How to embrace the single life
Living alone after a relationship breakdown can be tougher for those who moved straight on from being a “daughter or son” to a “wife or husband” and never had time on their own to develop independence and hone resilience skills, according to Relationships Australia (WA) educator Marion Dunn.
It could leave them fearful, even panic-stricken, whether aged 20 or 70.
Some had “let their friends go” while in their long-term relationship, busy concentrating on children or work. Regrettably they had then “put all their eggs in one basket” by relying on their partner to meet all their social and emotional needs. So when the relationship ended, they had been left in a “black hole”.
For 10 years, Ms Dunn has been running courses that help people adjust to living alone after separation, divorce or the ending of a long-term relationship, or just learning to live a single life and embracing it as an acceptable and “normal option”. Recently, she has noticed a steady increase in divorce among those who had been married for 30 to 40 years.
“People feel almost ashamed, ” she said. “Some think that there is something wrong with them if they are on their own — they are buying into the media and all those messages that to be happy you have to be in a relationship.
“Some people have even suggested that you must be a loser if you have no partner. So one of the things we do is recognise that there are an awful lot of single people out there out of choice. And it’s about trying to reframe and see that it’s about being happy in whatever situation you are in.”
It was also important to understand that being alone and loneliness were distinctly different, so strategies for dealing with them must be different too, Ms Dunn said.
“Some of those we see say they felt extremely lonely in a relationship because they were not connected, ” she said. “I always say to people ‘What’s worse, feeling lonely in a relationship or being on your own and at least having the opportunity to adjust?’”
Tips to make it easier
• Write down the benefits of being on your own. There’s freedom, choice, time to do what you want when you want, and not being annoyed by someone else’s habits. According to Ms Dunn it helps to recognise that more and more people in a relationship are choosing to remain living on their own if they can afford it.
• Recognise that the size of the family in which you grew up and your personality can affect how you cope. Single children and introverts are likely to manage better than those from large families or with an extroverted nature.
• Build and maintain a wide network of supportive friends and family. Link with others by taking up hobbies, activities and volunteer work you enjoy.
• Make platonic friends of the opposite sex. Find people who are happy to accompany you to the movies, theatre or parties, help around the house and allow you to take advantage of restaurant and holiday discounts offered to couples.
• Harness the internet but don’t rely on it. Use Facebook and Skype to stay connected but also get out and foster connections in person.
• Visit cafes and meeting places in the local community. For seniors, some shopping centres provide couches where they can stop, rest and talk to other people.
• Try physical closeness. Regular massages and beauty treatments can help you cope with the lack of physical closeness that comes with living solo.
• Learn to be content. Those who accept that living on their own is “normal” and are content are then more likely to enter a relationship for “healthy reasons” rather than out of desperation, according to Ms Dunn. “If you do not learn to be content, it is more likely you will repeat past patterns and that is why second marriages are more likely to end in divorce.”
For more information, visit wa.relationships.com.au. Source: Relationships Australia (WA) educator Marion Dunn
Help at hand for those seeking advice
• Living alone and medical support — Silver Chain silverchain.org.au.
• Local help or recreation and social opportunities — phone local council or check website.
• Meet others — Try volunteering. VolunteeringWA volunteeringwa.org.au.
• Security — RAC — rac.com.au/home-security/How-secure-is-your-home.aspx.
• Help for older West Australians — Council on the Ageing Western Australia — cotawa.org.au.
• Mental health — beyondblue.org.au.
• Independent Living Centre — home health care aids and equipment — ilc.com.au.
© The West Australian
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