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Contents Scratching the surface of being lonely Prevalence of loneliness Exposing loneliness Exhibiting s of being lonely Conquering loneliness Your next step.

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Posted June 1, Reviewed by Lybi Ma. We humans are a highly social species, and we need deep emotional relationships with others to flourish in life. In adulthood, most of us turn to our spouses to meet the bulk of our companionship and intimacy needs. While we hope that our spouse will be our best friend—even our soulmate—all too often husbands and wives drift apart and experience high levels of loneliness in their marriage.

In fact, research shows that about a third of all older married persons report feeling lonely often. Until now, psychologists have mainly focused on the dynamics within the marriage to explain loneliness among older married couples. From this perspective, two possible explanations have been proposed. First, it could be that the shared circumstances of the marriage lead to loneliness.

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For instance, friends and family members may move away or die, depriving the elderly couple of the social contacts they once had. Second, it could be that lonely people tend to marry other lonely people, leading to a lifelong pattern of social isolation for the couple.

In a recent article, however, Montclair State University psychologist Ashley Ermer and colleagues look beyond the spousal relationship to the larger social network of family and friends to see how these affect the perception of loneliness in marriage.

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They also explored how reported loneliness in married couples changes over time. For this study, the researchers sampled nearly 1, heterosexual married couples in their fifties through seventies who remained married for the entire eight-year span of the study. The sample was representative of the national population in terms of race and ethnicity.

Both partners responded to an extensive survey on three occasions, once inagain inand a final time in The survey posed questions intended to measure a of variables of interest to the researchers.

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The first set of questions gathered basic demographic information, such as age, race, ethnicity, and income. They also reported how lonely they felt. The second set of questions assessed the quality of their social relationships, in particular looking at support and strain in friendships, family, and the marriage itself. Respondents were also asked how close they felt to their spouse.

The third set of questions measured the quantity of social relationships. For example, respondents were asked to estimate the of people in their close social network. They also indicated how frequently they met with family members and friends. The analysis of this large data set was complex, but a few interesting trends emerged.

First, the data show that quality is far more important than quantity when it comes to abating loneliness.

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This finding is consistent with the general findings in the field that you only need a few meaningful relationships in life to be happy. A second trend in these data, however, contradicted the general belief that older couples grow lonely or happy together. That is, they found little evidence that lonely people other marry lonely people.

Furthermore, they found that friendships were more important than family relationships in reducing loneliness.

Feeling lonely in your relationship

Friendships, in contrast, can be severed if they prove to be more of a burden than a benefit. The researchers also found that levels of loneliness did change over time for many of the respondents. However, the reasons for these changes were different for husbands and wives. In this respect, three findings were particularly interesting.

This finding is consistent with the general observation that it is the wife who sets the emotional tone of the marriage. In other words, the husband depends on the wife to create and maintain the external social relationships of the marriage.

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While he felt more positive than negative interactions with his wife, he also felt less loneliness, likely because he could depend on her to maintain their social network. But when marital strain was high, this was no longer the case, and so his loneliness increased. This suggests that women in high-strain marriages can still find overall happiness in life if they have a strong network of caring friends.

Dear coleen: married with kids, but i'm so lonely in my own home

These findings provide suggestions for how marriages counselors should work with couples reporting high levels of loneliness. But they also suggests things that husbands and wives can work on to reduce loneliness and improve marital quality in general.

For instance, wives should keep in mind that their husbands rely heavily on them for building and maintaining the social network that they both share. In sum, focusing on the positive aspects of the relationship is the best way to avoid growing lonely together in old age. Ermer, A. Loneliness trajectories and correlates of social connections among older adult married couples. Journal of Family Psychology.

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Advance online publication. Worry is driven by mood, not logic. Anxiety holds your deepest yearnings. And you can subdue it for good.

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Three experts turn everything you know about anxiety inside out. David Ludden Ph. Talking Apes. Loneliness Essential Re. References Ermer, A. About the Author. David Ludden, Ph. Online: Facebook. Read Next. Back Psychology Today.

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Back Find a Therapist. Back Get Help. Personality Passive Aggression Personality Shyness. Family Life Child Development Parenting. View Help Index.

Married or de facto and lonely

Do I Need Help? Back Magazine. September A Sigh of Relief Worry is driven by mood, not logic.

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