When we marry our perfect soul mate, we assume that “together forever” means never feeling alone again. If you live with someone, and share a life with someone, it stands to reason that the constant presence of your other half will keep any sense of loneliness at bay, right? If only it really worked that way.
I’m so alone
As many as 60% of people in married relationships describe themselves as lonely. It’s a sad fact that relationships left unattended are actually the cause of such loneliness, rather then the cure. Why is that?
Lack of connection often breeds loneliness. Couples who have not cared for and maintained solid connections to drift away from each other. There is no tether keeping them close. But, it can actually go much deeper. Insecurities, guilt or self-blame, and avoidance of painful emotions all represent a lack of a connection within yourself.
If you can’t connect with yourself, then it is simply not possible to really fully connect with others. You must know and accept your inner-self first, because that is the only way you can truly open up and let another know you as intimately.
Keeping your inner feelings or struggles hidden away, often due to fear of rejection, creates a barrier to connection. Self-medicating or turning to addictions to obscure the lack of inner connection creates an added impenetrable layer. This barrier can be felt by your spouse, and, at least subconsciously, your spouse begins to feel disconnected as well, and perhaps even hurt or angry without even truly understanding why.
If you are feeling lonely, it’s possible that either your, or your spouse, or both of you have barriers that need to be addressed to ensure that you can connect and grow your intimacy.
A case study
There are numerous ways loneliness can manifest in a relationship. Recently, I treated a client who felt lonely in her 30 year marriage. When I asked how long she had felt that way, she indicated that her sense of loneliness began within the first five years of marriage.
In this particular case, as we worked to uncover the issues holding her back, we revealed that she never really felt that her husband knew the real her. In the rush and excitement of courtship, engagement, and marriage preparations, she became on the outside what she felt her husband wanted in a wife.
She neglected her real self. Then the babies came, life was busy, and she was distracted from her loneliness for a time. Now that she and her husband are empty-nesters, she is faced with this loneliness once again.
She became worried that revealing her real self would drive her husband away, or that he wouldn’t like what he saw, This fear caused her to continue to disconnect from her real self, and consequently, from her husband.
After several revealing sessions, I spoke with the husband. It turns out, he too had been feeling the disconnection, but he thought his wife was rejecting him. In reality, she rejected herself AND her husband, because by denying him the opportunity to get to know her on a deeper level, she communicated to him that she didn’t trust him or judged him unworthy. This can be incredibly hurtful to a spouse. While in this particular case the husband stoically trudged along in the relationship, this sense of rejection and mistrust can lead to divorce, affairs, anger or lashing out, and other less-than-desirable behaviors.
Why marriages are often so lonely
What can we learn from this case study? Well, one key take-away is that denying the true loving connections that are necessary for the vitality of a marriage can be an inherently selfish act. It does take great courage sometimes to reveal our whole selves to another, warts and all. It’s necessary for the health of the relationship, but with the right person, that act of courage is richly rewarded.
Also in this case study, the client essentially gave up her own sense of self in order to become what she thought her spouse wanted. In addition to being lonely and isolating, this is also a form of control. She was trying to control her husband’s feelings by controlling what she revealed to him. Controlling behavior does not create an environment conducive to deepening connections.
Here are a few other examples of the types of behaviors that can create barriers and lead to loneliness. See if you recognize yourself or your spouse in any of these examples:
- Allowing work, social media, TV, video games, or other distractions to take priority over the relationship. It may be subconscious behavior, but these action are a deliberate attempt to shut out your spouse.
- Closing off yourself and hiding your true self from your spouse out of fear of rejection. For instance, you may use anger or withdrawal as a barrier to avoid being hurt.
- Denying your true self in order to manipulate your spouse’s feelings.
- Denying sex or using it as a way to control your spouse.
- Shutting down or shutting out your partner during conflict.
- Using substances or other addictions (gambling, fantasy sports, etc.) as a way of avoiding hurtful emotions.
- Displaying judgmental behavior as a way of deflecting attention away from your own insecurities. Judgement is the killer of connections.
- Any behavior that drives a wedge or disconnects you from your spouse, done deliberately or subconsciously.
If you are seeing yourself in these behaviors, then there is some work you need to do to become more authentic and open to connection before you can begin to rebuild connections with your spouse and cure the loneliness you feel.
If you are seeing your spouse in these behaviors, there are steps you can take, through marriage coaching or counseling, that will help you identify your spouse’s perspective, set healthy boundaries, and make the changes that are within your power to improve the relationship.
Building strong connections cures loneliness
Building good connections requires each spouse to become vulnerable. This can be uncomfortable and just downright scary, sometimes. However, if you want your marriage to be one that lasts a lifetime, this hard work can’t be avoided. You build these connections by:
- Staying true to yourself, even when it’s painful to do so. Be truthful and authentic, and don’t hide out of fear.
- Don’t avoid conflict. Lovingly embrace it and learn from it. You can learn a lot about yourself and your partner if you approach conflict in a healthy way.
- Avoid passing judgement on yourself or your spouse. It takes courage to take ownership of difficult feelings and behaviors.
- Don’t use controlling behaviors as a way to avoid dealing with difficult issues.
Love is an action verb, not a feeling. You act out of love when you work to build these connections and care for yourself as well as your spouse. Avoidance, blame, judgment, and other negative behaviors do not communicate love and they destroy connections. The ultimate loneliness occurs within a marriage when these vital connections are severed.