The University of Chicago issued the following news release:

Loneliness can be contagious
People who feel lonely spread that feeling to others

Loneliness, like a bad cold, can spread among groups of people, research
at the University of Chicago, the University of California-San Diego and
Harvard shows.

Using longitudinal data from a large-scale study that has been following
health conditions for more than 60 years, a team of scholars found that
lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others. Gradually over
time, a group of lonely, disconnected people moves to the fringes of
social networks.

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to
be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,”
said University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, one member of the
study team and one of the nation’s leading scholars of loneliness. “On
the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them
to losing the few ties they have left.”

Other members of the study team were James Fowler, Associate Professor
of Political Science at the University of California-San Diego, and
Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Medicine and Professor of Medical
Sociology in the Harvard Medical School.

Before relationships are severed, people on the periphery transmit
feelings of loneliness to their remaining friends, who also become
lonely. “These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray
at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted
sweater,” said Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished
Service Professor in Psychology.

Because loneliness is associated with a variety of mental and physical
diseases that can shorten life, Cacioppo said it is important for people
to recognize loneliness and help those people connect with their social
group before the lonely individuals move to the edges.

The scholars’ findings were published in the article, “Alone in the
Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social
Network,” published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology.

For the study, the team examined records of the Framingham Heart Study,
which has studied people in Framingham, Mass. since 1948. The original
group, including more than 5,209 people, was originally studied for the
risks of cardiovascular disease.

The study has since been expanded to include about 12,000 people, as the
children and the grandchildren of the original group and others have
been included to diversify the population sample. The Framingham study
now includes more tests, including measures of loneliness and
depression. The second generation in the study, which includes 5,124
people, was the focus of the loneliness research.

Because the study is longitudinal, researchers kept in touch with the
subjects every two to four years and accordingly collected names of
friends who knew the subjects. Those records became an excellent source
of information about the people’s social networks.

By constructing graphs that charted the subjects’ friendship histories
and information about their reports of loneliness, researchers were able
to establish a pattern of loneliness that spread as people reported
fewer close friends. The data showed that lonely people “infected” the
people around them with loneliness, and those people moved to the edges
of social circles.

The team found that the next-door neighbors in the survey who
experienced an increase of one day of loneliness a week prompted an
increase in loneliness among their neighbors who were their close
friends. The loneliness spread as the neighbors spent less time together.

Previous work suggested that women rely on emotional support more than
men do, and in this study women were more likely than men to report
“catching” loneliness from others. People’s chances of becoming lonely
were more likely to be caused by changes in friendship networks than
changes in family networks.

Research also shows that as people become lonely, they become less
trustful of others, and a cycle develops that makes it harder for them
to form friendships. Societies seem to develop a natural tendency to
shed these lonely people, something that is mirrored in tests of
monkeys, who tend to drive off members of their groups who have been
removed from a colony and then reintroduced, Cacioppo said.

That pattern makes it all the more important to recognize loneliness and
deal with it before it spreads, he said.

“Society may benefit by aggressively targeting the people in the
periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a
protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network
from unraveling,” he said.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“Previous research has shown that loneliness and lack of social
connection can have a significant negative effect on the overall health
and well-being of older people,” said Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of
the NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, which funded the
research. “This pioneering research into the connections of individuals
within their social networks has important implications for the larger
issue of social interactions and health.”

This morning’s *USA Today* includes an article: “‘With this doubt, I
thee wed’: Some know marriage will fail” by Sharon Jayson.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Tracie Donahue had some doubts before the wedding, but she got married,

So did Crystal Neumann and Cherrie Rasmussen, who say they also ignored
the red flags and tied the knot, only to sever it later.


Counselors and those who study dating, marriage and divorce say plenty
of couples get married when they shouldn’t.

And their numbers may be increasing, because more couples are casually
living together, which can complicate decisions about whether to marry,
says Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family
Studies at the University of Denver.

Stanley says his research on couples who cohabit before marriage has
found that “some of those wouldn’t have married if they hadn’t been
living together.”

“People have committed themselves before talking about the commitment to
the future, and that can get you walking down the aisle not being sure
that’s the right thing, or what you want to do,” he says.


From John Gottman “7 Principles that make marriage work”

