Most of us enter marriage or a romantic relationship believing we've found a life partner to hold our hands through life's ups and downs and cherish us for the rest of our days.
In the honeymoon phase of your lives together, you are so close and connected that you can't imagine feeling any differently.
But fast forward a few years — after a few of those ups and downs, a couple of kids under your belt, and the inevitable waning of romance. Things aren't quite as blissful.
With time and normal life events, romantic relationships can fall into an autopilot routine. Partners don't put in as much effort as they did when they first met to court one other or be attentive and present with their spouse.
Couples grow distracted with the demands of daily life and become more concerned with their own interests than the needs of their partner or the health of the relationship.
The longer this disengagement goes on, the more the couple pulls apart, living more like roommates rather than intimate partners and friends.
Over time, you can feel a profound loneliness in your relationship even when you aren't actually alone.
If your emotional needs are not met in your relationship, this loneliness can cause depression, resentment, and insecurity, as you feel you no longer know this person you are married to.
Do you recognize any of these signs of loneliness in a romantic relationship or marriage?
- You feel your spouse doesn't listen to you.
- You feel you can't meet your spouse's expectations.
- You constantly try to keep the peace rather than address an issue that could cause conflict.
- You stop caring about issues that arise between you.
- You stop talking to your spouse about things that are going on in your life.
- You and your spouse don't spend quality, happy time together very often.
- You and your spouse are not as physically affectionate as you once were.
- Your sex life has dwindled to almost nothing — or sex is rote and emotionless.
If you notice these signs in your relationship, right now is not too soon to take action to end your loneliness and improve your relationship.
Here are 10 steps to not feeling lonely in a relationship:
1. Find the source of your loneliness.
Rather than quickly blaming your partner or your relationship, take some time to think about why you are feeling lonely.
The real reason for your loneliness may have as much to do with you and your actions as it does your spouse.
If you feel you’re being neglected by your spouse, it's possible you are blocking them out also. You may both be so focused on your work, kids, or other obligations that you aren't making room for one another.
In fact, your partner might be feeling the same sense of isolation and loneliness that you do. So you both begin to feel frustrated and resentful of the other, putting yet another wedge between you that doesn't need to be there.
Before assuming that you are being neglected, examine your own behaviors to make sure that you are not contributing to the divide. Be willing to initiate more engagement with your partner, rather than expecting him or her to make the first move.
2. Don't rely on your spouse for all of your needs.
While you may expect your spouse to be your best friend, co-parent, personal confidant, lover, roommate, and your main intellectual stimulant, he or she is not likely to be able to fill all of these roles.
Rather than relying on your spouse to be everything you need in your life, look to other key people to meet some of these needs.
Yes, your spouse must be the one to fill some of these roles, but take some pressure off of your relationship by finding a platonic friend to act as your confidant and share in your interests.
Neither you nor your partner can be available to the other one hundred percent of the time. Putting this pressure on your relationship will surely cause resentment and overwhelm.
Make an effort to have a supportive circle of friends and family who enrich your life beyond what you and your partner share together.
3. Take the initiative.
If you’re lonely, there is a good chance that your partner is, too. The cycle of emotional disconnection that you are both trapped in creates feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that are tough to break.
Now that you are aware of the negative impact disconnection can have on your marriage or romantic relationship, be willing to step up and initiate positive change.
Talk to your partner about your feelings of loneliness, and acknowledge that he or she probably feels lonely too. Let your partner know how much you want to reconnect and get close again.
Engage in conversations that are deeper than, “What do you want for dinner?.” Instead, ask open-ended questions that invite a thoughtful response about a current event, your relationship, your partner's goals or something that you care about.
Listen attentively to his or her responses, and follow up with engaging questions and reactions.
While you shouldn't expect your spouse to reciprocate your efforts right away, after a few gestures of taking initiative yourself, your spouse will likely begin to take more interest in you as well.
4. Change up your routines.
Both of you may be locked in your habitual routines. One of you goes off to surf the net, while the other is in a different room watching TV.
Inertia sets in, and you each set off to your separate corners, feeling reluctant to do anything differently.Maybe at this point it feels awkward to attempt to talk or engage with one another.
If your spouse is in the living room playing a computer game, pull up a chair and say, “You love this game so much, teach me how to play.”
Your spouse may be reluctant at first, but make the effort, even if it’s not your cup of tea. After playing the game, tell your spouse what you liked most about it. You might be surprised how this small effort gives you both a little joy.
