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May 20 2010

How to not get ahead of yourself when you are creating a new relationship.

Published by at 4:09 am under Knowing Relationships BLOG

Evaluating Relationship Readiness in Yourself and in a Potential Partner.

by Philip Belove, Ed.D.

Being single at midlife is a form of midlife crisis.

“Oh, no, not me,” you say. “I’m the good one. The crisis is what the other person is having.” But the truth is, when a couple breaks up, they are both in a crisis.

A crisis is a situation in which, no matter what you do, something new is going to happen.

There are doors in life that only go one way. Once you’ve walked through them, you can’t walk back. Being suddenly single at midlife is one of those doors. And someone who’s walked through it is in a crisis.

Is a person in midlife crisis really ready for a long term relationship?

Usually not. But there are lots of people out there like that, not yet ready for re-marriage or its equivalent and none the less acting like they are. There are others who don’t know what they are looking for. As you no doubt know, not everyone out there is honest, even with themselves.

What determines the kind of a relationship a person in a midlife crisis is ready for?

Relationship readiness. There are four stages to a midlife crisis. In each stage there is a change in both the kind of relationship a person wants and what the person is capable of. Each stage has a different kind of relationship readiness.

Here is why you want to be able to read Relationship Readiness

1. You can avoid relationships where you want more than they are capable of giving. When you want more than your partner can give, you end up being resentful. Instead of questioning yourself, “Am I too needy, too demanding?” and instead of  psychologizing your partner, “They have commitment phobia”,  do something simpler and less blaming. Recognize that there is not a high enough level of relationship readiness and back off without blame.

2. You can decline relationships where someone wants more of you than you are currently capable of giving. Instead of complaining about the other person’s control issues, instead of feeling guilty, instead of feeling psychologically sick, just say “No, thanks, I’m not ready for this”.

3. You can slow down the pace of the relationships to allow one person to catch up with the other. Instead of ruining a perfectly promising relationship by putting a lot of pressure on yourself, your possible partner and whatever relationship you do have, simply exercise patience and allow things to develop.

4. You can preserve friendships by parting as friends instead of making each other nuts. You could simply accept reality, spare yourself and your friend some unnecessary pain, and enjoy what is possible.

How to Read Relationship Readiness.

People work themselves through their midlife crisis in four stages. Different people have their crises with different issues. Some have their crisis around money management, others around health, other around career issues, and others around their relationship issues. The process is the same. The applications are different.

Here is a short description of the stages of a midlife crisis, followed by specific ways a crisis appears for people where the issue in crisis is “intimate relationships.”

First stage, Obliviousness. People in this stage have to wake up to the fact that they are in  crisis.  They still believe the wrong approaches they’ve been using will work, if only they try harder. People in this stage develop an awareness of their inflexibility.

Second stage, Waking up. This stage starts when they stop doing whatever ineffective thing they were doing and calm down. They finally realize that there is something important they don’t know. People in this stage develop humility.

Third Stage. Looking around. In this stage people are finally able to see the new possibilities the crisis presents. They are again able to learn new things. People in this stage develop the character trait of forgiveness.

Fourth Stage. Starting Anew. Finally, they start again, with a new frame of mind, new confidence and a solidity they’ve never known. People in this stage develop confidence

Here is how the midlife crisis works for midlife singles:

First stage: Obliviousness.

People in this stage are in shock, They are simultaneously afraid of being alone and also afraid of being in a relationship.  They repeated try new relationships using old methods that don’t work and you can’t tell them anything. They are sort of nuts.

First Stage Advice: Stop doing what doesn’t work: For obvious reasons, this is the most difficult advice for people to hear: Calm down, take a break, stop and think. Ask yourself if you are getting anywhere. Ask yourself  if desperation is driving this relationship and if the answer is yes, then do yourself and your friend a favor and stop the relationship.

The paradoxical and critical first stage skill:  Confident Doubting. You’ll learn to be a bit more open about your basic assumptions. You’ll learn that what you thought was always true is rather only true much of the time.  You’ll get used to the fact that, as Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Second Stage: Waking Up.

People who are waking up move slowly. They sit and stare thoughtfully. People in this stage of their crisis take time to be alone and reflect. They don’t mind staying home on Saturday night. They develop chaste friendships instead of seductive ones. They are learning, finally, to say, “No” to what doesn’t work. They haven’t yet figured out what does work, though.

Second Stage Advice: Take care of yourself: Congratulate yourself. Don’t think of this as the end of dating. Think of it as half time.  Create a coaching support system. Think about your part in creating that mess. Fill in the time you used to spend dating with something that satisfies you. Develop your same sex friendships.

The paradoxical and critical second phase skill:  A generous “no.” There are things you’ll need to say “No” to that you’ve never said “no” to before. You’ll be able to do it with a smile, without resentment, with a light heart. That will be a change.

Third Stage: Looking Around.

People at this stage start dating again, but it’s different. They are in less of a hurry, more relaxed, more decisive and more open. They are slower to have sex with a new person and less driven. They demand and practice more honesty of themselves. They are exploring intimacy, sometimes for the first time. They are able to say, “NO,” to any relationship, but they aren’t yet able to say “Yes.”  They are experimenting with “Maybe.” They are discovering what it is they really want.

Third Stage Advice: Learn to become forgiving: Cut yourself some slack. Correct yourself gently. Be open to learning things you never knew. Create a support system and use it.

The Critical and Paradoxical Third Stage Skill:  Commitment to “Maybe.”  You’ll learn to step outside your comfort zone.  Since you can always say “no,” and since you can now question your own perceptions, you are now ready to learn something new.  You can open up to a different range of possibilities than you could as a younger adult.

Fourth Stage: Starting Anew.

These are people very ready to settle into stable relationships. They have given a lot of thought to what is important to them in a relationship and what is not so important.  They have a sense of how they co-create any relationship they are in and they take full responsibility for their own participation.  They are ready to say “yes.”

Fourth Stage Advice:  Ask for 100% of what you want. Speak up and listen deeply. You are creating a conversation and the conversation you create is what governs your relationship.

The Critical and Paradoxical Fourth Stage Skill:  The Submitted Yes.  Now you can make commitments in a  different way.  You won’t have to strap yourself in, as it were. You can simply allow yourself to go down a different kind of path, following an inner compass.

For all stages: A relationship won’t even take root unless the partners are in the same or adjacent stage.

People connect with those who are, at most, in the same or adjacent stage.  Someone in stage four, ready to commit, simply wouldn’t take someone seriously who was in stage one, oblivious, lost and searching.  Someone in stage two, just waking up wouldn’t would be ready to really commit as a stage four person would be.  Sometimes someone in three, just looking around would be pretty tentative with stage four people and would also find stage one people too crazy to deal with.

So, remember, if you are in a stable relationship with some who is, say, still oblivious (stage one) and you think that you are at stage four, ready to make a long term commitment, you are kidding yourself.

Finally, you have to have faith in yourself. If you are in a crisis, then it is a great opportunity for you to create the life you really want. There is always a lot of truth spilling out in a midlife crisis and so it really is all for the best, and everyone who’s made it through says so.

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One Response to “How to not get ahead of yourself when you are creating a new relationship.”

  1. Meadowon 19 Dec 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Never seen a bteetr post! ICOCBW