First – what does not work:  Signs of a marriage in trouble

  • A harsh start up — leading off a discussion with criticism and/or sarcasm, a form of contempt.  If your discussion begins with a harsh start up it will inevitably end on a negative note.
  • The “four horsemen of the apocalypse” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling strongly predict divorce.
  • A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism ups the ante by throwing in blame and general character assassination — “what’s wrong with you?”
  • Contempt includes sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor.  It is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust.  It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you are disgusted with him or her.  Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict.
  • Defensiveness rarely has the desired effect.  The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize.  This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.  You are saying in effect, “the problem is not me, it’s you”.  Defensiveness just escalates the conflict.
  • With stonewalling, eventually one partner tunes out.  Rather than confronting his wife, the husband disengages.  By turning away from her, he is avoiding a fight, but he is also avoiding his marriage.  This is far more common among men.  He tends to look away or down without uttering a sound.
  • Usually people stonewall as protection against feeling flooded.  You feel so defenseless against the sniper attack you learn to do anything to avoid a replay.
  • Recurring episodes of flooding lead to divorce for two reasons.  First they signal that at least one partner feels severe emotional distress.  Second, the sensations of feeling flooded make it almost impossible to have a productive, problem solving discussion.  Your ability to process information is reduced, meaning it’s harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying.  When either partner begins to feel flooded routinely, the relationship is in serious trouble.  Frequently feeling flooded leads almost inevitably to distancing yourself from your spouse.  This in turn leads you to feel lonely.
  • Failure of repair attempts (“let’s take a break”, “wait I need to calm down”) to put on the brakes so that flooding is prevented.  When the four Horsemen rule the couples communication, repair attempts often do not even get noticed.  In unhappy marriages, a feedback loop develops between the four Horsemen and the failure of repair attempt.  The more contemptuous and defensive the couple is with each other, the more flooding occurs and the harder it is to hear and respond to a repair attempt.
  • In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on the early days fondly.  When a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten – for the worse.  Or the past is difficult to remember because it has become unimportant or painful.

What does work: the 7 principles Gottman discovered by observing successful couples

  • Principle one: enhance your love maps – awareness of your partner’s life and experieinces. Check in with each other often, share lots.
  • Principle two: nurture your fondness and admiration. Give messages of appreciation and affection. Focus on the good in your spouse.
  • Principle three: turn towards each other instead of away. Make a habit of helping each other cope, turn to each other in times of stress, connect lots.
  • Principle four: let your partner influence you. Yield in order to win. Accept influence. Choose “us” over “me”. Compromise.
  • Principle five: solve your solvable problems. Do this by raising problems gently and respectfully, make and receive efforts to moderate conflict, sooth self and each other,
    compromise and be tolerant of each other’s faults.
  • Principle six: overcome gridlock on unsolvable problems (70% of marital problems never really go away). move from gridlock to dialogue.  Learning to be able to talk about it without hurting each other.  You learn to live with the problem.  You first have to understand its cause.  It is a sign that you have dreams for your life that are not being addressed or respected by each other.
  • Principle seven: create shared meaning with shared goals, values, stories, symbols, rituals, and compatible roles in life.

Obviously there is much more to this than a checklist, and Gottman’s book includes many questionnaires for couples to use to study their relationship and identify problem areas along with practical exercises to increase the quality of the relationship using the 7 principles.

Summarized by Brian Grady PhD R.Psych.

The *Jerusalem Post* includes an article: “Psychologically Speaking:  Sexless marriages” by Dr. Batya L. Ludman.

The author note states: “The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana.”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

I’m often asked what the typical frequency of sexual intimacy is, but
given that every couple has their own set of experiences and stressors,
rather than give an answer, I generally prefer to explore that person’s
satisfaction within their relationship.

Often, but not always, the relationship in the bedroom is a reflection
of other issues within the marriage.

Sexless marriages, or marriages with sexual intimacy less than 10 times
a year, are found in couples of all ages and are far more common than
one might think.

Many couples increasingly opt for “platonic” relationships as life’s
stressors relegate sexual intimacy to the bottom of the “to do” list.

Many couples have not been intimate for months and some for years.

Whether by choice or not, many prefer to suffer in silence rather than
risk asking just what went wrong and determining what they can do to
change it.

Why do relationships reach an impasse and what can be done to change it?

Take a minute to scan this checklist to see if your relationship suffers
from any of the following:

Here’s something Rumi’s remarkable father had to say on the subject of conversation:

“Visitors come here when I’m ill or morose, and they don’t mention anything about disease or melancholy. They should be more generous. You can say anything here. Don’t mind my mood. Conversation breaks up the ground and allows vegetables to grow. Eggplant, radish, lettuce, peas, cabbage. Let talking find its way with no restrictions. Let the long pods sprout on their spontaneous stalks, so we can be fed the beans of conversation.”


Witnessing another person’s physical pain registers more quickly in the brain than compassion for social or psychological pain, but the latter leaves a much longer-lasting impression.

New brain-imaging research showed an almost immediate “wince” reaction to seeing someone’s physical pain. By contrast the brain took 6 to 8 seconds to respond to stories about social or psychological pain — a very long time considering that neurons fire within milliseconds. However, the brain’s response to social or psychological situations lingered for much longer than the response to physical pain. That may suggest a more complex thought process, compared to the instinctive evolutionary reaction to physical pain.

Compassion for another person’s social or psychological pain also activated some of the same brain areas triggered by compassion for physical pain, and particularly the region responsible for gut feelings, known as the anterior insula.

“It’s almost as if we have a body in which to play out feelings about other people’s situations, but that body is subdivided between the musculoskeletal system and the gut,” Immordino-Yang noted.

The full research is detailed in the April 13 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Full article:

By Jeremy Hsu, Staff Writer


It was your lightness that drew me,
the lightness of your talk and your laughter,
the lightness of your cheek in my hands,
your sweet gentle modest lightness;
and it is the lightness of your kiss
that is starving my mouth,
and the lightness of your embrace
that will let me go adrift.

Meg Bateman