You are a relationship coach. Tell us more about your work.
My work as a relationship coach grew out of my personal experience, actually. I was working as a therapist, was married, and had two young children. And then I got divorced.
In that process, I came to understand what I didn’t want in my next relationship. But I was unclear about what I did want—and how to go about getting it. I came to believe that in order to find someone to share my life with, I needed to be a successful, fulfilled, and happy single person.
That insight prompted me to work with a relationship coach who took me through the very same program I now use to guide my coaching clients.
The experience was awesome! I learned tons about my patterns in relationships—and how to use my new awareness to recognize and avoid them when they cropped up. I also gained the confidence to pursue one of my passions (swing dancing!), and I started dating. I felt happy, and I had clarity and confidence around the type of life partner I wanted. In time, I met the man who became my current husband.
The one-on-one coaching program I use provides a roadmap for my clients to understand the unconscious barriers and beliefs that hinder them from reaching their relationship goals. Relationship coaching is unlike therapy. My coaching clients are actively engaged in writing and talking about what keeps them stuck. With my ongoing support and coaching, they can move through the barriers so they no longer have to struggle and feel alone.
To date, I have worked with two basic groups: heterosexual women in their late 30s and early 40s, and women in their 50s and 60s. Yet I believe this program will work equally well for men as well as those in the LGBT community, and I look forward to diversifying my practice.
Are there unique challenges and opportunities you see with women in midlife when it comes to dating and relationships?
Generally, the women I see are driven, smart, financially successful, and professionally fulfilled. In their careers, they are collaborative, passionate, and they feel confident about their skills. Yet that clarity and confidence doesn’t always transfer to their personal lives.
Many women put 100% into their professional lives, inadvertently putting their personal lives on hold. Either they believe that once they decide it’s time for marriage and family it will come easily to them, or they’ve put off dating because it felt difficult or uncomfortable. But eventually, if you are someone who really wants to be in a successful relationship, you come to realize that you have to address it.
What’s interesting about working with slightly older women is that they see their lives as completely their own now. If they’re divorced and their children are grown—or even if they’ve never been married—they come to recognize that life is finite. If they want a special someone to share their life with, they need to take action.
The opportunity for women in midlife, I believe, is their determination to achieve a sort of balance between their personal and professional selves. The good news is that the traits that make them successful at their career can be put to work for their personal fulfillment through relationship coaching.
What are your thoughts regarding online dating for women in midlife?
Hardly a week goes by that you don’t hear about a couple that met online, so obviously online dating has its successes. So far, my clients do it, but really don’t like it. Either they can’t figure out what to say and how to describe themselves in their online profile…or they’re afraid of getting it wrong and wasting their time. For some, it feels threatening to put themselves out there in such a personal and vulnerable way.
Women who are opposed to the idea of online dating still want what they see as the reward. So while they say they prefer to meet men organically and naturally, they don’t really believe they can find anyone that way either! It’s a classic catch-22.
So one of the strategies I use is to invite them to talk about their hobbies and the places they like to hang out with friends and encourage them to start participating in those things. As the saying goes, you can meet your partner anywhere—you just need to be looking for him! I know people who married their plumber, who met on airplanes or who, like myself, met their husband swing dancing.
What’s your best advice for women who are just getting back into the dating scene at 40 or later?
It’s never too late to have the relationship you want! My advice to women over 40 is to allow themselves to be open to whoever shows up. Naturally, you don’t have to accept every invitation you get, but don’t say no to someone until you give yourself a little time to think it over. In other words, don’t react too quickly.
Yes, the dating world has changed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t meet someone with depth and great character. And in some ways, it has been made easier because all you have to do is go on your computer and find an activity of interest and go meet people. There are also many meet-ups organized around particular hobbies and singles events. Have fun in the process!
What are your favorite resources for dating and relationships?
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Dr. Gary Chapman
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples and Receiving Love: Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved by Harville Hendrix, PH.D
If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte by Kasl, PhD
match.com (also an app)
PlentyOfFish.com (also an app)
OkCupid.com (also an app)
ourtime.com (50 and older, also an app)
seniordating.org (45 and older)
There are many online dating apps; research costs and benefits and get recommendations from friends. Here are some of the ones I think deserve a look: Bumble, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge, Stitch, Sapio, Happn, Siren, Hitch.
The key to successful dating—and especially to finding and creating a long-term, successful relationship—is knowing what you want. If you’re not clear about the vision for your life, your relationship goals, and your non-negotiables, you’re less likely to have a positive dating experience.
If you fall into that camp, there are a lot of resources available to help you. As the lists above prove, the Internet is overrun with resources (although be discerning about what you read), and professional help is everywhere. While therapy is often helpful, what I found most helpful about seeing a relationship coach is that that work is very focused.
Contact Sue De Santo, Relationship Coach and Therapist
Sue De Santo didn’t know when she started swing dancing after her divorce that she would eventually meet the love of her life and help others do the same. Not until she focused on finding her true joys and passions in life was she able to create a space for her husband of eight years.
After 20 plus years as a clinical social worker and her experience as a divorced mother, she found the real reason that so many people fail at finding love… They think they’re “ready” to be in a relationship but they aren’t. How does she know this to be true? She was one of those people going on eight first dates because she kept connecting with the wrong men. She did not see her own blind spots in her relationships. After these painful experiences, she was determined to find out if it was possible to have a good intimate relationship and how to make that happen. Once she understood what the hidden barriers were to her finding love, she started living her life with passion and fun. During that journey, she found out that we don’t have to give up ourselves for a relationship—we ultimately can’t; we must embrace ourselves and open our hearts to love!
Sue has a three-month one-on-one coaching program, a proven system that provides a roadmap to understand these barriers and move through them with ease and support, so you no longer have to struggle and feel alone.She is dedicated to helping other singles create the best version of “me” so they can create the best version of “we.” When we are centered within ourselves and enjoying life, the most amazing things happen!
Sue DeSanto is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years of experience with a private practice in North Center Chicago and provides relationship coaching for singles.