You might suggest a few low-key activities to do together, like taking a walk or cooking a meal together. You might even try to get nostalgic, and watch your wedding video to remember more connected and loving times.
5. Change your mindset.
As the years pass, we tend to assume we know exactly what our spouse is thinking or how he or she feels.
But this isn't always the case. As well as you might know one another, both of you are complex and ever-changing.
That's why it's so valuable to change your mindset about your partner and be willing to acknowledge that there's likely more than meets the eye.
What you assume about him or her may not be the whole truth — or even the truth at all.
Before making assumptions or drawing conclusions, take a few minutes to focus on your partner's perspective, trying to see the situation through their personal point of view.
If you aren't sure of your partner's point of view, ask. Before you ever act on any assumptions, talk with your partner to ensure your perspective about what he or she is thinking is correct.
Having this realistic understanding of your spouse's thoughts and feelings will give you a deeper sense of empathy and understanding, strengthening your mutual bond and thwarting potential conflicts.
6. Forgive past hurts.
If you have been feeling lonely for a while, past hurts have been building up and festering in your relationship.
Unforgiven wounds and unresolved conflict breeds not only loneliness but also resentment in your relationship.
If you feel you've been wronged, take the steps to address your feelings with your spouse without pointing the finger of blame. Be quick to offer forgiveness and let issues go once they are resolved so you can rebuild trust.
If you caused your partner pain or offense, apologize quickly and thoroughly and ask your partner for forgiveness.
Don't allow defensiveness or other ego-driven motivations to prevent you from healing old wounds.
7. Make your time together count.
You might spend hours together in the same room but say very little to each other. You've probably seen couples in restaurants who sit through the entire meal without talking. It's such a sad thing to see how disinterested they are in one another.
While the quantity of time spent together is important, how you spend your time is what makes a difference in your intimacy and closeness.
When the two of you are together, make a point of really being together. This means putting phones aside and limiting distractions so you can focus only on each other.
Of course you can't focus on each other every moment, but try harder to make the moments you do spend in each other's company really count.
Just a quick touch, a shared insight, or a funny comment can show you haven't forgotten the love of your life is in the same room with you.
Also, be sure to make the time to bond over shared experiences by going for a walk, making dinner, or going to a concert.
8. Make physical closeness and priority.
Small gestures of physical, non-sexual intimacy are an important part of a healthy and loving relationship. The power of affection in strengthening closeness can't be understated.
Don't stop holding hands or snuggling on the couch during the week. Start small to help resurrect your physical touch with your partner by sitting closer, offering a back rub, or giving a surprise kiss.
Even if you aren't naturally affectionate, make an effort to be more so. Many studies have shown that being physically closer will lead to feeling emotionally closer.
9. Ask for help.
While a lot of people may be hesitant to seek outside help for their relationship, almost every couple can get some benefit from relationship counseling.
If loneliness is making you feel more and more disconnected with your spouse, don't wait until there's nothing left to hold the two of you together. Don't wait until you feel so depressed that you don't have the energy to take action.
Having a non-biased, outside perspective can be very helpful to both you and your spouse. You can learn strategies for reigniting your intimacy and rebuilding your bond with the accountability and support of a pro.
10. Learn how to fulfill your own needs.
If you are not getting the encouragement that you need from your spouse, you have to learn to give it to yourself.
While your spouse may be incredibly supportive and emotionally available, he or she may not be able to fill every emotional need that you have. Your friends and family may not always be able to step in at the moment you need it.
It is better for your relationship, your friendships, and your own mental health to learn how to cope with your loneliness yourself.
Learning how to self-soothe and manage your own emotions is an important skill for emotional maturity.
11. Develop new interests and skills.
If you’re married and lonely, and your partner isn't responding to efforts for change, you may need to find other outlets to help you feel less isolated.
This is a good time to learn a new skills, join a club, take a course, or find a new hobby. Sitting around the house sulking or on the phone complaining to your friends won't help you feel better.
While you are trying to rebuild your connection with your spouse, also develop your independence and initiative. You will become a more interesting, creative, and expanded person — which might light a spark of renewed interest in your spouse.
Suffering from loneliness within your relationship is the worst kind of loneliness. When you are living with the person who should be your best friends and closest companion, but you experience emptiness and isolation, it feels like the ultimate rejection.
Don't allow your feelings to fester. Take action now to turn the situation around and reconnect with this most important person in your life.
You have too much invested in your relationship to allow loneliness to sabotage your love.