In my 28 year practice as a marriage and family therapist, perhaps the most unexpected discovery I’ve made is related to how hard it is for full fledged adults to create and maintain a healthy, positive intimate relationship over time. I have always thought that if you were a single adult over 40 and looking for a relationship—and I mean seeking an actual adult relationship, not a temporary feel good experience—that there are lots of hungry people out there dying for a genuine relationship with the promise of happily ever after.
But I have been wrong. Although practically every single person talks about wanting such a relationship, a surprising number of single adults are actually not available for that relationship. They are busy with their careers, or their children, or staying afloat financially, or healing from broken dreams, or an illness, or are angry, hurt or sulking because of a previous romantic disappointment, or are playing the field, or are exploring who they are alone after many years of being part of a couple—or whatever. This dynamic appears to be less true when you’re 20, but escalates dramatically as we get older, so that by the age of 40 or so, it becomes increasingly more difficult to create and maintain a healthy intimate relationship overtime.
The stunning conclusion to which I’ve come is that there aren’t that many single adults who are prepared an able to give their hearts to a potential love relationship—even with partners they are attracted to.
A large number of single adults over 40 are not emotionally or physically available for a healthy, monogamous long-term love relationship. They have been burned by love—no doubt several times—and either don’t have the confidence that they are worthy of love, or that they know how to love, or that they are prepared to make the sacrifices that a relationship requires—or they don’t have confidence that an intimate partner won’t smother, misuse, hurt or otherwise disappoint them. It all becomes too much of a risk. Don’t you know you can get hurt giving your heart away? And how do I give my heart, anyway? It’s been so long that I’m not sure how to do it anymore.
There are, of course, degrees of emotional availability. Lots of adults over 40 hook up, and more than a few marry. But even then it’s iffy—a startling number (76%) of second marriages break up within five years, and 87% of third marriages do. Am I the only one astounded by these statistics?
If you are a single adult over 40, there are definitely some things you can do. In the “getting to know you” stage, ask questions that attempt to gauge the other person’s attitudes about love. Is he angry at women? Does he make himself available for you—emotionally, physically and time wise? Does he share his inner self with you? Does she think that she was a co-contributor to what went wrong in her previous relationships? How trusting is she? How responsive is he to what you say is important to you? Is he letting his heart get involved with you, or is he just going through the motions? How willing is she to blend with you and your tastes, your lifestyle, your family and friends, the realities of your career or income, your children, your needs, wants and dreams? How well does he communicate? How effectively does she work through disagreements and conflicts without destroying love, trust and good will? What’s he like when he’s really angry? Hurt? Hopeful? Depressed? Anxious?
Don’t jump in with both feet until you know the answers to the above questions.