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:
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.