For many people, being in a stable relationship implies that they will benefit from companionship for the rest of their lives. From bouncing ideas with a special person to having a physical presence, we expect a relationship to give us a sense of closeness, mutual affection, and deep rapport. What we don’t expect though, is to feel alone in that relationship.
As a relationship therapist, I commonly see couples expressing a sense of void—a sense of loneliness within their partnership—one they struggle to make sense of. It can be very difficult for the couples involved.
Loneliness can mean different things for different people. However, it generally includes some of the following:
- Feeling unheard or not listened to by your partner
- Feeling unloved or uncared for
- Feeling disconnected from the relationship
- Feeling anxious in bringing up issues
- Not sharing news (good or bad) with your loved one
- Overlooking their input or not feeling like your input matters
- Feeling unsure about the future, the relationship, or yourself
- Finding yourself a solo decision maker
- Beginning to make plans (short or long term) that don’t involve your other half
- Feeling sad, empty or hopeless
If you are in a relationship and yet already have begun to feel alone, you may wonder what caused it and how to fix it.
Relate (UK) acknowledges how complex the notion of loneliness can be. It can include internal factors, which—to a degree—belong to you as well as factors that are shared with your partner equally. Understanding both of these can help you address them better.
1. Feeling Lonely From Within
You might stare at this and wonder how internal factors (personal traits, temperament, or behaviors) can make you feel alone in a relationship—while in the company of someone you love.
Hear me out.
Attachment Styles and Relationships
We’ve all heard about “attachment” when it pertains to children. But how does attachment play a part in adults when it comes to relationships?
In brief, there are four attachment styles grown-ups can display.
Secured adults need less attention than their counterparts. They tend to be more satisfied in their relationship, trust their partner more, and balance the mix of needing support VS needing independence (and, of course, value the same in their partner). Adults with a secure attachment pattern generally don’t complain about feeling lonely in their relationship, presenting with a more ‘easy-going’ attitude.
Partners with a dismissive-avoidant attachment tend to put distance between them and their loved one. They may isolate or take on the role of the “manager” or “parent.”
Dismissive-avoidant partners may attempt to convince themselves that they’re independent and no longer need a connection from their spouse. However, this only leads to an element of detachment and defensiveness. They may be harsh and/or act like they just don’t care (but newsflash—they do).
Spouses with an anxious attachment style tend to seek—sometimes at the risk of really annoying their partner—constant presence and reassurance. They have been described as “emotionally hungry.” They may talk about needing their partner to complete them or “rescue: them. Worse, they may feel that without a fulfilling relationship, they do not matter or are only ‘half’ of themselves.
The risk in this attachment style is becoming clingy and needy and being rejected by an exhausted partner, causing them to feel alone in their relationship.
Fearful-Avoidant (a.k.a. Disorganized)
Finally, a partner in a disorganized attachment pattern may live in a constant state of fear and/or confusion trying to balance being too close or too distant from their partner. There’s a real ambivalence in these people in that they feel they never get it right and feel overwhelmed by their emotional cyclones.
Sadly, adults with this attachment style often have a history of difficult upbringing. This translates to constantly feeling hurt (subjectively at times) by the person they need to feel safe. To make matters worse, they generally struggle in resolving their needs.
You can see how your attachment style may have something to do with feeling alone in your relationship. If you’re not quite secure in your attachment, it’s not too late to change this. Rewriting your narrative via self-help books, therapy, or with the help of an understanding partner is a good place to start.
Mental Health and Loneliness
How does mental health have anything to do with feeling lonely in your relationship? Put simply, a great deal.
Our thoughts affect our emotions and subsequently our behaviors. Imagine how a depressed person may feel about their relationship if they’re feeling flat, low, insecure. They are likely to feel lonely because depression makes us feel like that.
The same goes for anxiety. If we’re feeling anxious, we might find ourselves feeling fearful, jumping to the worst-case scenario, or simply internalizing all these emotions and blocking our partner’s influence by the same token.
Taking this one step further, trauma may impact how we manage relationships, trust others, and assume the worst. When people have genuinely experienced adverse events through their lives, they may continue to expect them. This may also lead them to feel very lonely as a result of their somewhat distorted experiences.
Working on your mental health is beyond important. It’s vital to a healthy relationship. This is because you matter. Your happiness matters. Your relationship matters, too.
Depending on how your mental health may be compromised, you could attempt to work on it by yourself via motivational podcasts/quotes, self-help, self-care, and other simple ways to help your overcome depression. If your mental health requires a little bit more work, please seek professional support from a therapist and/or your family doctor.
As my mental health improved, so did my relationship. It was such an uplifting time both personally and as a couple. I didn’t feel lonely after that.
