Stronger at the Broken Places

How challenges can strengthen your relationship

Breaking the Cycle of Loneliness

An antidote to disconnection.

Mira: When I fell in love with Joel, I had the romantic notion that he would rescue me from my life-long unhappiness and I would never feel lonely again. I had grown up as an only child, and was not close with my parents. I spent a great deal of time alone and longing to be recognized, seen, and heard.

Joel: I grew up with three siblings, and since my family never had much money, the six family members had to squeeze into a tiny apartment where I couldn’t get any privacy. After I left home and Mira and I moved in together, I found myself desperate to finally create some private space for myself. My efforts activated Mira’s fear of abandonment and we hit some very rough times early on.

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Mira: To me, when Joel took time alone, it triggered the old pain of being left by myself, with all those old feelings of not being important, valued and loved. It was if I were a small girl of about four years old, and that I had fallen into a well, I felt so helpless and hopeless down there in the well of grief that I didn’t even bother to yell for help. I didn’t think anyone would bother to lower a rope down for me to escape. I would just get quiet and feel the old pain of aloneness.

Joel: I would eventually notice that Mira was silent and withdrawn. By that time she would usually be weeping and it was impossible for me not to notice. We made a pact that she wouldn’t expect me to read her mind and know that she needed connection, and that she would take responsibility for letting me know when she was suffering so we could connect before she fell back into the well.

Mira: Our agreement was a big turning point for me. Rather than being in the disempowered position of waiting for Joel to notice, I began to act like a grownup, rather than a neglected child, and ask for what I needed in the moment. I lost my romantic notion that Joel would take away all of my suffering from my awful childhood. Now I turn to my women friends for connection and attention so that I don’t burden Joel with this need. The amount of connection I need in order to thrive is too much to ask of any one person.

Joel: Ironically, since Mira has given up her romantic notion that I will redeem her from her childhood loneliness, she tells me that a great deal of that sadness has faded away.

Mira: I have worked long and hard to build a rich, active support network. So nowadays, I spend very little time down at the bottom of that dark, gloomy well. Most often, I can prevent myself from falling in by staying connected to my friends, but when I do fall in, I speak in my own behalf and ask for help either from Joel or one of my friends, and that has made all the difference.

Linda: I often find myself saying, “I believe the whole world revolves on relationships.” I speak this to clients, students, and friends. It’s my way ofreminding them and myself of the importance of keeping the abundant flow going of giving and receiving with all of our supports. To live in gratitude for our precious supports makes utmost sense to me. Where would be without the support and encouragement of our precious family and friends? 

Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, and a political scientist and professor of public policy at Harvard University,states, “Social connections affect one’s life chances. People who grow up in well-to-do families with economically valuable social ties, are more likely to succeed in the economic market place, not merely because they tend to be richer and better educated, but also because they can and will play their connection. Conversely, individuals who grow up in socially isolated rural and inner city areas, are held back, not merely because they tend to be financially and educationally deprived, but also because they are relatively poor in social ties that can provide a hand up.”

Americans are connecting less and less every year. The pace of decline of social visiting over the last twenty-five years is alarming. In the 1970’s, 80% answered Yes to the question: “Are most people honest?” By the end of the century, the number agreeing had fallen to 49%. This ongoing diminishment of trust is a significant factor in increased alienation that fuels our sense of disconnection.

Feeling alone and unsupported reinforces this mistrust and influences us to blame our partner for not making us feel more secure. Many of us buy into the myth that our partner should be all things to us and meet our every need. This however is an impossibility. In the Buddhist philosophy, there is a central teaching referred to as Sangha, meaning a community of like-minded people. This philosophy holds that the possibility of achieving the highest level of actualization exists only if we are surrounded on a regular basis with others moving towards higher consciousness.

Sharing this path with others who are like-minded doesn’t necessarily restrict us to those with whom we re intimately connected, but can include members of the larger population as well. There are many ways to cultivate and strengthen connections with others that can provide an antidote to the cultural alienation that is so prevalent in our society today including: getting together with friends, inviting guests to share dinner, creating a neighborhood party, singing in a choir made up of people with diverse backgrounds, joining a book club or bowling league, participating in group dancing or community theater, showing kindness to a stranger, or doing something for the good of the community rather than pursuing the private quest for the accumulation of goods. Each time we do any of these things it makes a difference not only in our own lives but also in the culture as a whole.

In the face of overwhelming challenges all around us, the only thing we can do is make our little corner of the world more safe, welcoming, friendly, kind, caring and loving. It’s a grass roots movement. Those of us who are a part of it are not waiting for government or institutional reform. We’re committed to connecting to family and friends in meaningful ways. Doing so raises our happiness quotient up to the higher realms.

I hope you will join us. It is my commitment to practice meaningful connection every day, at least by phone, but in person is even better. Walks and talks are my personal favorite.

When we take good care of ourselves by strengthening our friendship network, it puts us in a positive frame of mind, which has a direct beneficial effect on our romantic partnership. We are not leaning on them too hard to meet our needs for intellectual stimulation or love. Having a robust exchange of friendliness inevitably enhances our partnership. But don’t take my word for it, look to your own experience and find out for yourself. You may be surprised and delighted at what you find!

 

Linda Bloom, L.C.S.W., and Charlie Bloom, M.S.W., are the authors of Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truths from Real Couples About Lasting Love.

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