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Loneliness has been discussed recently as a major problem, not just for our society, but for our health.  It is a predictor of premature death and is a bigger risk factor than obesity in this regard; it is the equivalent of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day (according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad at Brigham Young University).  Those of you who are married will know that being married does not protect you from loneliness.  43% of adults who participated in a 2012 study which followed 1,600 adults over 60 for six years reported loneliness, and more than half were married.  Why is this, and what can be done?

The research done by Dr. John Gottman on marriage and relationships, both the ones that are healthy and the ones that are not, sheds some light on this.  What we have discovered is that couples who begin to have trouble enter into what we call a Distance and Isolation Cascade as is shown in the following diagram:

 the distance and isolation cascade

When couples are not able to nurture intimacy and manage conflict in such a way as to use conflict as a path to closeness they can enter into this Cascade of negativity/flooding, feeling dismissed, use of the Four Horsemen in conflict discussions (criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling), and then can enter emotional disengagement and loneliness in the marriage, which eventually leads to parallel lives (roommates, at best) and then divorce.  What we have learned from successful couples is how to avoid this cascade through staying connected in our everyday lives, talking about differences and irritations in gentle ways, and repairing interactions when they go imperfectly.  What is encouraging is that these skills are what every day folks can use, not just in our long-term relationships, but in every important relationship we have as an antidote to loneliness and disconnection. 

For more information on how to learn these skills, check out upcoming dates for couple’s workshops or set up a time to discuss one on one how to learn these skills for yourself.

"What makes sex exciting is really the sense of someone allowing you into their's exciting because it's permission."
– Alain de Botton (from an interview with Debbie Millman on Design Matters, 27 June 2016)
We know from the research that's been done that a good sex life for a couple depends on how well the friendship is going lately.  I've talked about how to keep passion alive before with consistent moments of connection (enter: Date Night!).  What I love about Alain de Botton's perspective here is that in the context of a long term relationship, there are hundreds of ways to think about our connections as good foreplay.  How do we let our partners into our lives?  Are we intentional?  Does it stop or have an expiration date?  It certainly doesn't have to!  If we are keeping up our friendship, learning and exploring about one another, the excitement and permission never have to stop, they can deepen.

Here are some statistics about cheating compiled by Menstuff®:

 ·       2 percent of married men have strayed at least once during their married lives.
 ·      14 percent of married women have had affairs at least once during their married lives.
 ·      Younger people are more likely candidates; in fact, younger women are as likely as younger men to be unfaithful.
 ·      70 percent of married women and 54 percent of married men did not know of their spouses' extramarital activity.
 ·      5 percent of married men and 3 percent of married women reported having sex with someone other than their spouse in the year 1997.
 ·      22 percent of men and 14 percent of women admitted to having sexual relations outside their marriage sometime in their past. 

Note: the above adultery statistics of the prevalence of affairs were made more than a decade ago; so based on changes in society during the intervening years, the current percentage of the population who have had affairs is probably somewhat HIGHER. For instance, the continuing increase of women in the workplace and the increase of women having affairs on the Internet means that the numbers for women having affairs is probably similar to those for men—about 60%.

We all know, or suspect, what some of the effects of infidelity are for couples, children and families.  The cost of divorce, the stress for all involved, the time it takes to recover (if one recovers), all make for grim consideration.  Is it possible to recover?  If a couple wants to stay together, is it even a good idea to try?

It is possible for couples to rebuild their relationship.  There is no guarantee (there are so many variables, like the willingness of each partner to put in the work required, the severity of the infidelity, etc.), but there are couples who are able to rebuild a healthy relationship after the bomb of infidelity has struck.  Notice I mention the word "rebuild."  Once the betrayal of trust most certainly involved in infidelity is experienced, the couple must start from scratch.  The first relationship (pre-infidelity) is destroyed and relationship # 2 must be built.  But couples have been able to do exactly this and have been able to build a relationship that is healthy and thriving.


This takes a tremendous amount of work and most couples need support to accomplish this.  It is wise to seek both professional help and any kind of other support that is available to take this task on. But given the cost of divorce and the other costs involved, it may well be worth it to try.

We’ve all heard divorce rates such as the one that states that 50% of all marriages end in divorce.  While this may not actually be the case (there is some indication that, for instance, 70% of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary, up from roughly 65% of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s, and couples who wed in the 2000s are divorcing at even lower rates, according to the New York Times in 2014), you may be wondering if your relationship is in danger of “going through the Big D.”  And now that same sex couples are increasingly joining traditional couples in the sacred bonds, are we going to see the numbers increase? 

Predicting divorce may be part of the key to an antidote for divorce.  Research has actually been done in this area by Dr. John Gottman.  Dr. Gottman found that for couples who would eventually divorce, when they talked about an area of disagreement, there was slightly more negativity than positivity as compared to those couples who would stay together - 1.25 times more negative than positive, in fact.  But for the couples who were in stable, happy relationships – couples who reported liking one another – they had a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1 (positivity was expressed five times more than negativity) when discussing an area of disagreement.  When relationships were happy, the ratio was 20:1 of positive to negative expressions when simply conversing.

So, take a look at your relationship and think about how often your interactions are positive, how often they are negative.  It may sound like common sense, but this is common sense backed up by research: knowing how to nurture good interactions in your relationship is one key to staying together.

How to avoid being contemptuous toward your spouse:

  1.  Avoid sarcasm (comments like, “I’ll bet you do!” or “Oh, that was super funny” in a sneery tone of voice).
  2. Avoid body language that often goes along with sarcasm or can simply stand alone as a response (rolling your eyes, smirking one side of your cheek into a dimple).  These are actually cross cultural signals of contempt.
  3. Don’t make “jokes” at the expense of your partner, or make universal comments about his/her gender (again, usually accompanied by the gestures in #2).

Do instead:

  1. Keep the focus of your responses and interactions on yourself instead of on your partner, describing your own feelings and needs.
  2. Create a culture of appreciation in your relationship through positive interactions.
  3. Work on a positive habit of mind instead of scanning for the negative around you.

Why is it important to avoid contempt?  Contempt, which is to put someone down and/or put yourself on a pedestal at the expense of another, is one of the best predictors of divorce all on its own.  But along with criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling, contempt can predict almost certain doom for any relationship.  Contempt has also been linked to predicting the number of infectious illnesses the recipient will experience over a four year period.  Powerful stuff, just like battery acid!

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LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT, has been licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 12 years and has worked with families and couples for over 10 years. Read More
LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT
LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT Marriage and Family Therapist
LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist MFC 42162
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor LPC 1534
Certified Gottman Therapist
By Appointment: (626) 221-8632