Why do we have an epidemic of loneliness in marriage? Research from Global health giant Cigna tells us that we are living in an incredibly lonely age. More than 20% of the American public is afflicted with chronic, aching loneliness. We also know that over 60% of older Americans described themselves as sometimes experiencing loneliness in their marriage. Amazingly, the new Cigna research shows that 43% of all relationships struggle with one or both partners feeling lonely.
Little hinges swing big doors. If you are experiencing loneliness in marriage, or if your partner is complaining about feeling disconnected, talk about these feelings in a non-blaming and non-judgemental way.
Dr. John Gottman reminds us that couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, and not malice. Small things often are the key to reconnecting with your partner. Loneliness in marriage is not always due to deliberate neglect. Communication is the path out of loneliness in a marriage. Talk to each other as often as you can. Talk about topics both large and small. Have a stress-reducing conversation by sharing what you thought, felt, and experienced that day.
In couples therapy, I often hear a spouse lament that they feel “invisible.” Feeling unseen and unknown is often the foundation of loneliness in a marriage. But we may feel so lonely that we distort these feeling, assuming that our partner “doesn’t care about me.” Even if they seem dismissive, they will never understand the degree of your loneliness unless you tell them. Be open and honest. Tell them that you ache to reconnect. They aren’t mind-readers. Gottman talks about the importance of Love Maps. How well does your spouse know your daily stresses and strains? How deeply do they understand your goals and aspirations? Generative questions are the antidote to loneliness in a marriage.
One of the aggravating factors leading to loneliness in marriage is the failure to notice. We fail to express the little appreciations and cherishing moments of gratitude and relational satisfaction. Men, in particular, tend to have a hierarchy of what they deem important, often failing to notice and embrace opportunities to rise above mere transactional dialogues. Ask her how she is feeling, notice something she cares about, and listen hard to her answer. Women often take the strength and resilience of their husbands for granted too. Ask him how his day went. Don’t be discouraged if he looks puzzled. You might have to model curiosity for him before he catches on. Be patient. Take action. Don’t allow your loneliness in marriage to slip into depression.
This may seem a bit challenging, but if you are feeling lonely, try not to internalize the feeling by descending into a morose, depressed state. Avoid the temptation to feel sorry for yourself, or complain about your partner to others. The more you wallow in loneliness it, the harder it will be for you to take the practical steps you need to overcome it. Embrace all of your relationships. Enjoy their company, but don’t mine them for nuggets of sympathy. Loneliness in marriage is cured by connection, not by criticizing your spouse and allowing yourself to be comforted by others.
Ask for what you need. I’m fond of saying that there are four people in every marriage. You both have a “partner in your head” which is often an exaggeration of your spouse when they are most disconnected or critical of you. Don’t have a conversation with the partner in your head about your loneliness in marriage, have a real conversation with your flesh and blood partner instead. Refrain from imagining your partner’s point of view… ask them directly.
“What do you think?” may find you hearing your partner say “I was beginning to think you would never ask.”
Do a Lifestyle Check. Are you living in a kid-centric or career-centric household? It’s hard to hold onto what you’re not making time for in the first place. For some couples, outside responsibilities and activities impinge on couple time. If that’s happening to you, you might need to reset your priorities.
Lean-In. Does your partner have a great obsession or past time? Maybe you could develop an interest in what they find compelling. Talk about their passions and interests. Don’t always assume that your interests are static. See if you can connect with their idiosyncratic passions. My wife persuaded me to learn how to make jewelry, and I never thought it would interest me in the slightest. I have a passion for Ancient Roman history and bought some ancient jewelry beads on eBay.
Now we have successfully blended what were once separate walled-off interests. See if you can do the same. Be creative. Talk about what fascinates and entertains you, and encourage your partner to do likewise.
Don’t Say No. if you’ve started to slide into a depression, you may be rebuffing your partner’s attempts to engage with you. Ask them about how they see you. Are you open to new experiences? Are they? Don’t be afraid to seek treatment if a mild depression has made saying “yes” a challenge.
Family Blues. Sometimes feelings of abandonment are baked in the cake. Did you have a tough childhood? Was loneliness something that you just expected to always live with? What are your expectations of intimate relationships? If you have Developmental Trauma, you might have a baseline set of low expectations that might challenge you in your adult relationships.
Don’t ignore the gut feeling that something is off between you and your spouse. Feelings of loneliness in marriage can aggravate your health. Loneliness in marriage is often stressful both emotionally and physically. Here are some of the toxic side-effects of loneliness in marriage if it becomes a chronic pattern:
If you’re experiencing loneliness in marriage, it may be a mental health challenge as well as a relational issue. The problem is that loneliness will have enduring physical and psychological impacts unless you make a conscious effort to deal with it. Take action. Find your we-ness.
Talk to your partner. Who knows? You might find them as lonely as you are, and relieved that you brought it up.
Call us for more information 844-926-8753 to reach me, Daniel Dashnaw, use option 2.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.