Feeling Lonely in a Relationship
Feeling Lonely in a Relationship
Why Do I Feel Lonely in My Relationship?
Most of the couples who see me for marriage counseling or couples therapy are not in the middle of an acute relationship crisis. They are not lobbing vicious words around the dinner table. No one is sleeping with their boss, or gambling away the kids’ college fund at the casino.
More often, when couples land on my couch, it’s because nothing is happening between them. Over the years, their relationship’s life force has dripped away, so gradually that they didn’t notice it happening. They’re in each other’s presence day after day, but they feel alone, and they don’t know what to do about it.
Feeling lonely in a marriage or a long-term relationship is more common than you might expect. And it’s not an indication that you chose the wrong partner, or that some supernatural “spark” has gone out and can’t ever be reignited. It’s simply what happens to everything we create, without proactive intervention: dust settles on the shelf, weeds overtake the garden, and our strong connections to each other slowly wither away.
The good news is, you do have the power to intervene, and on this episode of the podcast, I’m going to tell you how. You’ll learn all about what makes a relationship feel lonely, and how you can close the gap between yourself and your partner and create a closer, more satisfying connection.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Feeling Lonely in a Relationship
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Feeling Lonely in a Relationship: Episode Highlights
Loneliness happens when we don’t have as much felt love and connection as we would like to have. It’s a pain signal that our brains emit, letting us know that we have emotional needs that are not being met. When we’re feeling lonely in a relationship, it doesn’t mean we’re with the wrong person, or that our relationship has died and can’t be revived. It simply means we need to find a way to connect more deeply with our partner.
Reasons for Being Lonely in a Relationship
Most often, feeling lonely in a relationship is a sign that you and your partner are not having a real emotional exchange. You might be having daily conversations about relatively superficial topics, but rarely sharing your deeper feelings with each other.
It’s the difference between informing your partner that you’re starting a new project at work, and sharing with them that you’re feeling worried about performing well on the project, and about what could happen if you don’t. When you’re open about your feelings, your partner has an opportunity to see you, validate you, and offer support, helping you feel more connected and less alone.
When you aren’t having a real emotional exchange with your partner, you feel unheard and unseen. And since your partner is the person you’re counting on more than anyone else to see you and hear you, going without that emotional intimacy will leave you feeling incredibly lonely.
Another possible culprit behind lonely relationships? Speaking a different love language than your partner.
If you feel close and connected when you’re having intimate conversations, and they feel close and connected when you’re doing fun activities together, a relationship that’s full of camping trips and motorcycle excursions, but devoid of deeper conversations, will probably leave you feeling lonely, while your partner feels great. When you broach the topic, they might respond by saying something like, “What do you mean you’re feeling lonely? We had so much fun together this weekend!” You’re simply speaking different love languages.
Finally, feeling lonely in a relationship can mean that there’s a conflict you’ve been unable to resolve, or sources of pain between you that have not been fully addressed. Once you get to the point of disconnection, you’re not constantly fighting with your partner — you probably long ago “agreed to disagree” — but by blocking out the conflict, you’ve also blocked out emotional intimacy and all the joy, love, and connection that comes with it.
Relationships with untreated wounds are more than hollow, they have something painful sitting in their center. Having productive, healing conversations can help you and your partner dislodge it once and for all.
How to Stop Feeling Sad and Lonely in a Relationship
Many couples think that the antidote to disconnection is spending more time together. When they plan elaborate date nights hoping it will bring them closer together, only to sit across from each other chewing in awkward silence and feeling worse than before, they believe they’ve tried everything. Too often, divorce is the next step.
This is a mistake. There is a path to changing a lonely relationship, and it’s restoring emotional intimacy between yourself and your partner, not simply “spending time” together. This requires being vulnerable and authentic about how you’re feeling, and that doesn’t necessarily happen just because you’re physically together.
