Guest: Dr Alexander Ryan
Guest Bio: Dr. Alex Ryan is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia.
Health Professional Radio – Empty Nesters Divorce
Katherine: Today we are joined by the Love Doctor, Alex Ryan. He’s a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia and has presented a regular psychology segment on [indecipherable 00:11]. He’s appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles and makes regular radio appearances, including ours. Welcome again.
Dr. Ryan: Thank you very much, Katherine.
Katherine: For a growing number of couples, instead of ’till death do us apart’, it seems to be ‘until the kids leave the home’. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has recently released a report titled ‘Working Out Relationships’, which revealed that the number of couples divorcing after 20 years of marriage has more than doubled, from 13% in 1990 to 28% in 2011. Why do you think it’s become so common for empty nesters to divorce?
Dr. Ryan: That’s a really good question. There are many trends in society, including the Internet and information, which has allowed people to divorce. The expectations have changed as well in the community. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s and maybe even the ‘70s, even in the ‘80s actually, when people got together, the general ethos or attitude was ‘we’re getting married, we’ll have kids, we stay together forever regardless of what our problems are’. Often you’d have domestic … I mean, we still have domestic violence.
We had people in domestic violence situations but they wouldn’t leave because they were worried about being ashamed or shamed because they left their partner and they broke up. So, there were those sorts of ramifications. Those trends have changed now. People are more comfortable about leaving a relationship. They’re more in the pursuit of happiness and having a life of where they’re considering themselves a bit more, and less considering about what other people think and what society’s attitudes and views on that are.
Katherine: Yes, but some of these couples though, they believe that after their kids turn 18 or can maturely handle their parents divorcing, which is why a lot of them are waiting until the kids leave the home. Is there any truth to this, that the older you are, the better you are able to handle your parents divorcing? Or is this a complete myth, do you think?
Dr. Ryan: That’s a very good question. I would say it’s quite contentious. I’m not really au fait with the developmental aspects of the child, but I’d say that parents feel more comfortable that they’ve raised their children together and they’ve kept a stable relationship, and the children have also been able to go through secondary education, and even some tertiary education, and complete that.
They don’t want to affect the child’s progress in life, and development, so they stay together until the kids have finished secondary school. This phenomenon is very, very common, where parents aren’t in love, or they want to break up, but they stay together for two, three, five, six, seven years, longer than they should or want to, because they want to make sure that their kids are stable and have a stable family home to complete those important milestones of life, like finishing high school, secondary education, and even finishing tertiary education.
Katherine: Thanks for answering that. I know it’s not a black and white question, but I just wanted to bring up whether or not maturity in age makes a difference. Yeah, I think everyone’s different, depending on … it doesn’t [indecipherable 03:40] age, but I do think everyone’s different. But thanks for answering that. Like you said, some people, they stay in the unloving relationship for a long period of time because they’re waiting out for their children to maybe graduate from high school, for example.
So, by the time they actually divorce, maybe they’re quite eager to get out there and start dating again because emotionally they were ready for quite a while. What advice can you give people who have not been on a date with anyone else for maybe over a decade? What are any tips that you’d have for people who are looking for love that have not been dating for a long time?
Dr. Ryan: That’s a really, really good question. I think the best advice, apart from going to the Internet and doing the dating online stuff, which is a growing area, I think 50% of couples now meet online, would you believe? So, they actually meet each other online. Of course, the other area, the 50%, they’re meeting naturally, organically. They’re going out and meeting through friends or going to events and meeting their partner out for the first time and then dating and moving from there.
But what’s happening is that second category, meeting organically or naturally, like we used to, that’s diminishing. The dating online and meeting through chat sites and through dating services is actually growing and proliferating. So, their [indecipherable 05:00] increases with that. In answer to your question ‘what advice can I give people who [indecipherable 05:09]’, I think moving out of that completely, out of the realm of dating online, because that’s a whole new kettle of fish.
And I’ve got an article that we wrote for the Advertiser here in Adelaide about dating online and the pitfalls and what to watch out for. People might want to go and read that. But the main thing and the best advice I got was from a dating guru, over in the States, and he said – can’t remember his name off the top of my head, it was a while back I listened to him – and he said, “What you need to do is you need to go somewhere where you have an interest, and then you’ll find like-minded people who have that same interest.”
