Loneliness again

Last week, I wrote about The loneliness of divorce, especially during the holidays.  In it, I looked to an article (Happy Holidays? Maybe and Maybe Not) by Vickie Adams, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and Certified Financial Planner.  Adams discussed a close friend who had seemed to be in a great marriage; but in reality, there was much loneliness and suffering underneath.  I discussed lonely feelings that I had during my own divorce and how isolated I felt, as if I were the only one in the world going through a marital breakup; though of course many people were, and though as a divorce mediator and as a lawyer, I knew full well how common divorce actually is.

This morning I read a piece (The Dark Side of Loneliness) by Darlene Lancer, LMFT, Author, Speaker and Life Coach.  She shares that:

  • Twenty percent (60 million) of Americans report that loneliness is the source of their suffering.

And, as many of  us know firsthand, we don’t have to be alone to feel alone:

  • [Loneliness] can be felt while in a relationship or group. This is because it’s the quality, not the quantity, of social interactions that determines whether we feel connected.

She (and others) attribute loneliness in part to the use of digital devices, stating that “People spend more time on [them] than in face-to-face conversations.”

Lancer refers to her own experience:

  • Years ago, I believed that more shared activities would create that missing connection, not realizing it was something less tangible–real intimacy, which was absent in my relationship. (See “Your Intimacy Index”). Instead, like most codependents, I experienced “pseudo-intimacy,” which can take the form of a romantic “fantasy bond,” shared activities, intense sexuality, or a relationship where only one partner is vulnerable, while the other acts as adviser, confidant, provider, or emotional caretaker.

She discusses the connection between loneliness and shame, and how these feelings can stem from childhood experiences.

  • Meanwhile, children’s growing sense of separation from themselves and lack of authentic connection with a parent(s) can breed inner loneliness and feelings of unworthiness. “The awareness of human separation, without reunion by love–is a source of shame. It is at the same time the source of guilt and anxiety.” (Fromm, E., The Art of Loving, p. 9)

Feeling lonely, we may withdraw, which often results in greater feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Further, Lancer writes about health risks associated with loneliness, which I’ll leave you to read about, if you care to.

There are ways to cope with loneliness, though taking that first step may be difficult.

  • We really have to fight our natural instinct to withdraw. Try admitting to a friend or neighbor that you’re lonely. To motivate socializing with other people, commit to a class, meet-up, CoDA or other 12-Step meeting. Exercise with a buddy. Volunteer or support a friend in need can to take your mind off of yourself and lift your spirits.
  • As with all feelings, loneliness is worsened by resistance and self- judgment. We fear experiencing more pain if we allow our heart to open. Often, the reverse is true. Allowing feelings to flow can not only release them, but also the energy expended in suppressing them. Our emotional state shifts, so that we feel invigorated, peaceful, tired, or content in our aloneness.

It’s a fact – the holidays can be a time of loneliness; cold weather and less sunlight at this time of year don’t help.  But perhaps knowing that many others feel similarly can provide some type of comfort.  And maybe you can or will be able to follow Lancer’s advice, or other good advice that’s out there.  Perhaps tomorrow.  Maybe even today.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.

The loneliness of divorce, especially during the holidays

Vickie Adams, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and Certified Financial Planner,  recently wrote about the difficulties that many have at this time of year.  (Happy Holidays? Maybe and Maybe Not.)

She begins by talking about a friend who seemingly – or perhaps actually, at one time – had the type of marriage that others would dream of.

  • I have a close friend whom I’ve known for many years. She is always busy, dressed to the nines. I’m most likely to see her pulling out of her driveway, on her way to another weekend getaway or special event with her handsome husband and a smile on her face. One year, I watched them on successive days of the week go out and keep adding to their front yard Christmas display, until I thought it could be seen from outer space. I thought, “Wow, she’s so lucky to have such a great partner who takes such an interest and is willingly out there participating in these things with her.”

But, then Adams learned from her friend that all was not as it seemed.  The couple would be divorcing, and the friend shared how she was “struggling to regain her self-worth after years of put-downs, criticism and infidelity.”  What had appeared on the surface to be one thing, was something very different underneath.

Adams finds her friend’s situation to be a “kind of analogy for the holiday season.”

  • For weeks, we are bombarded with holiday images of people enjoying meals and activities with friends and family; exchanging beautifully wrapped and often expensive gifts; decorating their homes. We are shown constantly that some lucky woman out there somewhere will be the recipient of a fabulously expensive Lexus, complete with a huge red bow, courtesy of her husband.
  • The message is that everyone is happy and joyous and has an unlimited gift budget. The subtle underlying message is, there is something wrong with you if you aren’t having the same experience.

But of course, the reality is different.

I say “of course”, but I remember my own divorce.  I felt alone, and that I was the only one going through a breakup.  That I had failed, whereas everyone else was in a successful marriage.

