

The first signs of trouble happened around 2000, when several of his close friends and family members died of hepatitis C. Mr. Samuel also contracted the disease as well. At the same time, tension grew about her career ambitions. She started traveling more and more and wanted "a bigger life." She became lonely and didn't know how to support him through the dark time he was going through.

Then he had an affair. It started when she was away. He didn't want to hold his wife back from her growing career but he didn't want to travel with her, either. While he though the affair had pushed them apart, she contended that it wasn't his fault because she was not there when he needed her.

They tried counseling but that only clarified the end. She loved him but felt they were headed in different directions. He said, "You don't realize how much trust matters until it's not there. It's hard to repair."

After going back and forth for more than a year, they finally decided to get a divorce. It happened on 9/11 when the twin towers had fallen. The devastation gave Ms. Samuel courage to ask for a divorce. She said, "I saw what people were going through in New York. I knew I could go through whatever I needed to." Mr. Samuel moved out the next day.

Their sons wanted them to stay together, but they both felt the need to start over. It was hard for him because he missed their friendship and conversation. For a while he visited the house often but a year later, he moved to Denver for a job which helped them separate. He connected with an old girlfriend while in St. Louis for a funeral. A few months after the divorce was final, they married.

She, now his ex-wife, tried to reinvent herself. She took a job outside the house to make money and help keep her from brooding. Then she went back to school and wrote. She began to date six months after the divorce and about two years after the split, she met her current partner in 2005. They live in her hometown, Colorado Springs.

Lessons Learned

Asked if they would have done anything differently, he said he would undo the affair. "It was so not worth it." She said she would end it sooner; there was too much drama in the separation. "I wouldn't go back and unmarry him. My life is so much richer and deeper and broader because we met and we had children and shared all those days and nights and a billion conversations. I also know that life always looks more golden in retrospect."

When asked about giving advice for others and their kids, he said he would stick with it and not tear the sheets too easily. She said don't marry young. Be honest. "The first time you tell a lie, everything starts to fall apart."

What was the divorce process like for both of them? Well, simple because they both bent over backwards to make it work. She took the house. They worked out visits. Theoretically, he could have gotten alimony or maintenance but didn't feel it was right. She believes they should have divorced sooner because the back and forth caused a lot of pain and suffering.

Are they happy they're divorced? They still talk several times a month and are in contact with each other's families but she is very happy to be divorced. She says, "We have been kind t each other, and I feel about him the way I do about a close relative." He, on the other hand, feels better, but it's still hard: he still misses her, he says. "But you can't live in the past. Things have worked out for both of us."

Financially, he is doing about the same; whereas, she is doing much better and earning more. Her new partner is helping her with money management, although they don't share money.

What's the biggest lesson each learned? He says to compromise when you can. Don't break your vows. She says to choose the life you want, even if it disappoints your family.

What are they doing in their current relationship? She is not getting married. She says, "Each day, I choose to be in this relationship." He says he tries not to do anything "stupid." "I did once and paid a big price."

Source: Lessons Learned When It's All Over, By Louise Rafkin, The New York Times