Combating Loneliness

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I’ve had some new thoughts, and of course that is all to be expected and is all to the good.   Recently I was reading a book called Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg.

This is a fairly serious study about the growing countrywide, and perhaps worldwide, phenomenon of people choosing to “live alone” rather than choosing Marriage or a close relationship. If you are interested in the statistics, get the book. I was and I did.

Let me summarize what I think are the major points of his book. Since, let’s say, the 1950s, an increasing number of people are choosing to live without a partner or are divorcing and then living as a single. In the 50s less than 20% of housing in our cities was occupied by a solo person. In 2010 that percentage is over 40% in most of our major cities, over 50% in a few, and over 60%! in some. Of course this is good for the Real Estate businesses. But the clear facts are that more and more people are choosing this life style.  Living together seems bit by bit going out of style.

Apparently the solo choice is not a bad one as these people report more happiness, social activity, etc. etc. than their married or cohabiting friends. “What?” you say.  People living alone are more happy than most married people!  Yup.  So it seems.

Eric discovered many factors that has lead to this cultural change. More affluence is certainly one, and the growth of inner cities built for “partying”, and being together in similar groups, etc.   The effect shows in young people, middle aged and the older populations,

There is, I think, one of his factors that has huge impact for us, and is something we can fix.

People do not like, and are not built, to feel lonely.   Reliable Membership, I believe, is a core, common biological reality.  And loneliness in a relationship is vastly worse than loneliness when living alone.  Can I say that more loudly.  Feeling lonely, the sense of isolation and disconnection, is 50 times worse when you are living with someone.  There is no where to go to get appropriate connection.  You are stuck!

This is it.  When you live alone and feel lonely, you can go out and connect.  When you are out connecting and begin to feel overwhelmed you can go home and have peace and quiet.   People seem better able to manage their needs for connection when living alone.   Well, no wonder relationships have trouble staying together.

Ask yourself.

  • Do the people you know that are married/or together seem lonely?
  • Are you married and do you feel lonely?
  • Do you hesitate to go back with that guy or gal since you fear you’ll just end up being lonely again?
  • Does your partner seem to be reaching out to strangers or co-workers because he/she feels lonely with you?
  • Did that partner who left you just go toward someone/anyone to relieve their loneliness?
  • Did you stop at that bar on the way home to your partner and stay longer just because you had more companionship in the bar than you get at home?
  • And when in your relationship did loneliness begin to appear in you or your partner.?

I have a group of men friends, several are in a relationship and most are not.  The ones who are solo don’t seem to be eagerly seeking out a partner – even though they spend time with me, a “relationship junkie”.   I often wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn’t effectively help them into partnerships.  I also wondered what was wrong with my  theories, that these guys seem to prefer living alone.  Now I think I understand.

My partner and I have worked hard to do the things that banish loneliness from our relationship.  The most fun we have is when we are together – alone.  But that’s not an accident.

So, you may ask, what can be done – about this loneliness thing?  I started thinking about this and then started interviewing friends and couples.  The simple dual questions did the job, bringing me solutions.  “Do you feel lonely when with your partner?  Does your partner feel lonely when with you?”

Working on Removing Loneliness

The way I see it, there are three things that cause loneliness in humans.

  1. No one listens
  2. No one understands
  3. No one respects

1: Listening – “Making them feel heard”

“He won’t listen to me.  He interrupts me all the time.  I never get heard.  She walks away and never hears me out.  She refuses to talk about it.”  The act of making someone feel heard or listened to brakes up loneliness.  Any act that signals that you aren’t willing to listen creates loneliness.  

Remember: it is not enough to hear.  If you hear and they don’t “feel heard,” you’ve pretty much wasted your time.

Use whatever tools you have to learn to make them feel heard either all the time or at least display you willingness to listen to anything.  I used Mirroring to teach myself this set of skills.  If you don’t like Mirroring, I think that either a) you aren’t doing in well enough yet or b) you wanna live alone.

2: Understanding – “Making them feel understood.”

“She doesn’t even lift a finger to understand my point of view.”  “He tells me I make no sense, when he won’t even try to understand me.”  The act of making someone feel understood, even the act of trying to understand them, brakes up loneliness.  Any act that signals you don’t want to or care to understand them creates loneliness.

Remember: is is not enough to understand.  If you understand and they don’t “feel understood,” then you’ve pretty much wasted your energy.

I live and breathe Validation.  To me this is all the skills of making people feel understood.  You don’t like Validation!  My guess is either a) you haven’t yet learned how to do it well enough or b) you wanna live alone.

3: Respect: “Making them feel respected.”

“Everything is about him.  I don’t even exist around him.”  “She never includes me in her decisions.”  Any act that affirms their sovereignty over themselves, their property, their thinking, their feelings, their plans, their worth or their use of time, brakes up loneliness.  Any act that signals negligence toward those properties,  yup you got it — loneliness.    This is all about Boundaries.

This is a big one.  I learned it from that wonderful story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, which can be told in many ways.  I love the version I heard told by Robert Bly.  The punch line of the story is the question, “what is it that women most desire?”  And the answer is ” sovereynté, the ability to make their own decisions.”  (This story is the ancient basis for Shrek, and I think has nothing to do with gender.)

But I also learned it from my studies in Boundaries.  What is it that people want from you so that they don’t have to defend their Boundaries?  Respect.