Say, for example, you’re into cooking and you want to go do a Thai cooking course. The best thing to do is enrol in a Thai cooking course, go to that course, start doing some Thai cooking, and you’re going to probably meet some people there who are like-minded and who are the opposite sex or same sex, depending on your sexuality, and you’ll be able to meet someone there.
Immediately, you’ve got something to talk about, you’re doing an activity, and it’s a positive thing as well. And, it’s a fun activity. So, this is a really great, natural, organic way of meeting someone. It doesn’t have to be cooking. It can be anything from yoga, if you’ve got an interest in that type of practice, through to joining a writing group. Any hobby or any interest will do. You will find people there that are like-minded people, people who have the same interests or attitudes as you, and immediately you have a connection.
Katherine: You did touch on the online dating thing, and I think for some people, going out by themselves might be a little bit daunting. So, they might want to get their feet wet, maybe look online a little bit. But you never know who’s on the other side of the screen. I know you wrote an article for the Adelaide Advertiser, but can you tell us a little bit about what people can look out for so they can protect themselves from being hurt but also be open-minded enough that if they do connect with someone online, they can take that relationship offline as well?
Dr. Ryan: Yes, that’s right. I think that’s a really important area to get more knowledge and information from and be educated in. Because I think online is proliferating so fast, there’s a lack of education about how to do it well and how to guard yourself against the dangers of doing it. The first danger, of course, being finding a predator. I’ve had some clients who had been raped, by the way, dating online. So, it’s something not to be blasé about or complacent. They’ve actually gone out with someone and been raped on the first date.
Katherine: Yes, it can be.
Dr. Ryan: It’s very dangerous in that sense. The other danger, of course, is hooking up with someone, but you’re not really knowing that person very well until you actually meet up. I’ve got a case at the moment, they met online, they were in different states. One person lives in the city, one person is in Adelaide. She had a mental health issue, he had a mental health issue. Somehow they connected on that level, and then she moved in with him.
She came down to Adelaide to live with him, and they’ve been living together now for about five or six years, and the relationship’s a disaster. Disaster waiting to happen. Because they did this flying, fly-in, fly-out arrangement for a while and they got [indecipherable 08:22] off that and said ‘no, we’re going to live together’. They basically sped up the process of meeting and bonding by using online, and the distance of course compounded that problem.
The problem here is that when you’re meeting someone online, firstly, it’s generally not a true representation of who they are. Secondly, people falsify information on their profile. They don’t tell you the honest truth, things that might be game-changers or what I call non-negotiables in a relationship. A non-negotiable might be, say, a religious value. It might be issues about finances, where you live or what type of house you live in, or what your work ethic is. These might be non-negotiables in a relationship.
So, the important thing is that … what I say to people is that dating online is only a conduit. It’s a conduit to get to a lot of people so you can sift through a lot of people and try and find people that you might connect with. But from there and beyond, consider it you’re still dating. It’s like offline. You still need to do your offline dating, you still need to connect with that person, and you still need to go slow. The problem with online dating is people want the magic bullet, and they think it’s the magic bullet, and they go to online dating.
I’m not going to name the sites, of course, for privacy issues and legal issues, but they go to these online dating where they say ‘we’ll profile-match you with your perfect match’. The reality is it’s a lot of [indecipherable 09:43] that you can actually find someone a perfect match. It’s impossible. The idea in a relationship is that you can never perfectly match. We talk about this in our another book, ‘Are You Faking It?’
There’s no such thing as finding the perfect man or woman for you. It’s just finding people where you have connection on non-negotiables and then working on your relationship to the point that you have a healthy, good, understanding relationship, and you can have a really healthy relationship on all levels. Finding someone who’s perfect online is a total mythology, and people need to quickly, rapidly train themselves out of that, particularly people who have been out the dating industry for a long time, who haven’t actually been dating a lot.
Because you’re going in very green and naïve, I dare say. I think people have a misconception that dating online is a magic bullet. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s just a way of you connecting on a wider level to a wide range of different possible people that you can just date.
Katherine: Alright. Well, lots to think about. Some of these sites, there are definitely the success stories, and definitely some downfalls as well. But thank you [indecipherable 10:49] for this segment. For those of you that would like to know more, please visit LoveDoctors.com.au. Thank you.