How to deal with loneliness in a relationship? Listen to this song by Bonnie Raitt about the contours of loneliness.


How the hell can a person
Go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening
And have nothing to say

Angel From Montgomery, written by John Prine. Sung by Bonnie Raitt

Signs of loneliness in a relationship

Feeling disconnected

Kelly was so lonely in her relationship with Ned. The sex had stopped. His tax accounting job took him away from the home for 14-hours a day.

But when tax season ended, Ned’s time around the house felt even more painful to both of them. They sat in the same room watching a video. Or reading different books. Or stayed in different rooms, until one of them decided to go to bed, silently. How satisfying (or dissatisfying) does time spent with your relationship feel? This can be a red flag.

Most of the time, Kelly just distracted herself. She’d visit with friends, or cruise the internet or social media. But sometimes the silence was too deafening. She’d pick a fight with Ned over the stupidest things.

Many people battle feeling lonely in a relationship. Many partners feel that bringing up their sense of loneliness in a romantic relationship will cause arguments. Sometimes fights start just because a spouse is so darn lonely. Better to fight than to bear the silence.

For Kelly, it would be how he loaded the dishwasher or the fact that he didn’t pick up his clothes. And he’d respond by complaining about some dumb, trivial thing she had done in return. This back-and-forth bickering we call “defensiveness” and “criticism.”

But even fighting when you suffer a feeling of loneliness, however, can take up too much energy. Bonnie Raitt sings: “ain’t done nothing since I woke up today...” she has so little energy. Feeling lonely can impact our mental health and mimic clinical depression.

The lyrics are reminiscing not about the good times this woman has had in her relationship, but on the better times, she imagines having with an old lover. His positive qualities seem grander. His drawbacks, smaller.

“Weren’t much to look at, just a free ramblin’ man.”

She will spend time and re-write history, like a lot of despairing spouses. Even watching a movie will be no distraction from the heavy burden of living in a lonely marriage.

In this song, the wife hopes for an “angel,” any miracle: … ”that I can hold on to,” because she’s stopped embracing her “old man,” physically, emotionally, or psychologically. She’s trying to forget how depressed she is. “To believe in this livin’ is just a hard way to go.”

And if this continues, the marriage will continue to lessen in importance until the relationship doesn’t hold the same meaning, while the dreams of her former relationship strengthen.

She has kept her dreams (“thunder”) and her passions (“desire”) but fears that if she were to have made these things real, they would have “burned down this old house a long time ago.” So she lives privately, in her own thoughts. She fantasizes.

She settles for a poster of “an old rodeo” that reminds her of the one that got away.

How very sad and even tragic. Loneliness is a sad state of affairs.

The song is full of the pathos I see in my office at the start of couples counseling.

Unhealthy ways of dealing with loneliness

Being open to having an affair

For many of my clients, this loneliness drives them to extra-marital affairs. Affairs try to burn off this depression while, keeping their families intact.

However, when discovered, like lightning, it burns down the house. Kelly started to dream about her high school sweetheart when she saw his name pop up on Facebook. It was a powerful lift for her. And it absorbed her lonely hours.

Work-a-holism

Her husband Ned had turned to work-a-holism. In overwork, the partner convinces themselves that they are really working for the family, but their reluctance to return home after the end of a long day tells a different story: they are in pain. At least working allows them to feel needed and useful

In healthy relationships, there are ongoing discussions about managing work and family. Relationship experts agree that this is not a “one and done” conversation, and one size doesn’t fit all. Some partners love their jobs. Other families have to take on one or more jobs to keep financially afloat. The most important variable is that both of you have agreed that, for the time being, this particular work/home balance is desirable.

Substance abuse

Others turn to drinking or drugging. They start to feel less and less. They don’t feel desired so they don’t want to feel anything at all.

Drinking and drugging are efforts to numb the pain. An effort to distract themselves from the reminders that, they too, or are “another child that’s grown old…”Or don t feel at all.

Get help over one weekend and heal

Don’t give up if you are full of loneliness in a relationship. Talk to your partner. Loneliness doesn’t have to have the last word in a long-term relationship. Your relationship doesn’t have to end because you are lonely.

At Couples Therapy Inc. we can teach you to deal with loneliness in a relationship by teaching both couples how to communicate with each other on a deeper, more meaningful level.

They don’t need to change their personalities. You can learn to talk from your heart about past hurts and become closer. And learn to stay closer by actions you can take every day.

You don’t have to “love” having long, emotional conversations. Neither has to be perfect. They simply have to learn basic skills, face the fact that they ARE lonely, and start talking again.

You can redirect that passion and desire, and share your dreams with your spouse, once again, instead of picking a fight or looking fondly at “what might have been.”

Need one thing that you can hold on to?

Try this:

Over 40 years of intensive research showing how people can improve their marriages, the skill and experience of a friendly group of experienced couples therapists who specializes in sex and couples therapy, and a belief that this living is something YOU deserve to get the best out of... Reach out to our team today.

Originally published August 10, 2013.

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Dr. Kathy McMahon


Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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