Remember: if you respect someone, and they don’t feel respected, then you’ve pretty much squandered your effort.

I work very hard at  expressions of respect for my partner and for everyone (including myself).  If you don’t like Boundaries, my guess is that either a) you have yet  to learned how to define them, defend them and support your partner’s boundaries, or b) you wanna live alone.

Sandra suggested I tell you a story about my learning to respect her sovereignty.  I, like lots of guys, was trained to solve problems.  I loved solving things.  If someone presented me with a problem, I would feel pleasure and get to work. Now I don’t think there was much wrong with this.  I still have it as a trait.  But it has potential big trouble that comes along with it.

One day I walked into the house after a long day.  My wife shared that she had some problem with her car.  I thought I understood.  I felt energized and left the room, headed to the garage to fix it.  I actually could not find the problem.  So I went back to the kitchen.  My wife was pissed that I had walked out.

“But I had been trying to help, by fixing it!,” says I.
“I didn’t want you to fix it.  It was my problem not yours!” says she.
“Oh, I was trying.  What would it have looked like, if I’d done what you wanted?” says I.
She said, “Just listen to me.  That’s all I wanted.”

So, I learned that for her (and everyone) there are two types of problems:  a) those that are fixed by fixing and b) those that are fixed by listening.   When she mentioned a problem, I would check.  “Is this a help-fix problem or a listen-to problem?”  She always knew, which was which.  I had thought that “fixing” was a way of showing respect.  I learned that sometimes listening is the way to show respect, and asking which was which was always a way to show respect.

Well, I’ll be darned!


So if you are with a partner and you don’t know what to do, Number 1 thing is to make them feel that you are listening to them.   If they feel heard, move on to making them feel understood.  If they feel understood, then invite them to share what they plan to do and respect their planning process.   I’m not saying that all the other stuff on this website isn’t critical.  I’m just suggesting this as a first very important point of departure toward waking up and building a great relationship.  Not so hard, to write!


Final Note:  I get a kick out of the idea that living alone, Going Solo, is a way of artificially creating and maintaining boundaries rather than building boundary skills.  For those who have read my paper on Individual Boundaries, living alone is like having a huge moat, closed drawbridge, closed portcullis, and a door and wall, rather than training your boundary soldiers.



Combating Loneliness — 3 Comments

  1. Dear Al, I think I'm a difficult spot right now and could use some advice. I'm currently in a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend of 4 months. We've been friends for the past 3 years.

    She lives about 90 miles away attending school. There's a significant age difference, she's almost 19 yrs old and I just turned 27 yrs old. She has a roommate at school who has a boyfriend who also attends school there, and they spend a lot of time together in the room they share, showing affection and being close to each other. This is reminding my girlfriend of her loneliness and desire for connection with me. I visit her about once every two weeks, which does not include holidays or school breaks.

    I believe her desire or want for connection is more than I can provide right now, and her roommate's display is overwhelming her. I've tried offering advice to her, suggesting she spend less time in her room with the two of them, or use headphones to drown them out, but I guess she can't escape it.

    Their display is demonstrating what she wants for herself, and I'm thinking she may begin to search for a better option than me, some guy who can provide that and be available everyday to her. We've talked about the disparity we share in dating experience, as I have years more than she does, and I think she resents that.

    We've also talked about marriage, and I was very open with her and said I consider her a match for me, that I'd love to marry her someday. I think that alternately delights her and frightens her. This is her first time being away from home, and she confesses to feeling "very much alone."

    I will not uproot myself to live near her, as the town she lives in is very small and not conducive to my lifestyle. I'm not even confident she will continue to attend this school for the full 4 years, as her tastes and interests exceed what the town has to offer. I've been willing to show patience and I think that's been confusing her lizard.

    Do you believe it is necessary to her personal-growth and maturation to date other guys at this time, to satiate her need for connection?

    Would I be doing the honorable thing by letting her go now, in order to preserve a chance of linking up with her at a later point in time? I've thought this through many times, and I've already been grieving for her loss, to adjust my mind and body, to prepare for this potential outcome. I don't know what other option I have.

    Thanks for listening. Sincerely, Johnny

  2. This is such a timely post for me while I deal with the loneliness of a now almost 6 month separation (actually separated 18 of the last 24 months). You are bang on, the loneliness I felt with him was much more difficult than the loneliness I feel now.

    I found your website while searching for "ways to get your man back" and I feel like the universe gave me a great gift. I have found a therapist locally thanks to your website and I am so hopeful I can heal from wounds I didn't even know I had until recently. I wish so much he could see what he is losing – a wife that would do anything to make our marriage work, three wonderful healthy children, a house that was paid off last month, a significant amount of money in both RRSPs and RESPs for each of our three children (I'm in Canada) and on top of that the potential of vintage love.

    BUT I can only work on me while he continues to live at his mother's. I marvel at how ironic it is that I had to walk away from my marriage to gain the insight to what it takes to make my marriage work – I was so busy dealing with his unpredictable behavior.

    I am hopeful that if nothing else I can work on me and prepare for the next relationship I'll be in (because apparently it will happen at some point though I don't believe it now), whoever that might be with. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, I've shared what I've learned from you with several others, friends whose relationships are not in quite as much trouble as mine was/is and they've told me how it's changed how they've viewed their relationship.

    Too late for me and the love of my life but at least I was able to help others.

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