Live the Life South Florida has a mission to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education beginning in middle school through senior adults. In addition to our marriage programs, we teach social and emotional wellness in the school system as an accredited class. Our reasoning for addressing students is they are the ones on the front lines, making decisions that may impact the rest of their lives and their relationships – decisions that could lead to an unplanned pregnancy or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Some of their choices will be packed in the honeymoon baggage and carried over the threshold into their marriages, only to be unpacked later with emotional devastation.
The last two years we’ve asked more than 3000 students if they have a trusted person in their life. Fifty percent say they don’t. Several years ago, Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, attended the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and afterward in a “think tank” conversation he said, “Our students aren’t committing suicide because their being bullied; their committing suicide because they’re lonely.” I realize suicide is complicated, and this isn’t intended to dismiss the complexities or pain of families that have experienced the devastation of suicide. Daly is correct in his statement that many of our students are lonely.
The same is true for many of our marriages. Very often we hear statements like these: “I feel alone in my marriage.” “We don’t talk.” “We’re more like roommates.” Loneliness is pervasive in our classrooms, families and our marriages. John Cacioppo was a professor at the University of Chicago considered to be the most renowned scholar in the study of loneliness. He wrote that loneliness is not synonymous with being alone, nor does being with others guarantee protection from feelings of loneliness. Loneliness is like an iceberg; it goes deeper than you can see.” Loneliness is a feeling and a perception; it is a cry for intimacy.
Loneliness by the numbers
In the United States, 46 percent of Americans experience loneliness, 47 percent report feeling left out, 20 percent say they never or rarely feel close to someone and 18 percent say they have no one to talk too. Many respondents have families and are in relationships. Loneliness is on the rise, and it’s affecting all age groups. AARP reported that 42 million U.S. adults over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness. A study by Cigna revealed that Gen Z’s (18-22) are more likely to be lonely and in poor health than senior citizens.
Although we may believe we won’t experience loneliness if we’re married, 62 percent of people who reported being lonely were married and living with their spouse. Loneliness is determined by the quality of our relationships, and based on the research findings and the conversations we have with students and couples, we’re becoming increasingly disconnected.
Our conversations are becoming transactional addressing our “to do” list. Our “eye to eye” conversations are less and less. We give our presence to our devices and not the people we live and share life with. We hold on to the roles of “You” and “I,” and we forget about “US.” “You” stay up until 11 pm and “I” go to bed at 9. “You” watch TV and “I” work on the computer.
Given the divorce rate, it’s not a coincidence that 50 percent of our students are saying they have no trusted adult to go to and Gen Z’s (18-22) are the loneliest population in the U.S. Progress and innovation comes with many positives and many challenges. Before we had central heat and air, we gathered around the fireplace to stay warm or gathered under a shade tree when it was hot. When we first had televisions, we only had one, so everyone gathered together to watch programming. Today we have several TVs, computers and phones, so we can view programming on many devices and we don’t have to watch together. We no longer gather.
How does “US” attack Loneliness?
You have to be proactive and intentional. The Power of US can dispel loneliness.
- Speak up and speak out. Reach out to your spouse and your children with questions that show you’re interested in things they care about. If you’re at a loss for questions LTLSF has a deck of cards for purchase with conversation starters for your family. (Email [email protected])
- Rather than “I” going to bed at 9, stay up with “You” and watch TV for some “US” time.
- Find an activity you can enjoy together; read a book out loud to one another or take a walk.
- Put away your devices and give them “eye to eye” time.
- Go out of your way with a random act of kindness for your spouse.
- Have at least one meal together as a family weekly.
- Practice empathy; put yourself in your spouse’s shoes as you attempt a deeper understanding of their needs and desires.
- Make time for your family members on an individual basis. Have at least one quality, one on one, conversation per child, per week.
- Consider creating a family gratitude journal and have each member share three things they have to be grateful for each week.
- Pray together as a couple and as a family.
- Never forget to GATHER together.
If you or someone you know is experiencing loneliness, I encourage you to reach out and seek counsel from a trusted advisor or counselor. I also pray you’ll find comfort in that Jesus in His humanness has experienced all the emotional struggles and challenges we face. He too experienced deep loneliness. I can only imagine the feelings of loneliness and isolation from His human family, the perfect, stepchild of Joseph, son of a woman who was pregnant before marriage, that claimed to be the Messiah; the whispers of disdain He must have endured. His childhood years of loneliness were only a fraction of the loneliness He would feel as He went to the cross on our behalf, for a people that shouted crucify Him, for disciples that abandoned him, and His Father who allowed Him to descend into hell for you and me. Because of His sacrifice, you and I are never alone even if it feels that way. God tells us to come to Him when we are weary and our burdens are heavy, and He will give us rest. Psalm 23 tells us that even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we should fear no evil because He is with us and we will dwell in His house forever.
If we can come alongside you, your marriage, or your family, I hope you’ll let us know. If you have a comment or concern, please share with us. Visit livethelife.org/ft-lauderdale for more information.
Lisa May is the Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida etc. She can be reached at [email protected] or by mail at 5110 N. Federal Hwy. Suite 102, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308