If You’re Lonely In Your Relationship, Try This

The kind of loneliness it’s hard to talk about.

“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.” — Martha Beck

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

A single friend tells you she’s lonely.

She’s been on her own for three years. She misses the comfortable banter you have with a partner, the ease of planning what to do. She misses the comfort, being touched; of having someone fully in her corner.

You nod in support but you shuffle uncomfortably in your seat. You’ve been with your partner for six years and it feels like someone’s turned the lights off. You feel lonely too. But how can you share that with a person who’s single?

Is it just me…or?

Loneliness within relationships is extremely common: up to 40% of people in partnerships, some studies suggest). People in therapy will often say they’ve lost their connection with their partner, that “it’s not the same”; they’re just “going through the motions”.

There are multiple reasons why relationships grow distant: stress and busyness, birth of a child or raising kids, financial pressure, workaholic habits, mental or physical illness, addiction problems, changes in intimacy, emotional abuse — and many variations on those themes.

Sometimes a person will feel shut out when they know their partner is going through a tough time but he/she can’t share their feelings. Or their partner can’t, or is unwilling to, validate their own emotions.

If you’ve landed here, the question is can you bring it back; re-establish the connection? Or has the rubber hit the road?

Here are some things to think about:

If You’re Lonely In Your Relationship, Try This

Use these questions to tap into what’s going on and find a way forward.

1. What’s changed?

Assuming you once felt close and loving towards your partner, what has changed? And how long has it been this way? It’s helpful to pin down the reason for it — and, if possible, a timeframe. That gives you a base from which to start talking about it and making a change or two. Even one small tweak, or adding something new to the mix, can make you feel more hopeful.

2. Has stress sabotaged you?

Stress can come at us from all directions. With everyone working and chores piling up, families are under time and financial pressure just to survive — let alone thrive. Stress can affect everything from mood and emotional reactions, to the home/family environment, to your libido. So check in on your stress levels and those of your partner and, if they’re out of the box, get together and brainstorm some ways you can bring them down.

3. Is there someone else?

The appearance of “someone else” frequently sparks feelings of loneliness within relationships. It may not be a full-blown affair or even inappropriate messaging— it may just be someone who listens to you or you have fun with. Or your partner does. But it highlights the gap between what you have now and what you could have. And this song can play overtime in your head, driving you crazy with thoughts of What If. So analyse what’s going on inside your relationship before you’re tempted to play outside it.

4. Is your partner lonely too?

When we get consumed by negative feelings we tend to overlook what might be going on for someone else. It may be that you and your partner are sitting side-by-side on the sofa every evening locking down the same feelings: I’d rather be somewhere else. Don’t bottle those feelings: ask them. You might not get the answer you want but, either way, it’s information you need to know.

5. Is loneliness a pattern for you?

If you’ve been lonely in a relationship previously, you’ll feel it even more intensely the second (or third) time. If it’s a pattern, it’s worth taking a look at your inter-relational style. Perhaps you’ve been looking to your partner to fill a void for you and they’re no longer doing it?. Think about what you expect and need from a partner; it may be helpful to get an outside view as to whether it’s realistic and what you could do to fill that void yourself.

6. Is social media playing with you?

Social media can alleviate loneliness by allowing you to stay connected to others without much pressure. But it has a nasty habit of twisting the knife on you by forcing a comparison between your tired relationship and the happy, glowing pictures of other couples online. Remember, no couples post pictures of themselves on a bad day. So ask yourself if your social media use is making you feel better, neutral or worse about your relationship — and act accordingly.

7. What’s going on for ME?

Maybe your life has gotten a bit predictable; maybe you’re just bored? And that’s made you focus on your relationship as the component that needs resuscitation. Be careful not to load your partner with responsibility for your choices and your happiness. Be honest about what’s going on for you and what you could do to spark your life, your interest, your curiosity up again. Most of all, be sure to step back and look at your life broadly. Your relationship is part of it — not the whole deal.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list here if you’re interested in practical psychology for everyday life.

Clinical psychologist, writer. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for everyday life. karen@onthecouch.co.nz

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