A recent newspaper article in The Mail newspaper called “Lonely UK” revealed that the number of middle-aged people who are now living on their own has been rising due to a decline in marriage; the office of National statistics gave the number of middle-aged people living on their own as almost 2 ½ million, giving specific figures for people aged between 45 and 64. The number of men who are now this position far outstrips the number of women.
The article goes on to say that one of the reasons that middle-aged women are not forging good relationships after middle age is that they are better qualified than ever before, with jobs that have rewarding career paths as opposed to the rising number of low-earning men. This has had resulted in a marked increase in the price of homes, with a rapid rise of middle-aged single people boosting the requirement for housing and consequently pushing up prices and demand. The piece goes on to comment on the benefits system, which may be the real point of this article; what I would auger is the real story is that a large section of society feel that marriage or forming a relationship is not worth the effort. An interesting aside to this is what is happening to society; could it be that there is a reluctance to form relationships after one has had a long term relationship go bad? Could psychotherapy have some of answer?
There are a growing number of divorce recovery workshops which have been springing up throughout the country. These workshops serve some purpose but they may fall short of achieving what is really necessary, such as finding out where, why and how the last relationship ended, and what lessons could be learned. This is not to attribute blame, but to realise that there was a part to play in both parties; this does not give license to any abusive relationships, such as domestic violence.
For instance, if someone had been in a 20+ year relationship which has now ended, they may be looking for the same form of relationship but may discover that some form of change must take place. Through therapy or group therapy a person can explore and make meaning of their experience; furthermore, this can help a person not to repeat past mistakes.
Psychotherapy obviously has a large role to play in making sense of past relationships. What can so commonly happen is that a person expects the relationship to be the same as their previous relationship, but with a different partner. This can happen for both parties and evidently needs will not be met - thus the potential exists for another failed relationship. I have heard one therapist use a brilliant metaphor in saying that "the dancers change and so has the tune". To prolong this metaphor, if a person was used to fox-trotting with a former partner but find that their new partner is used to tangoing in his or her previous relationship, then the two will be out of step with each other and the inevitable will happen - toes would be trodden on, and feelings damaged as a consequence. What individual or group therapy can do is explore different steps to different tunes, to essentially learn a different "dance". This could be an oversimplification; there are much more complex issues at hand, but it gives a graphic mental image of what could happen. I think the challenge is that therapy needs to be adaptable to the needs of society rather than the other way around. Could it be that an imaginative form of coaching is needed?