Loneliness In A Relationship Often Feels Shameful And Goes Unspoken
When we talk about loneliness, we often don’t think of the feeling in terms of being in a relationship. When married or in a relationship, the presumption is that we’ve found our person: the one person who will make us feel not so lonely. However, this isn’t always the case. Though it often goes unspoken, loneliness happens within relationships too, even if we’re not alone. This loneliness is not always due to the relationship, but is an indicator that something outside of the relationship needs attention. Sometimes, though, loneliness means there’s something needed within the relationship.
We frequently feel ashamed for feeling lonely in a relationship. At times, I think we’d rather have blatant and obvious relationship problems than feel lonely, which gets labeled as a weak feeling (even though it’s not). It’s easier to talk about poor sex, someone being not that interesting, affairs and drinking than loneliness when you’re together. I should note that not all loneliness is bad. Loneliness can be okay and normal, but when you feel left alone in a relationship, it might be time to unpack a bit.
Oftentimes with loneliness, partners don’t know what to do or how to voice their experiences with loneliness, or if the issue causing the loneliness is the relationship or something else. Although it can be upsetting and incredibly intimate to articulate, naming loneliness in a relationship can be an essential disruption that can be the first step in building more closeness.
Loneliness Means A Couple Isn’t Working To Continually Build Closeness
We typically think of loneliness as akin to being alone, but loneliness is worse when we have a person who is ours that is around. Loneliness in a relationship can look like, well, feeling separate from your partner. Because couples tend to avoid talking about loneliness, it can come out in other ways, whether in fights, passive aggression, surface ritual connection with no depth, the loss of touch or communication, silence or repetitive non-playful sex (or no sex when it’s wanted).
Loneliness in a relationship means a couple isn’t working to create closeness. Closeness is co-built, continually recreated, cared for and tended to by both partners. Partners have to feel intimate enough to share their thoughts, inner-workings, and emotional and intellectual processes. By presuming that loneliness is somehow cured once and for all by the company and connection of a partnership, we ignore how to keep creating closeness. And sometimes, feeling lonely can seem safer than asking ourselves or our partner to share all the parts of themselves in a relationship.
Loneliness Can Be Normal In A Relationship, Even Though Naming It Feels Scary
We all go through periods in our lives in which we feel lonely or distant from people with whom we are close. For example, a change can happen, whether a new baby, an upsetting event at work, a change in routine, a minor/major surgery or a death. Our first impulse when dealing with these situations may be to protect our partner from our pain, neediness, hopelessness or even, hope, knowing it will shake up the couple system. So instead, we go for aloneness, finding ourselves distant and without the language.
Naming this loneliness when someone is close can feel extra intimidating. Once you talk about it with your partner, you both then have to deal with it and your relationship. But this is also often what the relationship needs to figure out–no matter how it goes down–whether your relationship can be renovated or needs to end. The relationship needs you and/or your partner to name this, and not leave you alone with the loneliness.
The Good Shake Up: Sometimes Naming That You’re Lonely Is What The Relationship Needs
Loneliness is something we don’t often let ourselves or our partner get close to. It feels like if we let ourselves really sink into it, we’ll be lost to loneliness or become adrift (or we might already feel this way). In a relationship, the impulse to stuff loneliness down is even stronger. Maybe you don’t want to say it because you’ve been together for four years or ten. Or because you feel that admission is strictly for your therapist. Or you’re scared of what saying it will do to you and the relationship.
As a therapist who can hang with loneliness, I find it quite the opposite: once you let someone in on the loneliness, then you have a chance to feel held in the way you need, not in the habit you have both created. And while, yes, your therapist should get close to the ways in which you feel alone, it’s loving toward yourself and your partner to name how you feel lonely in the relationship.
Talking about loneliness in a relationship is a gift–a couple, then, has the chance to create more or new forms of closeness together or apart. If things can be salvaged, it means you and your partner not only have the relationship you already built, but one that you’re currently renovating in which you both can name how lonely you feel or felt, how the other person, whether known or unknown, left you alone, and how you yourself have hid (or you both hid). When you stop hiding and really talk about loneliness, it creates air, space, and a real knowing in yourself and in the relationship.
In other cases, the dynamic contributing to this loneliness may not be able to shift and the relationship may need to end. By talking about your loneliness, you’re exposing that you are a big part of the relationship. This is powerful–not letting the loneliness close in on you, while knowing that maybe being out of the relationship, you’ll feel less lonely than in it. No matter what you and your partner decide, exposing and socializing the suffering brings it–and you–out of isolation.