When couples are married for decades, it can be a shock to many when they get divorced. When Al and Tipper Gore announce their 40-year marriage was on the rocks, for example, people were stunned.

It can be a surprise to all involved, even the other spouse. It can seem like an abrupt turnaround, one that has emotional and financial ramifications. So why do people who are married that long wait that long to divorce? There are no easy answers, but there are a few possibilities.

For some, it may take that long to be psychologically strong enough to make such a huge decision. Others may wait until they can support themselves financially without their spouse, or until their spouse makes enough to pay spousal support.

One expert says she’s surprised how often affairs come into play, even late in a marriage. Some people might leave their marriage because they realize as they age that time is running out to make a change.

According to an article in the Jamestown Sun, other culprits may include the Empty Nest syndrome – children leaving for college or moving out. A huge change in the family can lead to uncertainty or instability in a marriage. Divorces in that situation can also be difficult for the grown children involved.

Family experts say that communication is always the key. It helps people feel connected, and that’s what likely attracted them in the first place. Reaching out to friends for outside support can also benefit a marriage.

Source: Jamestown Sun, “Divorce late in life can be a sad surprise,” Dave Olson, Sept. 19, 2011