Marriage doesn’t make us immune to loneliness. In fact, it might make it worse. But how can you feel lonely when there’re two of you? Yes, your husband might be sitting right next to you, but emotionally he’s just not there. And this disconnect, which can develop over time, can make you feel alone and isolated, even though you’re with someone. This is what it means to feel married and lonely.
In general, loneliness seems to be on the rise. In 2018, health service company Cigna conducted a national survey exploring the impact of loneliness and found that nearly half of Americans are sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent). And it’s not just single people who are experiencing this. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 28 percent of people who are dissatisfied with their family lives feel lonely all or most of the time.
“Loneliness in marriage is very common because life circumstances happen, and the way we manage things [might] leave the marriage on the shelf while everything else gets dealt with,” explains marriage and family therapist Candice Cooper-Lovett of A New Creation Psychotherapy Services. “A lot of times we do not realize that we are prioritizing other things over our relationship. At a point, these things become the new ‘normal’ and you find yourselves being two ships passing each other in the night and you realize that you're feeling lonely and disconnected from your partner.”
Couples may drift apart for a range of reasons including conflicting schedules, lack of sex, work demands and kids. “Children can take up a lot of time and energy in a marriage,” Cooper-Lovett says, “and as a result the marriage can take a back seat where both partners are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, finding little to no time to spend time with one another.”
In addition to day-to-day life getting in the way, you might also begin to feel married and loney if your partner isn’t supportive or understanding. Rori Sassoon, a New York-based relationship expert and co-owner of matchmaking agency Platinum Poire, says that loneliness may develop “when you feel judged, when you can't be yourself, when you feel that you're not being heard, when your partner is not being supportive of you or doesn’t understand you, or you confide in your partner and they use that information as a weapon. All of these signs can leave you feeling lonely.”
This can become a vicious cycle. As negative feelings grow and communication shuts down, you start to feel even more isolated, and instead of turning to your partner for support, you begin to view them as a source of stress you need to avoid.
“It’s impossible to meet our partners’ needs at 100 percent,” Cooper-Lovett says, “however, when most of our needs are not being met in a marriage that can cause a lot of strain and leave someone feeling lonely. Most of us want the feelings of being valued, appreciated, nurtured and loved and a sense of companionship.”
Here are ways to combat loneliness in your marriage.
Lack of communication is perhaps the number one cause of loneliness among married folks. “As human beings we adjust to the things that we don't get and compensate,” Cooper-Lovett says. “This can lead to destructive behaviors that do not honor the marriage such as substance use or affairs, whether with other partners or things such as work, porn or friendships that take away from our relationship.”
So if you’re feeling lonely, talk it out with your partner, but focus on your feelings without blaming them. “The best thing to do is communicate [your loneliness] to your partner in non-blaming language, such as ‘I've been feeling sad with our lack of connection lately and it's been making me feel lonely.’ Next, discuss solutions, such as having weekly date nights and daily talk time,” suggests clinical psychologist and marriage counselor Dr. Wyatt Fisher. “In addition, discuss both of your top needs for connection in the relationship and how to improve at meeting them.”
Clinical psychologist Dr. Catalina Lawsin agrees, saying that you need to share your feelings with your partner, rather than avoiding them, which is common after a conflict. “Loneliness often stems from a history of turmoil or tension in a relationship. You’ve probably tried talking to your partner before and it’s either ended in a fight or the discussion just dissolves…. Try talking to your partner about your feelings and what you would like to do different in the relationship to combat your loneliness and feel more connected. By focusing on your feelings, this will open up the conversation while soliciting support from your partner.”
2. Plan a date night
When was the last time you went out on a date with your husband? Cooper-Lovett says that she asks her couple clients this question, and the response is usually “with the kids.” “I share with them that those experiences are not date nights. They're family nights. Date nights are just the two of you spending quality time together without being on the phone.” While planning a date might not be at the top of your priority list, it should be. Instead of retiring to the couch to watch America’s Got Talent, hit a museum, grab a beer at a local bar, indulge in a couples massage or try one of these other date ideas.
3. Don’t be alone
For someone who is feeling lonely and isolated, this might be harder than it sounds. Because all you really want to do is hide under the covers. But Dr. Lawsin suggests expanding your social network (perhaps beyond your “couple friends”) by starting off small and joining a class or trying a new group activity “where you can practice your social muscles and begin connecting to others again. We’re all social beings and it can be hard, intimidating and daunting to forge new relationships, particularly the older we get…. Remember, quality is better than quantity. So while it’s great to meet new people, be selective of who you choose to befriend.”