Loneliness is a complex emotion, and when you say you feel ‘lonely’ in your marriage, it can mean different things.
Maybe you feel unheard or unloved or disconnected from your partner, without the closeness you used to share.
Chances are you didn’t see it coming, and the loneliness you’re now experiencing in your marriage has crept up on you.
It may be a recent realization, or you may have felt disconnected from your partner for months or even years.
Physically you may not be alone, but emotionally there is no one in sight.
You feel remote from your partner as you have both withdrawn into separate parts of the territory you share.
Take comfort from the fact that this is more common than you might imagine, and, better yet, from knowing that there are steps you can take to re-establish the special connection that led you to tie the knot in the first place.
The truth is that being married, or in a stable, long-term relationship, doesn’t protect you from experiencing loneliness.
In one study from the Netherlands, between 20% and 25% of married adults over the age of 64 experienced moderate to strong emotional or social loneliness.
But loneliness can become an issue whatever your age and however long you’ve been married.
How Does Loneliness Happen?
So how did the close and loving connection you and your partner had in those early days get replaced by feelings of isolation and even alienation?
How did your best friend become a stranger?
Isolation is best likened to a malignant cancer that slowly blights your marriage. It’s often painless at first, but, by the time you recognize the toxicity, the infection has spread.
Before you know what’s occurred, you can find your relationship strangled by detachment and boredom.
In the worst cases, when starved of the oxygen of physical and emotional closeness, a marriage can succumb to the terminal disease before it is even diagnosed.
Most of us are social beings who crave intimacy. As adults, we naturally look for that intimacy in marriage.
But, as familiarity sets in, the habitual busyness and fatigue of family life develops and mutual appreciation starts to wane. It’s very easy for a couple to drift apart, step by insidious step.
The relationship runs on two separate tracks, in the same direction, but independently.
There’s a feeling of exclusion, distance, and little intimacy.
You eat together, sleep together, share a couch to watch TV, and parent the same children, but at the same time feel alone.
There may be sex, but the love is absent. There is talk, but no real communication, connection, or understanding.
The Signs Of Loneliness In A Marriage
Knowing the telltale signs of loneliness in a marriage may help to nip the problem in the bud.
Take a look at this list and consider their relevance to your own situation.
- You feel unheard or misunderstood by your spouse.
- Thoughts such as “Who cares?” or “What’s the point?” often come into your mind.
- You don’t seem able to please your spouse or meet their expectations of you.
- You feel as though your partner is detached from you and going their own way.
- You deny the reality of the situation and pretend to others that everything’s fine, even though you know deep down that it isn’t.
- You avoid talking about the issue rather than raising it and inflicting inevitable pain upon yourself and your spouse.
6 Ways To Overcome Loneliness In A Marriage
Just because you’re feeling lonely in your marriage, it doesn’t mean that you have a one-way ticket to the divorce court.
Neither do you just have to accept the status quo.
Let’s take a look at some ways you can reconnect with your spouse, reopen the channels of true communication, and rediscover the closeness and intimacy you seek.
1. Check in on yourself first.
Remember that you are an individual, not just one half of a couple.
Take a look at your own life outside of your relationship. Has work been taking its toll? Have you been having difficulty sleeping?
Try to take some time for yourself that doesn’t involve your husband/wife. Take a day’s leave, take a bath, go to a dance/exercise class, meditate.
Nurturing yourself is as important as nurturing your marriage, even if that’s your ultimate aim.
Focusing on yourself and your own well-being will give you strength and resilience as you take steps to regain the closeness you crave in your marriage.
2. Make the first move.
It’s very easy to believe that you’re the only one who is feeling aggrieved and isolated in your marriage.
In fact, there’s every chance that your spouse is experiencing the same feelings of loneliness.
If each party believes that the other should notice the growing chasm – “they would see if they really cared” – it’s very easy for pride and stubbornness to get in the way and for things to reach a stalemate.
Someone has to make the first move to cross the divide that’s opened up.
That someone may as well be you.
But it doesn’t need to be a dramatic gesture; in fact, it’s better if it’s not. Baby steps are all that’s needed.
If you’re out walking, just slip your hand into your spouse’s or deliver a surprise kiss while they’re busy with some chore or other (offering to help them complete the task might be a wise idea, too).
Or take your partner’s hand while you’re watching TV together.
It’ll be an important reminder of your former togetherness. Repeated frequently and with genuine affection, your partner should hopefully reciprocate.
You may also like (article continues below):
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3. Re-open the dialogue.
Communication in a marriage can easily become very ‘transactional,’ discussing only the practical necessities of kids, finances, work, chores, etc.
Try to introduce different topics into dinner conversations, rather than the mundane day-to-day stuff.
Try to find out how your partner feels about deeper issues other than how the kids are doing and who’s going to pay the electricity bill.
There’s no need to struggle when coming up with ideas – we’ve got you covered. Take some inspiration from our article: 115 Questions To Ask Your Significant Other To Start A Conversation
Keep it light and keep it fun, being sure not to make it feel like an interrogation.
And don’t forget to listen to their replies. Their views may surprise you and give you a better insight into the person you think you know so well.
4. Be honest and show your feelings.
A great way to connect with someone who loves you is by showing your vulnerability.
As your feelings of isolation grow, it’s easy to put up barriers by being strong and independent, which only deepens the divide.
Showing your true feelings can be a revelation to your partner. It may be that they are very literal and aren’t blessed with an intuitive nature. Perhaps they need things spelled out in order to ‘get’ how you really feel.
But be sure not to be accusatory, which is easily done when you’re feeling hurt and excluded. Don’t hit them with, “Why can’t you see that I’m lonely, isolated, and frustrated?”
A better way to open the conversation is to say something like, “I’m feeling super lonely lately. I miss you. It would be wonderful if we could make some time for us this weekend.”
Maybe you need to get a babysitter or reorganize existing plans. Just tossing ideas around will help to bring you closer. But do be sure to act on them – talk is cheap, but action takes effort.
When revealing your feelings, be sure to avoid saying, “you make me feel.” That will put them on the defensive and likely to counter-attack.
Instead, frame the conversation from the perspective of how you feel.
5. Spend time together.
It’s surprising how easy it is, even for a really ‘couply’ couple, to drift apart over time.
Life has a way of creeping in and putting a wedge firmly between husband and wife, especially when you both work and there are kids to be cared for and kept entertained
When children are the priority, it’s easy for a marriage to play second fiddle and ultimately for one partner to feel ignored, unappreciated, and excluded.
If you add a demanding work schedule into the mix, it’s a recipe for division, exclusion, and isolation.
Keeping up with social media is yet another thing that eats into couple time (read: How Social Media Can Affect Relationships)
We’re so busy interacting and connecting with people online at the expense of spending time with those whom we love and actually share our lives with 24/7.
Scheduling in a regular date night is the ideal way to show that you value each other’s company and appreciate spending time together.
Put aside any hurt you may be harboring and suggest doing something that you used to enjoy as a couple.
Paying for a sitter on top of paying for an evening out can be costly, but consider it an investment in your relationship.
In reality, though, you don’t even have to leave the house. Just make a commitment to spend time together after the kids are tucked up in bed, even if it’s just watching TV on the couch with no other distractions, especially phones.
Sharing opinions afterwards on whatever you’ve watched is a good way to make TV time a more communicative activity.
If evenings are just too challenging with kids and busy schedules, try meeting for lunch while the kids are at school or even grab a coffee together. Even fifteen minutes is enough.
A walk around the park, cooking a meal together – the type of things you used to do when you were starting out – are other ways to regain closeness.
Or if you have a little more time on your hands because your kids have flown the nest, you could try finding a new hobby as a couple.
Whatever fits into your schedules and gives you a chance to be together.
Make couple time not just a priority, but the priority.
6. Bridge the physical gap.
One thing that may have fallen by the wayside is physical intimacy and affection.
Those barriers we spoke of earlier are often emotional, but those same walls allow you to shy away from physical contact, even though you crave the comfort that it brings.
If your partner is feeling just as lonely as you are, then he/she will have his/her own armor, creating another obstacle between you.
It may be that you’re still finding release in sex, but that it’s become a mechanical, habitual act rather than an act of love.
And the problem there lies in the resentment which builds up against these automatic responses when the tenderness is missing.
Spontaneous acts of physical affection, far from the bedroom and without any hidden agenda, are the ones which will help to break down the barriers and restore closeness between you.
Chances are they’ll help improve sexual intimacy too.
When you are out walking together, try taking your partner’s hand. Or put an arm around their shoulders or waist if that feels right.
Pay attention to kisses goodbye and hello and make them warm and heartfelt, rather than barely noticed and automatic.
Small gestures, big impact.
It’s truly awful to feel lonely in your marriage, but the truth is that even the best relationships go through periods where one or both partners feel isolated or excluded.
It’s also a fact that all marriages need to be actively and energetically nurtured, sustained with love and shared intimacy.
There should be no sense of failure in finding yourself where you are now, not least because you’ve set the intention to heal the divide that caused you to grow apart.
Now you have some tools to help you restore your partnership.
It’s always helpful to remember that we are all flawed humans and the perfect marriage is the stuff of fiction, not fact.