"The most comfortable prison is still a lonely place." Kenneth Kolb
"Should we go out to dinner and go dancing with the gang, or stay in, cook-out and watch a movie together?"
"Should we invite our neighborhood social group to join us on a hike, or should we disappear ourselves to wander in the mountains alone, holding hands, hiking, and sharing our adventure?"
"Should we organize a trip to Cancun for all the couples, or should we plan a romantic getaway for just the two of us?"
When faced with these kinds of questions, which do you more often choose? The group activity, or time spent alone with your spouse? One answer is not all right or all wrong, but when your time as a couple is constantly spent with others, warning bells should start to go off.
As I speak with couples and I ask about how they spend their "free time," I'm no longer surprised by the number of people who say they have a very active social life together. They get along great! They have a fabulous time. They have tons of friends always ready to go somewhere with them.
But, when we start to peel back the layers of the onion, it's always interesting to see how frequently this great social life -- robust, active, talkative, fun, adventurous -- is really hiding that fact that these couples don't want to spend any time alone together. The conversation ceases, the laughter ceases, the fun ceases and the adventure ceases. Frankly, it becomes very lonely. When forced to be a couple, without any outside interaction, these couples find it difficult. They would rather not confront their loneliness. Two isn't supposed to be a lonely number.
What's going on here? I see this in couples who have simply grown apart. It's not that one or the other is having an affair (yet!) or engaging in some other marriage-destroying behavior, but rather simply that these couples drifted apart in their marriage. In most cases, the intimacy is all but gone. One or the other may simply be satisfied living as roommates. Often times divorce isn't considered a viable option for any one of several reasons. Either they really are completely OK being roommates, and not lovers. They don't want to suffer the financial hit that a divorce inevitably brings. They want to stay married "for the kids." And, they do have a great life together -- as friends in a larger friend circle.
Ask these same couples what happens when the party is over and they are driving home, and they will tell you that it gets really quiet. The energy that fueled such a fun night has dissipated. Instead of talking all the way home about what they did, and flirting about what's to come, they instead sit quietly in the car, get home, and climb into their respective sides of the bed, turn over, and go to sleep.
Ultimately, many of these couples do inevitably call it quits and bring in the divorce lawyers. At some point, the idea of living the rest of your life as roommates leaves you wondering if there isn't something more to life. I hear, "I'm not sure I can do this for the second half of my life." I hear, "It's not like I'm going to be lonely by myself ... I'm already lonely and by myself in my marriage," or they say, "I'd rather feel lonely than feel alone when I'm with somebody."
It's these same couples, who, if they ultimately decide to call it quits on their marriage, are the ones whose friends exclaim in surprise, "But why? You guys get along so well? We have so much fun together!"
If, as a couple, you are okay with this "social relationship," then no one should judge you. If however, you long for a relationship where two isn't a lonely number and if you truly do want to stay away from considering divorce as an option, then perhaps you should start to focus on how to rebuild your lives and your schedules such that you are okay being alone with just each other.
In fact, couples in really healthy marriages crave that together time. The idea of spending time "just the two of us" gives them incentive to frequently turn down social invitations. No one says you need to become an asocial hermit, but you do become aware of whether time spent in groups is trumping time spent as a couple.
Is being along the worst thing in life? Or is being in a relationship with someone who makes you feel alone the worst? What do you think?