Estranged-The Dilemma of the American Couple

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American couples are increasingly growing distant in a society driven by image, fears of ageing and the uncertainties of a rapidly changing world. According to the World Health Organization we have one of the highest rates of depression, stress, anxiety, addictions, diabetes and obesity in the civilized world. Our children reportedly have the highest rates of childhood diabetes and obesity, and the depression rates for children are two and a half times what they were a few years ago. Eating disorders and substance abuse are common not atypical in today’s schools. Each week we spend 22 hours less with our children than parents 20 years ago; we are essentially becoming ESTRANGED from our children.

Money Can’t Buy Love

We are spending more than ever before, with the national savings rate at the lowest point since the Great Depression. Studies have proven that compulsive spending and financial insecurity causes estrangement in our marriages. Our competitive nature drives us to spend what we don’t have in order to be on par with our neighbors and associates. We are in a contest we don’t enjoy, can’t win and can’t seem to stop.

Stop Aging to Secure Love

We lead the world in money spent on cosmetic procedures; we spent $14 billion on these procedures in 2006 with one billion being financed. One third of the people having these procedures had a household income of less than $30,000. The obsessive pursuit of beauty causes additive behavior which has also been proven to cause estrangement from those closest to us. Our society is increasingly fostering unhealthy relationships that are based on appearance rather than encouraging the process of learning how to establish and maintain genuine love.

Loving a Fantasy

The pornographic industry has grown exponentially as it offers, along with sex chat rooms, a quick fix to the chronic problem of emotional distance in long term relationships. Americans spent $13 billion on pornography in 2006, every second we spend $3,075 on pornographic sites .Spouses who pursue porn on a regular basis ultimately feel estranged from their partners as no one can compete with the idealization of porn figures. These idealized images foster perfectionism and a false sense of what love and intimate sexuality really mean.

We’ve lost that Loving Feeling

Couples from all walks of life tell me on a daily basis how they long for the “in love” feeling they had in the early years of their courtships. Estrangement has been defined as a state of indifference where there had formerly been love, affection and friendliness. Many couples have come to believe that sexual relations dwindle simply because of years spent together. The facts point more in the direction of couples losing intimacy by buying into a fast paced culture, a culture of estrangement that stresses beauty, money and an anti-ageing formula of success. We are becoming a society that lacks relational integrity- the capacity to place relationships with family, friends and community above the need for image and status.

Performance Addiction

ESTRANGMENT is, in part, the result of the cultural forces outlined above that have been absorbed into the psyches of many individuals. These forces have been identified by other theorists but not in terms of how they deteriorate levels of intimacy in our long term relationships. They leave many with a feeling of indifference to those they once “fell in love with“. Americans long for closeness they lost long ago. Unfortunately we are looking in all the wrong places. Many have fallen prey to what I call Performance Addiction-the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure love and respect. This irrational belief system is hardwired early in life and reinforced by cultural expectations. Performance addicts tend to value achievement over character and status over relationships.

The Path to True, Lasting Love

Performance addicts believe they can perfect their way to happiness. They must return to the “scene of the crime” when they first started believing that performance would be the answer to their longings for love. Awareness of this original story is necessary so that old dysfunctional beliefs can be replaced by learning new behaviors that  foster authentic intimacy. This transformation takes time, patience and dedication.

True happiness, love and respect come when people have developed high relationship skills, especially the capacity for empathy. Recovery from the estranged state only comes when we learn in our hearts and in our heads that relationships are in fact the key to gaining what has been missing all along. True love and sexual intimacy is based on uncritical affection, not on the constant comparing and contrasting yourself and your spouse to others, the hallmark of a performance addict.

Once we identify the means to regain lost love we can restore a feeling of hope in our ongoing relationship.  I have witnessed many poignant stories unfold as couples re-gain intimacy and restore balance to their lives and families. These individuals have learned how to know and love a real person rather than chasing misguided cultural myths. Rather than remaining estranged, they have learned how to maintain relationship integrity in the most complicated time in our history. Our current climate is emotionally disturbing; the methods we have adopted for salvation have increased alienation. Interpersonal closeness is the only reliable tool to establish a resilient personality in the face of difficulty. Rather than being driven by the cultural forces and early conditioning that have driven us apart we need to establish the relational path to regaining love and a sense of optimism going forward.

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.d., Ph.D.

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Arthur Ciaramicoli PhD

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