My feelings were not matched by what I knew to be true:  Many people  separate and divorce.

Pretty much anyone who knows anything about American society, at least when it comes to the family, is aware that divorce is common.  And as a long-time divorce mediator, I knew that as well as just about anyone.

But, I felt like it was only me.  I think that this is why the post by Adams resonates with me.

Not only are there messages telling us that this is a time to be joyous, but we as individuals may tell ourselves the same thing, beating ourselves up for sadder feelings that are natural and predictable.  We may put up a front and tell others – neighbors, friends and even family members – that things are alright, when they are anything but.

Adams writes that:

  • While some people are actually enjoying the holidays, a larger number, maybe 40%, are thinking:
    • I just have to make it through, and I can file for divorce after Christmas
    • I’m only here because of my child
    • I’d rather be alone
  • But there is nothing unique about not enjoying the holidays. Advertising and people’s perceptions aside, the holidays can be especially tough for those in the divorce process or the newly divorced. For many, it’s a time of painful memories, what if’s, adjusting to new parenting schedules, or financial concerns.

It can be hard to remember, and harder to feel, but the truth is that many people are involved in a breakup.  (This is not to say that anyone else could ‘put herself in your shoes’; you are an individual, and that is to be respected.)  Your feelings are legitimate, and if you can keep from beating yourself up for having them, this difficult time may become slightly easier.

In separation and divorce, there is a grieving process to go through.  The changing dates on a calendar can’t change that.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.

‘Gray divorce’: How much of the growth in older people divorcing is due to the reluctance to try counseling, or skepticism that it can help?

Therapists have told me that when there is conflict, younger couples often begin therapy earlier than older ones. How much does this reluctance to begin contribute to Gray Divorce?

In 2013, a study came out entitled, The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce among Middle-aged and Older Adults, 1990 – 2010.  Authored by Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin, both in the sociology department of Bowling Green State University, their research is revealing.

Here are some of the results:

  • The divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 divorces in 2010 occurred to persons ages 50 and older. . . .
  • The rate of divorce was 2.5 times higher for those in remarriages versus first marriages while the divorce rate declined as marital duration rose.

The study looked at many factors and circumstances that may contribute to gray divorces. Some of them are directly related to “the unique events and experiences characterizing” the “life course stages” of middle age (50 – 65) and older adulthood (65+). During these stages, “many couples confront empty nests, retirement, or declining health, which can pose considerable challenges for marital adjustment. These turning points can prompt spouses to reassess their marriages, ultimately leading them to divorce.” (Citations omitted)

Other findings include:

  • Middle-aged adults are experiencing a higher rate of divorce than older adults.
  • Men and women 50 and over are divorcing at very similar rates (9.8 divorced men per thousand married persons; 10.3 women divorced per thousand persons).
  • “There is some racial and ethnic variation in the risk of divorce among those ages 50 and older.”
  1. Blacks (20.5 divorced persons per 1,000 married persons)
  2. Hispanics (11.3 divorced persons per 1,000 married persons)
  3. Whites (9.0 divorced persons per 1,000 married persons)
  • “The divorce rate also differs by economic resources” – including education. Those with a college degree experience a considerably smaller risk of divorce compared to those with lower levels of education.
  • The rate of divorce is highest among the unemployed.
  • Older adults who are not in the labor force (presumably because they are retired) have the lowest divorce rate.

One factor that isn’t considered by the study is the hesitation by those who are older to engage in therapy.  While a younger generation has grown up with the idea of meeting with a psychologist or social worker, for people who are older the thought may have more of a stigma.  For older adults willing to try therapy and couples counseling, how many are skeptical or so uncomfortable that they are unable to fully engage in the experience, and therefore end the process prematurely, or otherwise hold themselves back and greatly lower the chances that it will be helpful in saving their marriages?

In addition to factors that apparently contribute to gray divorce, the authors discuss the “implications for individuals, their families, and society at large.”

  • It is likely that divorce has “negative consequences, particularly for those who did not want the divorce or who are economically disadvantaged or in poor health.”
  • “Divorced older adults no longer have a spouse on whom to rely and are likely to place greater demands on their children.” These children may be asked to serve as care givers in lieu of the absent spouse. “The strain of such intense obligations may weaken intergenerational ties. . . .
  • Adult children are particularly unlikely to provide care to their divorced fathers.”
  • “Some older adults may not have children available nearby to provide care,” and so “the rise in later life divorce may place additional burdens on society at large, as divorced individuals will be forced to turn to institutional” assistance rather than look to the family for support.

The study, which the authors acknowledge has limitations, is somewhat alarming. But having this information will surely help society deal with the consequences of gray divorce, which are likely to become more apparent over the coming years.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.