Did you know it's possible to feel lonely without, well, actually being alone? It's true. You can absolutely feel lonely in a relationship, even a relatively healthy one. You're busy, you're stressed, you're not seeing friends...
“Being alone is when you’re literally by yourself, whereas loneliness is a psychological state that lasts longer than a mood," says Kiaundria Jackson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. Yeahhhhh, loneliness tends to linger. "This is something that can happen for days, weeks, or even months or years if it's that deep."
So, how do you know if you're lonely in your relationship?
Feeling lonely in a relationship most often stems from holes in communication and feelings in which someone isn’t pulling their weight in shared responsibilities, such as household tasks or helping kids with homework. Loneliness in a relationship can also stem from putting a lot of energy into a role as a parent and not as much attention into your role as a partner, Jackson says. (In a long-distance relationship? Send your partner one of these gifts when you're missing them like crazy.)
Signs of loneliness in a relationship can include:
Isolation, or a lack of desire to spend time with other people
Changes in eating patterns
Not completing daily responsibilities (cooking dinner, helping with the kids, etc.)
A change in communication with others
A shift in hygiene (showering less or not grooming as usual)
A shift in social media activity
Wanting more physical closeness with your partner
What to do about loneliness in your relationship
Seeking outside help from a couples’ therapist will be the most effective way to find a solution, because a third-party offers a completely different vantage point than hashing it solo, Jackson says. “Someone who can see things objectively can give you techniques and help you figure out what the missing piece is."
If therapy isn't an option for you, Jackson recommends the following activities/tactics:
Reading books on happiness and ways to have healthier relationships
Talking with your partner directly about how you are feeling
Tracking your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a journal
Nurturing your non-romantic relationships
Talk to your partner if you feel like something's off in your relationship
“If you’ve noticed that you're feeling disconnected from your partner, it's important to check in without blame,” she says. Some topics of conversation:
Learn your partner’s love language (and share yours)
Knowing how your partner wants to be loved, appreciated, and heard cuts down on loneliness, says Jackson. The common love languages, identified by Gary Chapman, PhD, in his book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Commitment to Your Mate, are:
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
Example: “If you or your partner’s love language is quality time, you can take an evening walk, watch a movie together, or have a candlelight dinner at home," Jackson says. Similarly, if you or your partner's love language is physical touch, a hug can make all the difference when you're talking things out.
Apologize if necessary
It may seem obvious, but one of the biggest contributors to loneliness is not feeling seen when you or your partner have done or said something to upset the other. The way you apologize signifies how you can repair such situations.
When loneliness has nothing to do with your partner...
It’s possible to feel fulfilled and happy with your relationship but still experience feelings of loneliness caused by external factors, like a stagnant career or not enough time to focus on yourself. You may even feel confused and not entirely sure why you’re experiencing these feelings. If this is the case, Jackson still recommends seeking out a therapist to help you get to the bottom of it and take steps to improve your outlook.
Still, even when you know your feelings aren’t tied to your relationship itself, Jackson says it's good to keep your partner in the loop about how you’re feeling.
Limit social media time, especially when feeling lonely
You’ve probably heard it before: Social media never tells the whole story of what’s going on in someone’s life, as most of us choose to only share the best parts of ourselves and our lives online. You can quickly get sucked into a comparison trap.
“No one puts the worst parts of themselves online,” says Jackson. “Scrolling can cause loneliness because you're focused on what other people have and what you don't have.”
The best way to avoid these feelings is to limit your social media usage. Turn off your notifications and to utilize muting features to keep yourself from seeing people or topics that lead to these unhealthy feelings.
You can also review your phone’s screen time report to learn how many hours you’ve spent on certain apps, so you can make improvements the next day, says Jackson. Onward!
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