Together but Still Lonely
3 ways to connect with the distant person next to you on the couch.
Posted Jun 28, 2013
by Guy Winch Ph.D.
Being married offers no protection from the dangers of loneliness: Studies indicate that roughly 20% of the general population suffers from chronic loneliness at any given time, and in one recent study of older adults, 62.5% of people who reported being lonely were married and living with their partner.
How Loneliness Impacts Our Physical and Mental Health
We typically don’t conceive of loneliness as a condition that requires urgent intervention, but perhaps we should. In addition to the emotional anguish loneliness creates, it also has devastating effects on our mental and physical health. Loneliness depresses our immune system functioning, increasers inflammatory responses that put us at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, and can literally shorten our longevity. On the mental health front, loneliness puts us at risk for depression and anxiety and causes us to distort our perceptions such that we view ourselves, our lives, and our relationships more negatively—which in turn, influences our behavior in damaging ways.
How Loneliness Impacts Our Relationships
Loneliness distorts how we see other people and makes us devalue our relationships. We perceive others as less caring, less interested, and less committed than they actually are, and we judge our relationships to be weaker and less satisfying than they may really be. In an effort to protect ourselves from even further emotional hurt, we become hyper-alert to any signs of rejection from others and more apt to miss signs of acceptance. As a result—and often without realizing we’re doing it—we become overly defensive and come across to others as detached, aloof, or even hostile, which only pushes them further away.
How Loneliness Operates in Marriages
Although we might believe marriage can insulate us from the ravages of loneliness, that is not the case. Loneliness is determined by the subjective quality of our relationships not their objective quantity, nor just by whether we happen to be living with a spouse. Loneliness in marriage often happens slowly, as the disconnection we feel from our spouse gradually increases over years.
At some point, discussions about mutual interests, world events, and goals and dreams cease entirely and conversations become purely transactional—“We need milk,” “Your mother called,” or “Did you remember to pay the cable bill?”—or focused exclusively on parenting. We also fall into daily routines that foster emotional distance—one person watches television in the evening while the other is on the computer, or one goes to bed at 9 pm and wakes at 5 am while the other goes to bed at midnight and wakes at 8 am. In short, we lose the love and the affection but stay in the marriage; ironically, often out of a fear of being lonely, although by doing so, we potentially doom ourselves to the very loneliness we were trying to avoid.
Read the full article here on psychologytoday.com