This is the part one of a four-part series.
Locking my eyes to hers, I asked Kelly a question she dreaded answering: “How lonely do you feel in this marriage?”
I wanted to be pleasantly surprised that her and Karl enjoyed a deep connection they deserved.
Karl is a bright-eyed, tawny-haired man, well-built and carefully dressed. His ready smile and wit helped him win others over.
Kelly looked at me as she whispered, "very." She and Karl returned to couples’ therapy they began 22 years ago to pull off a wedding after three false starts.
In a busy life of children and dual careers, there was precious time and funding for continued therapy. The marriage squeaked by but was vulnerable to encroachment. A female colleague of Karl’s acted as a catalyst, warning him that he was about to stray deeply, and he caught himself.
“Judith, I am in serious trouble here. Can you help?” I hoped I could.
A couple’s therapist needs to be the marriage's fan while also rooting for each partner. Although it is natural to feel tender towards a victim, I was too well trained to believe Kelly was faultless in this marital disaster. I remembered her tendency to avoid tough psychological situations and create literal and figurative costumes.
Ours is the story of how to transform a marriage from tortured to delightful through couples' group therapy, where I am equipped to work with couples through a half-century of successful marriages with two terrific men.
Loneliness has assumed epidemic proportions that damage millions of children, adolescents and adults.
An American Psychological Association study of 20,000 adults (August 2018) found that loneliness has increased to the point that it can lead to earlier death from multiple causes, according to Juliann holt Lunstad, psychology professor, Brigham Young, who is also a central researcher on loneliness. The internal experience of disconnection or rejection hides in marriages that look “just fine,” hiding and being taken for granted as part of our busy lives.
Marriage is supposed to provide an intimate connection. When it fails, it creates the deepest human craving. I am certain there is nothing lonelier than a lonely marriage.
I treat those who live in, what they feared was, a terminal lonely marriage. I treat them, and together, we can change the outcome.
My husband, John, the master renovator of our compound of historic waterfront cottages, near Cape May, has an armament of tools purchased over decades to take the cottages down to their 1929 studs. Selecting the right tool, he designs space, installing massive triangles of glass under sloping roofs, creating light-filled rooms that invite lounging and gazing at the channel rushing by in its need to join the larger bay nearby.
Like John, I renovate, but I renovate intimacy broken down by ignorance of how to couple skillfully. My tools have been purchased from my colleagues’ excepts in developing our current armament of expertise to help turn disaster into intimate delights.
I regularly review the research on loneliness and intimacy. From this knowledge, I have concocted seven simple-to-learn but hard-to-practice intimacy skills.
Like researcher John Cacioppo, from the University of Chicago, I distinguish between solitude, the need to be alone to know myself deeply, and the chasm of emptiness I felt after my first husband died suddenly of cancer, at age 49.
The solitude of writing these pages for you offers me peaceful and restorative time to replenish my reserves and remind me why I need to spend time alone. Research on loneliness (LeRoy) confirms what my innards and those of my clients tell us.
Subjective loneliness is an epidemic stemming from how lonely a person feels, regardless of how many people surround them. Lonely people suffer a greater risk of illnesses, such as cognitive decline (dementia and Alzheimer’s) depression, and viruses creating havoc in wellbeing. Cacioppo defines loneliness as a “debilitating psychological condition” that accompanies a sense of emptiness, worthlessness, lack of control, and personal threat.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Judith Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.