What to Understand (and Do) About Loneliness in Marriage
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
What does a lonely marriage look like?
I remember sitting on the far end of the couch looking over at my husband playing video games. There were only a few inches between us, but it might as well have been a hundred miles. I would wonder what I could do or say to close the gap so I could stop feeling so lonely. It was really painful.
When we marry, we do so with the hope that we will enjoy life alongside this wonderful person. Years later, when we end up asking ourselves how this person has become a stranger, it is very painful and can feel hopeless.
If you were to press your nose up against the window of a lonely marriage, you would see two people living parallel lives that never seem to meet at any deeper level. They are strangers. Interactions are superficial. Neither feel seen or appreciated in the relationship and the environment is cold and distant.
How do you live with a lonely marriage?
As social beings, we are designed to crave the approval and acceptance of others. We care deeply about how we are seen by those around us, most especially our partners. Being in a lonely marriage often feels like a rejection of who we are by the person who is supposed to know us best of all. This can be very damaging to our feelings of self worth and self confidence. It can even lead to anxiety and depression.
Loneliness in marriage is unfortunately very common. Most of us have no clue how to cure a lonely marriage and oftentimes leaving seems like the only solution. However, it is possible to reconnect with your partner, even if you’re the only one that seems to care and is willing to do anything about it.
Why might someone feel lonely in a marriage?
Loneliness in a marriage actually has little to do with how much time a couple spends together. I have known of countless couples that live apart for long spurs of time due to military, work travel, or other reasons. They miss each other during times apart, but that’s different from being truly lonely in a marriage.
We feel lonely when we feel unseen, unappreciated, and disconnected from our partners. If we feel accepted, loved, and appreciated, we can thrive even despite opposite schedules or prolonged time apart.
What do you do when you are lonely in a marriage? (Including how to tell your partner)
Conventional wisdom often tells us that when our needs are not being met in our relationship, we need to tell our partner how we feel and what they should do to fix it. The problem with this approach is that it often just doesn’t work. At least it never worked for me or any of the women I’ve spoken to.
I remember telling my husband I felt lonely and that I needed him to spend more time with me and less time with his video games. The result was that he would stop playing for a couple of days. Our interactions felt forced and unnatural and then we would be back to our usual disconnection within just a few days.
What actually works- Clean up your side of the street
It can be really easy to see everything our partner is doing wrong. I invite you to ask yourself if there is anything on your side that may need to be cleaned up. I know for me, I found that I had unwittingly been controlling, critical, and disrespectful for years. When I became accountable for that, apologized and changed my ways, I felt much better. It also opened up the door to restore the connection with my husband that had been lost long ago.
Taking responsibility of your joy
I had spent so much time and energy analyzing and measuring everything my husband was or wasn't doing. This meant I was abandoning a very important job of mine- making myself happy. No wonder I was miserable! When I took ownership of that responsibility and started to really nurture myself, the joy I felt radiated from me and warmed the space between my husband and I. My happiness was what melted the ice between us. As I became a thriving woman, he started to respond to me in a much more positive way. The better care I take of myself, the more passionate and connected my marriage is.
Another thing that actually works to create connection is vulnerability. When we feel hurt, our first instinct is to respond defensively. However, this usually repels our partner. Instead, we can be vulnerable by saying “I miss you”. The key here is that the “I miss you” has to come from a place of self fulfillment. There is a big difference between an “I miss you” when you are feeling emotionally well after taking good care of yourself and an “I miss you” after being overwhelmed with sadness. One is deterring while the other is inviting.
Is it normal to be lonely while married? Is it ok?
It is normal to be lonely while married in the sense that it is extremely common. That doesn’t mean it is okay or that we should settle for hopelessness or even mediocracy. I, along with many other women, have been able to restore the connection in our marriage to make it vibrant again, and you can too.
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