**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a client who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
“I feel like a fraud for pretending to be happy when I’m not,” he confessed.
This was the first time he’d directly acknowledged his dissatisfaction to me. Until this point, he’d mainly been passive about his unhappiness, instead choosing to bottle it up and internalize his feelings.
When we began working together, he centered the discussion around the pressures of being the sole breadwinner and the toll providing for his family had taken on him. After a few sessions of exploring this dynamic, he finally admitted how much he’d been struggling.
“I love my wife and my kids, but I feel like I’m stuck in this marriage,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want to be married. I’m just tired of feeling lonely.”
He felt vulnerable, admitting that his 27-year marriage was not fulfilling his need for love, affection, and companionship. But his feelings of loneliness were not unique. In fact, they’re pretty common among long-term couples.
It’s easy to assume that being in a long-term relationship such as marriage must automatically protect you from loneliness. But in reality, it’s possible to be married but lonely.
In fact, according to a 2018 study, 1 in 3 married people report feeling lonely. And with nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce, it’s clear that loneliness is a problem in many relationships.
Why is it so common to feel lonely in long-term relationships?
First, as we get older, our social circles tend to shrink. We move away from friends and family, we have less time to socialize, and our work demands increase. This can leave us feeling isolated and cut off from the people we love.
Second, our relationships change over time. In the early years of a relationship, we tend to be more affectionate and attentive to our partner’s needs. But as time goes on, we can sometimes take our partner for granted and stop putting in the effort we once did. This can lead to feelings of disconnection and loneliness.
“You can have a body right next to you, but if you feel that your deepest fears, thoughts and needs are unseen, unheard or unwanted by your partner, you feel lonely.” — Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D
Third, we all have different needs regarding love and connection. Some of us need more physical affection, while others need more quality time or acts of service. If our needs are not met, we can start feeling lonely, even when are partners are just a touch away.
It’s also true that many people in long-term relationships rely on their partner as the sole source of fulfillment. This is a lot of pressure to put on one person, and it’s not realistic or fair. No one can meet all of our needs, and we need to have other sources of fulfillment in our lives.
So what can you do if you feel lonely in your long-term relationship?
Reach Out To Your Partner
One of the best things you can do if you’re feeling lonely in your marriage is to let your partner know. Talk to them about how you feel and why you think loneliness has become a problem.
Your partner may feel the same way and didn’t want to say anything for fear of hurting your feelings. Or it could be that they had no idea you were feeling this way and are now motivated to make changes to improve the situation. Either way, communication is critical.
Make Time For Yourself
Making time for yourself is vital to your well-being, even if that means carving out some “me time” within your marriage.
This can be difficult to do when you’ve been used to sharing every aspect of your life with your partner, but remember that we all need time alone occasionally to recharge and refocus.
If possible, try scheduling some regular alone time into your week so that you and your partner have some space. This could be an hour or two on Saturday mornings while your partner takes the kids out for breakfast or an evening once a week where you go for a walk by yourself or read a book in peace while your partner watches TV. Whatever works for you!
Seek Out Other Sources Of social interaction
“We humans are a highly social species, and we need deep emotional relationships with others to flourish in life. In adulthood, most of us turn to our spouses to meet the bulk of our companionship and intimacy needs.” — David Ludden Ph.D.
If you’re finding that loneliness is becoming a real problem in your marriage, it may be helpful to seek other sources of social interaction outside your relationship.
You could join a club, take up a new hobby, or spend more time with friends and family members.
It’s important not to neglect other relationships just because you’re married; investing time and energy into other connections can help strengthen your marriage.
And if worst comes to worst and divorce does become an option, these other relationships will provide vital support during what is sure to be a difficult time.
Loneliness is a common problem in marriages, but it doesn’t have to be permanent.
If you feel lonely in your marriage, take steps to reach out to your partner and create more opportunities for connection inside and outside your relationship.
Don’t let loneliness cost you the most important thing of all: your happily ever after.
Have you ever felt lonely in your long-term relationship or marriage? What did you do to cope? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.