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Dating Again at Midlife and the STAGES of the Midlife Crisis. 

 

How much intimacy are you ready for?

How much is your partner ready for?

How to tell? What you have to do next?

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. I'm not in a midlife crisis. A midlife crisis is what my partner is having." If you say that, you are kidding yourself, which is the last thing you want to do in a midlife crisis.  

Some people create their crisis; some stumble into it; some have it thrust upon them. It doesn't matter. A crisis is a crisis is a crisis. When you are in it, you are the one having it. 

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

Usually not. But, as you know, there are lots of people out there, not yet ready for re-marriage, not even ready for monogamous dating, and none-the-less acting as if all the emotional baggage in their live belonged to other people.  You might even be one of those pre-mature hopefuls.  As you know, if you've been doing a little dating at midlife, not everyone out there is honest, even with themselves. 

The midlife crisis begins when a person's soul gets so fed up with the ego's evasiveness that it puts the person in a situation where, suddenly, there are very important personal truths which cannot be denied.  

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.  

A crisis has a certain flow to it. Swim against the current and you'll get nowhere, you'll exhaust yourself, and you might even drown. 

In this article, I'm going to share with you my understanding of how the midlife crisis works.

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

The Midlife Crisis happens in stages. It is a process with a beginning, middle and end. Each stage has it's own demands and challenges. Each stage builds on the lessons of the stage before. When I coached people through their midlife crisis I find that they strengthened when I remind them that they in a process that leads to something good.  Also, they need different skills and a different kind of support at each stage. 

First stage: Crazy Time.  

People in this stage develop awareness of their inflexibility. (The term, "Crazy Time," was coined by Abigail Trafford and her excellent book by that name is must reading for anyone just out of a divorce or break-up.)

They start out believing that  the wrong approaches they've been using all their lives will still work, if only they try harder. Oh so slowly they wake up to the fact that they are in a crisis.

People in this stage are in shock, They are simultaneously afraid of being alone and also afraid of being in a relationship.  They 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 your relationships and if the answer is yes, then do yourself and your friend a favor and ease up.

Second Stage: Quiet Time.  

People in this stage develop humility.

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.   

For single people, one of the most important realizations they have is that they don't know how to be alone and they are scared of it. It is a shock to suspend "the relationship project" and just take stock. One woman said, "I was my parent's daughter, my husband's wife, my kid's mother, and my boyfriend's girlfriend and now, for the first time in my life, I'm just me. It is scary." 

People in this stage are waking up and moving slowly. They sit and stare thoughtfully. They begin to enjoy taking 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: Learn to take care of yourself.

This is a very productive and important time. Congratulate yourself. Don’t think of this as the end of dating. Men might think of it as "half time". Women might think it as "cocooning".

For the first time you are creating your own inner garden, a place where you can go to refresh and re-create yourself.  When it is time for you to start dating again, you will know how to withdraw and refresh yourself. This will be a resource for you.

Think about your part in creating your life so far. Create a practice for yourself. Learn to Journal. Create a coaching support system.  Fill in the time you used to spend dating with something that satisfies you. Develop your same sex friendships.

Third Stage: Remedial Dating.  

The name for this stage was deliberately chosen as a challenge to pride.

The idea is to go back and remedy, make right, some of the errors of childhood. It's a time to re-learn how to make friendships and create relationships. It's a time try things out and learn.

 People in this stage develop the character trait of forgiveness. They don't just react anymore. Their old relationship habits are softened. They can over look things that used to bother them. Also, they can refuse to over look things without making a federal case out of it. They start to have a philosophical sense of humor.  

People at this stage develop the ability to co-create a relationship.  They date, but it’s different. They are in less of a hurry, more relaxed,  and more open. They are slower to have sex with a new person and less driven. 

They practice more honesty with themselves and the expect more of others. They are able to do this because of their previous work. 

Because they have learned to see new possibilities in themselves, they are able to see new possibilities in the world. In dating, they begin to discover people around who have promising potential and, in earlier stages of their crisis. It was like those people didn't exist. 

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: Be curious and open

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

Fourth Stage: Co-creating.

In this stage people have figured out who they are, pretty much, and what they want, pretty much, and are ready to try creating a relationship with a partner. People in this stage develop a new kind of confidence, a gentle confidence, and easy solidity.

These are people ready to settle into stable relationships because they have the ability to learn together with another person. They have given a lot of thought to what is important and 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 every you want.  

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.

General Advice:

Avoid relationships where you want more than your partner 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.

 

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." 

 

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.

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.  

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.

Learn more about Stages of Dating!