2. Feeling Alone Within Your Relationship
We’ve established that it is possible to feel lonely based on what might be going on internally. However, in many cases, this loneliness comes as a result of relational factors.
Clearly, communication is the backbone of any relationship. It allows couples to hear each other, create meaning out of the information shared, and respond in either a positive or negative way.
Needless to say, there is a right and wrong way when it comes to communication. Aggressive, dismissive, uncaring, and/or argumentative communication between two partners will lead to one feeling unheard, unloved, and consequently, alone in the relationship.
Regardless of how much couples may love each other, without some nurturing and prioritizing the time to see each other, in time, partners may start disconnecting. Partly, it’s habit. Partly, it’s individualizing day to day routine. Nevertheless, we can not have a relationship with a ghost!
Setting time aside to connect is paramount. This is certainly relevant for partners who may work away and deal with physical absence and/or physical distance. Scheduling some one on one time is one good way to stop feeling lonely in your relationship.
Quality of the Time Together
As we discussed above, it’s important to find time to be together if we don’t want to find ourselves lonely in our relationship. But what is as important is making sure that the quality time that is spent is actually good. Emptying the trash together might be time spent as a couple, but what kind of quality time is it?
Pay attention to the quality of your time together and make it fun, enjoyable, and/or diverse. Take turns in planning your activities for a broader range of fun!
3. Goals and Expectations
What do goals and expectations have to do with feeling alone in a relationship?
As explained by Austin Bollinger when emphasizing the importance of setting goals, goals are like the road map of any relationship. They drive us in a specific direction to reach something we both—and hopefully, equally—want to achieve.
Now, what happens when partners have different goals? What about when they expect completely different approaches and/or outcomes?
It leads to a disconnect—a feeling of confusion, frustration, sometimes even hopelessness. Needless to say, this is enough to make partners feel lonely simply based on the fact that what matters to them and the goals they value don’t match the goals of their partner.
In this sense, compatibility in a relationship is important. Feeling alone in your relationship could mean that there is an existing or new shift in your directions and either you both need to revisit your goals and steer them in a common direction or accept that the journey is no longer following a common path.
4. Needs and Unmet Needs
Humans have needs—physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, and sexual needs, just to name a few. When we are in a relationship, we hope to have some of these needs—if not all, a good chunk—met by the person we love the most. When this doesn’t happen, we feel rejected, unlove, unprioritized.
Unfortunately, what happens then is we seek to meet these needs elsewhere. It’s human nature, and it’s universal. Perhaps it’s through a third party. Perhaps it’s through a distraction such as work, friends, hobbies. Perhaps it’s by cutting all expectations that our spouse is willing and/or able to meet our needs.
We feel lonely, and our human brain will seek to fill that void anyway it can. It took me a while to realize that expressing what my needs were wasn’t selfish. It was what people did when they felt safe. And feeling safe and nurtured was definitely what I wanted for both me and my partner.
5. Sexy Times
Men and women experience intimacy differently. There’s a lot involved when it comes to having a good sexual experience including trust, respect, communication, and reading each other’s likes and dislikes.
For many women in long term relationships, they need to feel emotionally connected to be in a sexy mood. Many men, however, need the sexual experience to feel connected to their partner. What does this mean in practice?
This means that when couples are disconnected sexually, whether because of scheduling issues, relationship difficulties, parenting/stress, and/or physical/mental health issues, they may feel a degree of loneliness in their relationship.
6. Hurt and Betrayal
Yes, this may appear common sense so I won’t harp on about this one too long. When couples experience objective or subjective feelings of betrayal—whether through affairs, lies, or other hurtful incidents—spouses may definitely feel lonely.
Repairing the damage is absolutely doable but may require patience, commitment, and major efforts on both parts. Depending on what the issues are, couples may benefit from a relationship expert to guide them in the right direction.
To Wrap It Up
Feeling lonely in a relationship sounds like an oxymoron, but it happens. it may be due to internal or external reasons, all as valid as each other.
To kick the loneliness to the curb, try the following:
- Write a gratitude journal.
- Challenge your negative self-talk.
- Make time for each other.
- Listen actively to your partner.
- Express your needs and consider your partner’s needs.
- Work on common goals.
- Dates, cuddles, and romance. Don’t be afraid to indulge in the good stuff!
If all else fails, seek help. Your relationship will thank you later!
Read These If You Want To Strengthen Your Relationship
- 7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck
- 7 Reasons Why You Need To Let Go of A Toxic Relationship
- Stop Feeling Lonely Without Jumping Into a Romantic Relationship
Featured photo credit: Andrik Langfield via unsplash.com
|Cigna: Common Causes of Loneliness in a Relationship
|Relate: Feeling lonely in your relationship
|PsychAlive: How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship