Loneliness can strike anyone at any point in their lives, and as surprising as it may sound, loneliness can occur even within relationships. Just because you are in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t feel lonely. People who are feeling lonely in their intimate relationship should take the time to find the reasons why.
Loneliness in intimate relationships?
Loneliness is a painful feeling where we feel a disconnection from those around us, particularly our partner. Loneliness causes emotional pain that can affect our physical health, making us vulnerable to illness. Furthermore, it puts us at risk of mental illnesses (e.g. depression, anxiety). Loneliness is a feeling of disconnection and isolation from our partner, even when we are in the same room with them. Ongoing feelings of loneliness may be a sign that our relationship is not heading in the right direction.
Loneliness in relationships may seem contradictory since we assume that single people are the lonely ones. However, the truth is that being in a relationship doesn’t mean we can’t feel lonely, especially people whose partners are emotionally unavailable.
How loneliness develops in intimate relationship.
The biggest cause for loneliness in relationships is emotional disconnection. When we meet our partner and build a relationship, we become closer through feelings of excitement, sexual attraction, and common interests. Most people would think that these things are adequate to maintain the relationship over time. However, as time goes by, life or emotional disconnection may cause partners to become isolated from each other and feel lonely in the relationship. The following issues can lead to feelings of loneliness in intimate relationships and marriages.
Partners who are in new relationships may not feel like problems exist, especially if they are blinded by the excitement about a new relationship with each other. As time goes by, these feelings of excitement can be replaced by feelings of resentment, intolerance, and unhappiness, and partners see they are not compatible anymore. People in relationships like these end up feeling lonely.
Issues with intimacy.
In some relationships, as time goes by, intimacy gets lost. Partners then feel disconnected and isolated from each other.
Many things can cause emotional issues in intimate relationships. For example, substance abuse and addictions may cause emotional disturbances and other mental issues, which can introduce feelings of loneliness into the relationship.
When one or both partners are dealing with health issues (e.g. chronic illnesses), feelings of loneliness may occur, especially when one partner is hospitalized.
In long-distance relationships where partners are not physically together, feelings of loneliness will probably rise to the surface.
Abusive relationships will lead to isolation and loneliness, especially when the abused partner is afraid to seek help.
Another cause for loneliness in relationships is couples’ busy schedules. Nowadays, partners are so busy with their careers or family matters that they hardly get any time to spend together. This creates distance and widens the gap.
What to do when you are feeling lonely in your relationship.
If you are feeling lonely in your relationship and want it to change, you can follow some simple steps. First, sit down and talk to your partner. It is important to express your feelings and thoughts and let them know that you’re feeling lonely. Many relationships have been improved after one partner expressed themselves and shared that their relationship would improve if intimacy improved.
Second, spend time with others, such as family and friends. Just because you feel lonely in your relationship doesn’t mean that you should feel lonely when you are among others. If being with others alleviates loneliness and helps you feel better, make plans to share more time with them.
Third, spend some time outside your relationship. Changes are good and taking small breaks may help your relationship. Trying to spend less time with your partner and more doing things you love (e.g. hobbies) may help you expend your extra energy and improve your mood.
Finally, find a relationship coach. Relationship coaching can help you explore the reasons for your loneliness and help you work past them.
Most relationships reach the point of emotional disconnection when one or both partners become critical, demanding, or try to avoid each other to create distance.
Some red flags:
- Partners are acting like roommates rather than lovers.
- One partner is angry or critical.
- One partner withdraws and goes silent.
- Frustration is increasing daily without hope for a solution.
- One or both partners become emotionally disconnected, in most cases, to protect themselves from each other’s aggressive behavior.
- One or both partners replace each other with work, TV, hobbies, or even substance abuse.
- One partner seeks emotional intimacy while the other just doesn’t understand.
- One or both partners feel unimportant, unvalued, or hopeless.
- One or both partners forget special days like anniversaries and birthdays, which bring excitement and love into our routines. If one or both partners forget such important days, it means that they no longer value them or care to have them.
How to improve your relationship and minimize feelings of loneliness.
Often, couples are stuck in the way they communicate their wants and needs, which may translate into problems in their relationship, especially when it regards their connection. With work and the will to improve, this dysfunctional pattern can be changed. This involves learning a different way of listening and understanding what the other person wants to communicate. It also requires both partners to be vulnerable. It’s easy to assume that we know how our partner is feeling or thinking, particularly if we have been together a long time. But, believing that only our point of view is correct will continue harming the relationship. If we start understanding that others have their own point of view and try imagining the world from their perspective, we allow for the communication of feelings like compassion, understanding, and emotional connectedness, and that will bring us both closer.
Here are some simple tips as you begin your journey for intimate reconnection.
Be curious and ask questions.
You may not be the only one feeling lonely. Your partner is probably feeling lonely, too. Instead of waiting for the other person to take the initiative, take matters into your own hands and take the first step by approaching your partner. You may start by showing curiosity and asking questions about their day. Then, you might ask them about their thoughts and feelings and what they are currently stressed or excited about. Really pay attention to their answers. Most likely, you will stimulate a conversation, with your partner asking you similar questions.
Imagine you are your partner.
Each day, take a short break and try to get into your partner’s mind. Sit back for a few minutes and imagine that you are in your partner’s shoes. Imagine what they are feeling, experiencing, and wanting right now. This will help you be more empathetic and patient in your daily life with your partner.
Seek help with relationship coaching.
Relationship coaching can help you discover deep issues you are unaware of, issues that affect your relationship with your partner and maintain the emotional disconnection and feelings of loneliness. If your partner has a hard time seeing a relationship coach, encourage them to think of relationship coaching as a a kind of education instead of treatment for a dysfunctional relationship. Discuss with them the warm and safe therapeutic environment in which you will both learn new ways of being together and build on what you already have as a couple. Let them know that with relationship coaching, you can recreate intimacy between the two of you.
The General Social Survey, conducted in 2016, recorded the highest number of unhappily married couples since 1974.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2018 found that one in ten Americans say that they feel lonely or isolated from those around them all or most of the time. The same survey also found that about three in ten (28%) of those dissatisfied with their family lives feel lonely all or most of the time.
Furthermore, a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who reported spending more than two hours a day on social media were twice as likely to feel lonely than those who spent half an hour on those sites.
Feeling alone while sharing your life with a partner may sound impossible, but research shows that it happens often, especially when there is an emotional disconnection. With all the pressure placed on us to be successful, its not uncommon for us to focus all our energy on our jobs and subsequently neglect our partner. It can really put pressure on your relationship and lead to loneliness for both partners. As frustrating and discouraging as this situation can makes us feel, there are solutions that can help us bring our relationship back and even make it better than before.
Jodie Smylie and colleagues. (n.d.). NORC at the University of Chicago | Research You Can Trust | NORC.org. https://www.norc.org/PDFs/GSS%20Reports/Research%20Highlights-GSS%20(ECON)%20FINAL%20slightly%20different%20layout-DTP%20Formatted.pdf
Pew Research Center. (2020, May 30). Americans unhappy with family, social or financial life are more likely to say they feel lonely. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/12/03/americans-unhappy-with-family-social-or-financial-life-are-more-likely-to-say-they-feel-lonely/
Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. Y., Rosen, D., Colditz, J. B., Radovic, A., & Miller, E. (2017). Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. American journal of preventive medicine, 53(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010