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May 20 2010

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off, And Learn to Trust Again

Published by at 4:20 am under Knowing Relationships BLOG

Dating at Midlife: How Can You Trust Again?
By Philip Belove, Ed.D.

If you are dating someone, you are probably considering letting him or her get pretty close to you. Yet at this midlife stage, you have probably also been involved in one or more major relationships that failed or ended poorly. That is why one of the most common questions asked by ThirdAgers is, “Can I trust this new person?”

It takes a while to get to know someone, and good judgment doesn’t descend upon you overnight. It is something you have to work at. Here are a few ways to start practicing:

  • Learn to trust yourself: Trusting another person more than you trust yourself is the definition of naiveté. In midlife, you have to develop your own judgment and honor it above the wishes of others.
  • Pay attention to your inklings: You know the tiny voices that tell you about things thatmight be true, but you just can’t be sure? These are the seeds of your intuition. Don’t dismiss them. They help you develop caution and they also help you discover opportunities. When you are dating, you usually have little feelings — good or bad — about something or someone. Never, ever brush those feelings aside.
  • Learn from your mistakes: You’re a grown-up now, which doesn’t mean you are perfect. It does mean that you know how to deliberately create experiences and then learn from them. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. When you are developing a new relationship with someone, decide what it is you want and what you are willing to risk to get there. If the risk doesn’t pay off, let what you’ve learned inform your next decision.
  • Learn useful lessons about yourself in the process: The most useful lessons you will learn are about yourself. Summarize what you learn using sentences starting with “I am learning that I …,” “I am learning that I am uncomfortable when …,” and “I am learning that I get really happy when …” You are the only constant in your relationship history, and you are the person you most need to understand.
  • Start with the easiest lessons: The easiest instincts to know and trust are the ones that tell you, “No, don’t do that.” It’s always easier to learn what you don’t like, won’t tolerate and won’t accept — things like dishonesty, unkindness, etc. — than it is to figure out what it is you really want. Yet if you know clearly that you can and will leave a relationship under certain negative conditions, then you can be certain that your decision to stay in a relationship is a decision made from strength. And that makes you a trustworthy relationship partner.
  • Create clear limits and enforce them: The clearer and more comfortable you are about what you will not accept, the more open and appreciative you can be about all the little surprises and delights a new relationship has to offer. The more sure you are that there will be no surprises that are unwelcome, the more you are able to let down your guard and enjoy the welcome surprises.

Learning to make very clear and reliable judgments about the people you meet is often the first stage in the midlife transformation. And the way to do it is through practice, taking risks and learning from your successes and mistakes. As you learn to trust yourself and others, you become more able to make good relationship decisions.

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