Most women I see tell me they are happy that they found someone special and are married because they would not want to be alone. What’s more curious, however, is how many women tell me that they really feel lonely IN their marriage. As hard as it is to feel lonely when you have no significant other, it is even more emotionally difficult when you do have a partner and you feel lonely anyway. When you are single, you at least have the fantasy that one day you’ll meet someone and not be lonely. But when you are married, your loneliness feels infinite and hopeless. You wonder, is it me, is it him or is it us?
What is loneliness?
Married or not, everyone has some time they spend alone. But not everyone enjoys it. The fact is to some degree we are all alone, in that no one can ever be at one with us “really”. On the other hand, metaphorically, we can feel at one with someone for periods of very intimate time. This happens in great friendships and great marriages. Still, even with your soul mate, there are times you will be alone. Alone simply means no other human being is with you. Alone time can even be intensely enjoyable if it is experienced as a freedom to do what you want and if you have the self confidence to think that your own company is pretty darn good. Loneliness is a feeling of emptiness, abandonment and rejection. You do not need to be alone to feel lonely and lonely is not a good feeling.
Why you might be lonely in your marriage.
With our ever increasing global economy, more and more people have to travel as part of their job. A lot of separation from ones spouse will of course leave you feeling lonely. Whether it is a husband in the military service or your need to make business trips, too much time alone is very hard on a marriage. This is stating the obvious. What isn’t so obvious is the many women who feel lonely with their husband close by.
In the courtship phase of a relationship couples tend to be very forthcoming in expressing their feelings of affection, of desire and of pleasure in being together. This often lasts through the first year or two of marriage. Then the settling into the relationship takes place and with it, taking for granted that the other person knows you care. In addition, it comes from working to build a financial future and often kids. Now many things compete for your attention which makes you both need more attention and feel like giving less. Not a great combination. I hear many women describing a marriage that sounds more like teammates in a military operation than a loving couple. The functional parts of the partnership like whose going to get the groceries, feed the kids, pick them up etc. becomes the marriage. Even when a woman does sit down with her husband it’s to zone out in front of the TV. She often wants to talk, but he wants to watch the game. The distance grows and soon she feels like she’s alone while she’s sitting next to him.
Developmental changes in a marriage also tend to bring up loneliness. You get so many new intense feelings when you become a new parent, when your children grow up and leave home, when you retire and you really want to share those feelings and be understood. This requires allowing yourself to be vulnerable because, of course, your spouse may feel differently than you do. As a result sometimes neither party will venture out with what they are experiencing and the distance grows between them. Some of these developmental milestones remove other people in your life who may have been filling a void (like your children or your colleagues). As a result what you are missing in your marriage becomes more apparent and you feel lonely.
Women communicate differently then men. Girlfriends tend to bond over very emotional content, whereas men tend to bond over shared activities. Many women tell me that they really wish their husbands would talk to them like their girlfriends. In fact, they expect this kind of communication and then feel disappointed, rejected and lonely when it’s just not the same. They end up feeling that if they share their fears and dreams, he won’t really get it in any kind of deep and meaningful way. Some men are not as emotionally communicative as others. This is not the same as the man who either doesn’t notice when something is really up with you or worse yet, doesn’t care. The above reasons women feel lonely are really a part of the normal course of relationships. Not that anyone should settle for feeling lonely in their marriage. I am simply saying that these are normal bumps in the road that you need to and can contend with.
Much more problematic is when you feel lonely and isolated because in fact, you are under emotional attack. If he criticizes you often, belittles you, tells you that you are nothing without him and threatens to leave or hurt you, then this is emotional abuse. In this setting it’s not unusual for the same man to isolate you from friends and family in order to keep control over the relationship. This is lonely and frightening. This is a relationship you need to get out of.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is the woman who really cannot tolerate being alone. I see women who need company constantly and who feel scared and rejected when they aren’t with someone. This woman for any variety of reasons has very low self esteem and without feeling attached to someone else they experience their feelings of worthlessness full on.
What to do about loneliness.
While there may not be anything “wrong” with you or your relationship if you feel lonely, there still can be plenty you can do about it. First, you have to give attention to get attention. Many couples fall into a “Mexican standoff” of waiting for the other one to make the emotional first move. If your husband isn’t holding your hand, then take his. Tell him you really like it when you snuggle up in bed and talk. Ask him what is on his mind, how he envisions his career going, who is being a pain at work, where he sees his life in five years and in ten. Give him the same kind of attention and interaction you’d like to receive. Be a model of the change. Then ask him to do the same for you. He may not realize what’s missing for you and the more specific you can be about your needs; the more likely you are to get what you want.
In addition to going to him to get more from the marriage you also can improve the marriage by finding satisfaction on your own. Allowing for some separate time for each of you to explore what interests you can actually be very stimulating for you both when you later come back together. By nurturing some independence, you build your own confidence and will feel less needy. This “self-possession” will translate into a partner that each of you want to know more about and have fun with. Similarly, nurturing a social life of your own with friends will help you feel less lonely. What you share with women friends can be a deep meeting of the minds. Many women find that friends are really on the same page they are and provide very gratifying understanding. This is not instead of your spouse; it’s simply in addition and will leave you feeling less alone. On the other hand it is extremely important to be able to enjoy some alone time. If you really never enjoy being alone this is a project worth undertaking. Make a list of things you might like to do alone like reading, gardening, painting, listening to music…then go through each and give it a try.
Interestingly, the more you “practice” this skill, the more you will feel comfortable with it. Learning to enjoy your own company is a necessary first step to diminishing loneliness whether it’s by yourself or with your partner.
Three Things to say to him.
- “I really like it when we cuddle up and talk about…”
- “What would you like to do together…”
- “I miss sharing what we care and dream about…”
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.