Loneliness in Marriage: What to do
Loneliness affects us physically. We feel pain more acutely; it suppresses our immune system, disrupts our sleep, and makes us tired and irritable.
How common is it to feel lonely in a marriage?
All too common, according to surveys. Some argue that 40 percent of those in relationships have experienced it.
AARP says 29%. The common ingredient? You feel abandoned emotionally. Feeling alone in marriage hurts.
Signs of loneliness in a relationship
Loneliness refers to:
“a subjective distressing emotion that results from a discrepancy between one’s actual and desired social relationships” (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008). Feeling alone in marriage is such a painful feeling that many withdraw from others instead of reaching out.
Kelly and Ned
Kelly was very lonely in her relationship with Ned. She told me: "I am so depressed and lonely in my marriage." The sex had stopped. His tax accounting job took him away from 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. There were few interactions and little conversation. When they happened, the talk was superficial.
They sat in the same room and watched a video. Or read different books. Or stayed in different rooms until one of them decided to go to bed silently.
Both wanted to have more family connections and quality time but didn't know how to broach it. Was feeling disconnected normal for married couples?
Havi Kligfeld, is a licensed family and marriage therapist in Los Angeles. She states: “Feeling lonely in a relationship can often take place when a couple has lost their emotional connection. Outside stressors are often to blame.”
Couples often share: "I am so depressed and lonely in my marriage." Depression is often connected to loneliness. It cuts people off from themselves and each other. There are many ways to find out if you are clinically depressed. Take this online 21 item standardized test to screen for depression.
Loss of a romantic relationship
Warm kisses hello or goodbye have stopped. You've stopped hugging. You don't casually flirt, just for fun. You don't complement each other; never mind, find time for intimacy.
Her husband Ned had turned to work-a-holism. In overwork, the partner convinces themselves they are working for the family.
However, they are reluctant to return home after the end of a long day. Home isn't a place to relax and refresh. They are in pain. At least working allows them to feel needed and useful.
In healthy relationships, married people manage work and family. Relationship experts agree 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 stay financially afloat. Your particular arrangement has to work for both of you, at least for the time being.
Others turn to drinking or drugging. Partners feel less and less. They don’t feel desired by their partners, so they don’t want to feel anything at all.
Drinking and drugging are efforts to numb the pain.
Is it normal to feel lonely in a marriage?
People feel guilty when they are married but lonely. Often they haven't felt emotionally connected for a long time. They wonder whether they've done something wrong. This stops them from asking what concrete things they might do to get closer.
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 instead of talking about them. They are afraid it 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."
The feeling of loneliness takes up a lot of emotional energy. Feeling lonely can impact our mental health and even mimic clinical depression.
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.
Lonely people withdraw and begin to rewrite history. Were we ever connected?
How very sad and even tragic. Loneliness is a sad state of affairs.
Steps to take.
Start talking: Begin by sharing what's happened in your daily life and asking about theirs. Get interested in the cast of characters they interact with. If you have nothing to stay, pick up a book, or watch a documentary or podcast.
Pick a neutral subject first, not one you are likely to fight about.
Be open and non-blaming: Don't focus on whose fault it is that you are feeling lonely. Accept that these are your feelings and figure out something concrete you might do to change it. Think back to what you both used to enjoy, and propose trying it again.
Interact, don't co-exist: Balance passive activities like watching tv with active engagement like taking a dance lesson, taking up birdwatching, or cooking a new dinner recipe together.
Get help to heal.
Spouses 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 do you have to be perfect. You can simply learn basic skills, face the fact that you ARE lonely, and start talking again.
You can redirect that passion and desire. Share your dreams with your spouse again instead of picking a fight or looking fondly at “what might have been.”