The number of married but lonely people may surprise you. In the US, 29% of married adults over 44 reported being lonely, says a 2010 national survey.
Lonely Marriage? How Does This Happen?
Loneliness creeps into relationships for a number of reasons. A couple may start out feeling secure in their love. But then work, family and life routines take over. The relationship does not get the attention it did during dating.
How do couples get terribly lonely?
- They Lose Track of Priorities: Sometimes partners are unaware that the relationship still needs special care and attention. Time for each other gets put on the back burner. Then one or both people start to feel neglected.
- They Need to Save Relationship Energy: Having demanding jobs and raising a family can add a lot of strain to a partnership. Here in the Washington, DC area, many partners both work. Careers or jobs occupy most of their waking hours. There’s just not much left over for the relationship or family. Getting paid for a high intensity work ethic can make this problem harder to see.
- They’ve Checked Out Emotionally: Some couples are more technical or scientific in their thinking, education, and background. So emotions don’t make a lot of sense to them. They may not have adopted ways to open up to each other from their family of origin. So they lack experience and roadmaps for talking about emotions, or even understanding the need to share them.
- They Avoid Being Vulnerable: Talking about feelings is a huge challenge for many people. Even smart, educated people can struggle to say what they want to say in a manner that helps rather than hurts the relationship. So many times, family members don’t know how to talk about feelings. There’s a “put your chin up and keep going” model that many of us follow by default.
No one is being hurtful on purpose. Most likely, one or both of you may simply not know how to get the emotional closeness you seek from each other.
Heal Loneliness As a Couple
We know you can start feeling happier together. This hope is a good thing. But meanwhile, things feel terribly sad and lonely.
You may feel painfully frustrated and think, “I don’t know if I can take much more of this. I’m desperate for affection. I feel emotionally starved. There just isn’t much here anymore.”
You’re right. You are wired for love and connection from birth.
You don’t have to wait for something new to happen. It takes courage to change, to rock the boat. Lonely partners stay stuck by thinking, “This isn’t great, but it’s all I’ve got, and I’m not going to risk losing that by complaining.”
If you’re tired of waiting, here’s how to make the shift from surviving to exploring and reconnecting.
Accept Your Need for Emotional Connection In Your Relationship
Author and psychologist Dr. Dan Siegel explains:
“Relationships are the most important part of our having well-being in being human. It’s that simple. And it’s that important…. The more we connect with others and embrace the reality of our interconnected nature, the more we’ll live with meaning, compassion, equanimity, and purpose.”
We are wired for connection, belonging, and mutual support from our most important partner on life’s journey. Dan Siegel says, “our human family shares this need for an attachment bond.”
Here’s What a More Deeply Satisfying Relationship Looks Like
Couples feel less lonely when they build a foundation of “us.” They have a sense that “We’re in this together. When I’m home I’m safe.” They have a sense of “we.”
It’s important to see the goal. Getting there is learnable!
3 Steps Into Deeper Emotional Connection in Your Relationship
1) Look mindfully at the situation within. It starts with being open to one’s own feelings, to understand where, deep down, the loneliness and frustration is coming from. Mindfulness helps create more space for deeper emotions in your relationship.
2) Welcome your own emotional needs. You may feel like your needs and wants aren’t heard. You may feel as if you’ve been sidelined, that there isn’t enough time, attention, or affection. You may be thinking, “I don’t know how to get my partner to provide what I need. When I ask, my partner doesn’t get it.”
It’s probably time to explore how to say, “I’ve missed you. I’m feeling lonely” in a way your partner can hear.
3) Explore ways to open up, speak from the heart. You may not even know what the closeness feels like, yet, that you are going for. Connection comes with the courage to be more vulnerable. It forms as you become more self-aware of the fears and feelings inside, and name them. You open the door to your partner’s acceptance when you share what you can.
When Relationship Counseling Helps
Counseling helps you know and share your feelings in new and gentler ways.
Love and connection starts with self-awareness and being able to speak for your feelings and needs.
It takes calm and focus to able to say, for example, “I feel lonely,” “I feel angry,” “I feel irritated.” Then you need safe ways to tell to your partner. Finally, when you feel understood, you’re on the road to greater intimacy.
Being fully emotionally present is the goal. It’s not about blaming your partner for what’s wrong. That puts partner on the defensive.
Counseling helps you find your truth, so you can do something with it. So if you are feeling lonely, you can get a hug. If you’ve spent too much time apart, you can make special dinner plans. If you’re feeling irritated, you can talk with your partner and figure out what happened. If the disconnect still hurts despite your efforts, talking with a professional counselor can make all the difference.
You may be hurting because of a painful event between you. At a time when you needed help and understanding, your loved one one let you down. You may not have known, then, what to do to get the support you needed. A skilled relationship counselor shows you and your partner safe ways you can use to finally come to terms and heal from this.
With that message you are saying “I care about us.” This is different from saying “I should sacrifice myself to make everything perfect for you.” Instead you are sending the message “What happens between us matters most of all. I want to take good care of us with your help.”
Healing Loneliness Is Hard Work, But Worth It
A secure, supportive relationship is central to our well-being as humans. It allows us to thrive, make sense of our experience, and feel safe in the world. When support between partners is distressed and hampered for a time, a professional counselor can be key to restoring secure love. Good counseling brings vital understanding and helps partners find their road to healing. A skilled therapist helps couples find new ways to communicate, collaborate, and connect from the core of their true inner being.
Marriage doesn’t prevent loneliness between people. But it is terribly sad when partners resign themselves to a life without emotional closeness. It does not have to be that way. Relationship therapy is no magic bullet. But good counseling shows couples how to escape pitfalls and painful isolation they may have fallen into, to make a richer, more deeply satisfying life together.
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