Loneliness in a long-term relationship or marriage can be a real burden.
It can leave us not knowing how to make things better. Should we try to talk to our partner? Or will whatever’s caused this sense of loneliness make it difficult? Apart from leaving us feeling isolated, loneliness can also make us feel helpless.
How does it feel to be lonely in a relationship?
Loneliness is a complex feeling. When someone says they feel ‘lonely’ in a relationship, it can mean a variety of things.
It might mean you feel unheard or unloved. You might be feeling disconnected from your partner – as if you aren’t so close as you used to be. Or it could be you’re feeling confused about something: you’re trying to resolve a problem but feel unable to talk about what’s bothering you.
What causes loneliness?
One of the most common reasons is a change in your life that makes you feel differently about your relationship.
A new job might be limiting the amount of time you can spend together. Or it could be a big change in your relationship, such as moving in together, getting married, having kids or your children moving away.
How do big life changes put us at risk of loneliness?
Life changes often mean different or greater pressures, which can leave you feeling that you need more support. If you feel you’re not getting the support you need you may begin to resent your partner or drift apart – this is when the feeling of ‘loneliness’ may begin to creep in.
Changes may also alter the role we want our relationship to play in our life: a mother may suddenly find herself re-assessing whether her relationship gives her everything she needs after her grown-up children have left home. Or one partner may begin to wonder whether they’ve sacrificed too much for their marriage when they’re passed up for another promotion. Again, feeling your relationship isn’t giving you what you need can lead to a sense of alienation as you begin to doubt whether you’ve got your priorities right.
Change on the inside
At other times, it can be an internal change that’s prompts you to feel differently about your relationship.
It might be that you’re not communicating as well as you used to. It can be easy to slip into negative communication habits – such as freezing each other out or jumping to make accusations. Over time these can wear away at your relationship and make you feel less close to one another.
Maybe there’s been a breach of trust, such as an affair. When we feel betrayed, it can affect the relationship even more deeply than we might realise. Often, it takes years to identify and work out the damage done when one partner badly lets down the other.
Or perhaps it’s just something that’s happened: relationships often go through periods of disconnection and then reconnection as a natural part of being together for a long period of time. Sometimes, you may feel close to your partner and that everything is great, but then, a few years later, find you aren’t as happy around your partner as you used to be. This can take place outside of any external influence – and can leave you feeling surprised or disenchanted when it does occur.
How does loneliness affect your relationship?
It’s not common for someone to admit to being ‘lonely’ in a relationship. This tends to be the way someone might phrase things after a period of analysis or soul-searching.
In reality, loneliness tends to express itself more indirectly. You may find yourself feeling more annoyed with your partner: starting arguments or interpreting things they do and say negatively.
You may act a bit childishly, start avoiding your partner or give them the silent treatment. You may become less sexual and feel less attracted to them. Or you may just get the general underlying feeling that you’re drifting apart – becoming disconnected over time.
This kind of feeling is actually one of the most common reasons for affairs: when we feel that our partner is unable to give us the attention or care that we deserve, we can be susceptible to others who might.
How do you break out of this kind of situation?
When you’re feeling distant from your partner, it can be really difficult to address the problem. If you’re feeling let down, or that they aren’t able to support you, it can be nerve-wracking to ask them for help to make things better. But this is usually what it takes to begin to address such issues.
Before doing any of this, one thing that can be useful is giving a label to your feelings. Does any of the above sound familiar in your relationship? Would you describe yourself as feeling ‘lonely’? Being able to put a label on it can be a good way of accepting that there’s a problem – that something does need to change. It can also give you a way to describe how you’re feeling when you do begin to talk.
After this, it’s a case of having the conversation with your partner without getting into an argument. It can be easy to end up getting emotional and allowing things to spiral into a heated row, but it’s important to try to talk in a way that can lead to agreement about what you can both do differently.
Many couples find that simply beginning to talk is all that’s needed to start making progress. In the case of feeling ‘lonely’ in a relationship, it’s very common that the other person is unaware that you need extra support – simply because you haven’t told them. We often assume that our partners should have an intuitive understanding of what we’re going through and what we need, but it’s not always clear unless it’s actually stated out loud.
Of course, talking about a problem is no guarantee that it can be solved quickly – or even at all. But, left alone, these issues tend to fester and grow over time. Being open and communicative about problems, even when it’s difficult or painful, gives you the best chance of dealing with feeling lonely – and if you are able to work things through, you may well find that your relationship comes out stronger on the other side.
If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors about such feelings why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.