The paradox of feeling lonely in a long-term relationship

Our homes and our relationships certainly do not look like they did just a short time ago.  You are surrounded by stressors, both external and internal, yet you soldier on, you don your COVID mask and pretend to be fine. In reality, you may be feeling lonely and hopeless, even with a partner by your side. Feeling lonely in a relationship is a terrible feeling.

Feeling lonely in a relationship isn’t just a lousy feeling it’s also a pervasive stressor. A stressor that hovers just at the edges of your awareness. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious and sometimes it’s a subtle nagging. This feeling of loneliness is becoming more common and couples tell us they are reluctant to talk about it with one another.

This unfortunately means that being in a committed relationship cannot inoculate you from feelings of loneliness.

However, when you take some time to notice how these feelings arise you can fight them and stay emotionally connected to each other.

Overthinking or self-doubt may try to convince you that you’re utterly alone in this feeling of loneliness but you are not.

Like most of us, you probably spend way too much time in your head, and you should be the one giving directions. Don’t follow the instructions from your stressed-out nervous system, know that these feelings are common and that you can do something about them.

Why are you feeling lonely in a relationship?

Havi points out that this question of loneliness is coming up more and more as we are all grappling with the conflicting demands of home-schooling, working from home, and managing our entire lives on screens.

Why are people feeling increasingly lonely despite being locked down with families and loved ones?

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey states that 28% of the people are unhappy in their own homes.

Note that survey was conducted pre-COVID, during the “old normal” when (presumably) there was less stress in our homes.

However, there is anecdotal evidence that during this COVID lockdown, some spouses are feeling lonelier in their relationship than ever.

A new, collective cultural struggle…

This is becoming a collective struggle for American marriages from coast to coast. How do we manage unprecedented external stressors and remain emotionally connected with our intimate partners?

According to Havi Kligfeld, a licensed family and marriage therapist in Los Angeles, “During this global pandemic, feeling lonely in a relationship can often take place when a couple has lost their emotional connection due to outside stressors.”

Havi tells us it can happen among the most loving couples too.

Digging deeper into the question; Why are some partners feeling more lonely in a relationship?

lonely-in-a-relationshipIf we dig deeper, we see that experts differ on why partners sometimes feel lonely in a relationship.

Some thought leaders say that a lack of vulnerability is a reason behind loneliness in romantic relationships.

If people not taking chances on each other, and are hiding personal stuff it will lead to a feeling of loneliness.

Ask yourself some difficult questions. Am I feeling lonely in my relationship? Or do I feel alienated from a part of myself?

Yes, this can be difficult to determine. But it is worth taking some time to figure out. If during calmer moments, you believe that your partner is doing their level-best (during these very challenging times,) then you might reconsider the reason for your loneliness. It might not be your partner or your relationship.

You deserve to feel loved, find out what is keeping you from feeling that way.

We can help with that.

Havi says that feeling lonely in a relationship is more likely when your partner is feeling alone as well. She also says that if you and your partner are experiencing loneliness, then you need to work on your relationship.

This is all about identifying the problem and figuring out the root issue as soon as possible. If both partners are experiencing the same feelings, both can learn how to get rid of this lonely feeling and be a more effective team. We can struggle through this shared predicament together.

5 Powerful Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely in a Relationship

1.   Acknowledge and understand your feelings

The major reason for feeling lonely, whether in a relationship or on your own, is that we are busy diverting our attention to stuff other than feelings.

Dealing with, and acknowledging our feelings is hard for most people, but it’s critical. If you decide to start online couples therapy, you’ll probably have questions about this.

The first step toward stopping this lonely feeling in a relationship is to reflect and understand your more vulnerable core feelings. In science-based couples therapy, you’ll learn to regulate your nervous system and avoid defensiveness. These two things often block a couple’s ability to mutually describe feeling lonely in a relationship.

lonely-in-a-relationship2.   Evaluate your behaviors

It is only natural to think that your desperate, lonesome feelings have everything to do with your partner’s attitude.

Well, you know that’s not entirely true.

We are often unaware of the impact of our behaviors. If you’re not acknowledging the effect your words are having, you’ll end up pushing away your partner.

So, an overall lack of sharing, avoiding vulnerability, and being emotionally unavailable might be contributing to why you both feel lonely in a relationship.

Therefore, judge your behavior critically. Put yourself in the shoes of your partner. Realize that your behavior may well be inappropriate at times. It’s up to you to clean up your side of the relationship.

3.   Do not miss a chance for true connection.

What is a true connection? Understanding your partner.

No, you don’t have to give up on your emotional needs. Instead, be more open about your needs, and emotional values, and be curious about your partner’s needs as well. This is the only form of true connection, and the stronger it gets, the more fulfilled your relationship will be.

4.   Listen before you speak

No relationship lasts long if one person is speaking all the time, and the other is reduced to eternal listening.

lonely-in-a-relationshipBoth need to communicate equally and participate in the process. If you feel the need to speak, you must. And if it is time to listen to your partner’s rants, show some patience.

This is how you both can be heard and can also stop feeling alone in a loving relationship. Most people feel unhappy or sad because they are unheard or they are dealing with unapproachable partners. So, when you pay attention to your needs and keep in mind your partner’s needs, you can never be lonely, because there is always something to share.

5.   Don’t assume, communicate.

Sometimes you and your partner may be talking, and one of you suddenly zoned out from the conversation. You may think that it’s because of you, or you might have hurt your partner somehow.

Making that assumptions is a mistake; the partner that you have created in your head is not always right. Maybe your partner got distracted or triggered by a concern that has nothing to do with you. If you have a strange feeling about anything, talk to your partner, listen as a friend would listen, and never silently assume anything on your own.

Final thoughts

We’re all under extraordinary stress. Feeling lonely in a relationship with a partner right by your side does not need to add to that stress. This feeling is normal for many of us and it doesn’t need to remain.

If you need help…reach out for help. Our Online Marriage Intensive has never been safer, easier, or more affordable.

Stop Feeling Lonely in Your Relationship…Contact Us Today


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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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