Late-life divorse, says Washington psychiatrist E. James Lieberman, "may have its roots in a small grievance that is never resolved and gets worse over time. There may be a breach of trust that doesn't heal, a gradual divergence of interests or a lack of trying to work on the marriage.
"These problems can happen early on, or much later. The marriage may be fine for 10 or 15 years, then start to sour. But if a couple recognizes the problem and consults a professional early enough, they might see some really good results."
Most people who divorce never consulted a counselor, says Dr. Lieberman, a marriage and family therapist. Of those who do, he says, "half probably went for help too late in the game."
It's time to consult a professional, says Lieberman, when:
You're routinely not glad to see your spouse, and wish he or she weren't coming home. "These feelings may be okay if they're transitory, but if they last a couple of weeks or a month, it's wise to seek help."
You feel sexually aroused by other people, but not by your spouse.
One partner begins a pattern of slighting the other -- "such as continuing to embarrass him or her in public."
For referral to a qualified therapist, Lieberman suggests contacting the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, 293-1821, or your area Mental Health Association.
Two books particularly helpful to persons going through divorce, says psychiatric social worker Carol Simon of the Maryland Foundation:
"Creative Divorce," by Mel Krantzler, New American Library, $2.25.
"Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends," Bruce Fisher, Impact Publishing, $5.95.