Restoring Emotional Intimacy
When you’re falling in love, a flood of dopamine and oxytocin make bonding easy. But those feel-good chemicals don’t keep flooding your system forever. To maintain an emotional connection for years, you and your partner have to intentionally cultivate emotional intimacy.
This does not happen automatically; it’s something all couples have to work at. Every long-term couple has periods where they’re feeling less connected, and they need to find their way back together. If they haven’t developed the skills to keep their relationship healthy, things get increasingly disconnected until the relationship feels hollow and lonely.
Start here: What conversation are you avoiding? You might be avoiding an emotionally charged conflict because you’re afraid of damaging the relationship, but not having the conflict has created a block to connection. You might be afraid to express how you’re feeling, because you risk being rejected, dismissed, or invalidated.
At the very least, you and your partner have your feelings of loneliness to discuss. Start by telling them how you’re feeling. Tell them you miss them, that you’re feeling lonely, and that you are longing to feel closer. This can be scary, but if the conversation doesn’t go well the first time, keep trying. This is where working with a marriage counselor can be incredibly helpful.
Often, when we’re feeling hurt or sad, we express those feelings as anger or resentment, because it’s less scary than showing our soft underbelly and risking a painful rejection. You might be having weird little fights about petty stuff, while dancing around the true problems: feelings of emotional abandonment, and the uneasiness that comes with having an attachment bond that you’re not confident is secure.
If you can resist the urge to lead with anger or criticism, which will only provoke defensiveness and anger from your partner, you can have a productive conversation rather than another fight. Tell them how you’ve been feeling, and ask them how they’ve been feeling about your relationship. Then it will be your turn to practice listening non-defensively.
The Risks of a Lonely Relationship
A lonely relationship is not a weird or uncommon occurrence, but it is something you need to address sooner rather than later. Not only because you deserve to have the closeness and connection that every human needs, but because, if you allow this to drift, the disconnection will only get worse, and reconnecting with your partner will only be more difficult.
When people aren’t getting their emotional needs met in their relationships, they’re vulnerable to turning to emotional affairs to meet those needs. They may try to alleviate their loneliness by striking up a Facebook affair, or developing a crush on somebody else. These relationships can easily snowball into full-blown sexual affairs that make salvaging your relationship a thousand times more difficult.
Infidelity is often the language of the emotionally starved. Communicate your feelings directly, before they come out in a deeply damaging way.
[3:27] Being Lonely in a Relationship
- Even couples in healthy relationships have fluctuations in their connections.
- Especially in long-term relationships, couples drift apart and then have to find their way back to each other.
- Feeling lonely in a can happen even when couples are physically together.
[8:52] Why You Feel Lonely in a Relationship
- Loneliness in a relationship stems from a lack of deep, meaningful connection.
- This lonely feeling can also be due to differences in love languages.
- It's important to understand that what you're feeling is not necessarily the same as what your partner is feeling — people have different needs.
[11:51] What to Do When You're Lonely in a Relationship
- Have conversations with your partner where you're both vulnerable and authentic to restore the emotional connection and intimacy.
- Restoring this connection doesn't mean spending more time together. Rather, it is putting energy into connecting on a deeper level.
- If your partner opens up to you, don't be defensive and dismissive of their side.
[21:06] When You Are Lonely in a Marriage
- If discussions with your partner about loneliness turn into arguments, seek help from a couples counselor specializing in marriage and family therapy.
- A qualified therapist can help create a safe space for you and your partner to discuss matters and guide you toward conflict resolution.
- It's better to acknowledge problems in your marriage rather than to minimize or downplay them. Remember that issues are common in any relationship, but they need to be resolved.
[35:30] Lonely Marriages and Relationships: Conflict Resolution
- Buried trauma should be resolved so that it does not resurface in your current relationship.
- Avoiding conflict is only a short-term solution. In the end, the problems in your relationship are still there.
- If you're fighting and going around in circles with your partner, get professional help. A marriage and family therapist will assist you through difficult times.
Music in this episode is by Idealism with their song “Lonely.”
You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://idealismus.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.