Loneliness in Marriage
Mother Teresa said that loneliness is the worst kind of poverty, and it is mostly prevalent in the Western world. Psychotherapist and writer, Pam Fullerton, goes as far as to say, “The truth is, that feeling of loneliness is one of the utmost challenging experiences that any of us endures.”
We often think of loneliness affecting those who are single because when they go home at night they are usually alone. But someone doesn’t need to be alone to feel lonely.
Generally, we don’t think very much about loneliness within marriage, but it is in fact very common. Because the perceived expectation is that as married people we will be happy and feel fulfilled in our relationships, people tend to keep quiet and suffer in silence.
There is a sense of shame associated with being unhappy in a marriage, so the situation can drag on without relief for years or even decades, leading to desperation and even suicidal thoughts. Loneliness in marriage is the number one reason for looking for comfort outside the marriage, such as affairs, whether physical or emotional.
According to Guy Winch PhD, author of Emotional First Aid loneliness is a silent killer as dangerous as smoking. It takes a toll on our immune system, puts us at risk from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, as well as the more obvious depression and anxiety. It also affects memory function and can lead to Alzheimer’s.
It works as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Loneliness makes us see our relationships in a negative light, so we believe people don’t care about us. This makes us hold back in our relating with them, which in turn makes us appear cold and aloof, thus pushing people further away from us.
When we feel disconnected in marriage, we often stay together in order to avoid being alone, but the disconnectedness makes us feel helpless, so that we are unlikely to do anything about it. It’s a vicious circle that sends us into a downwards spiral and the result is we end up feeling lonelier than if we had left.
Thankfully there are several things we can do. If you are affected by loneliness in marriage you can try the following:
- Practice working on your own emotional health. This could take many forms including taking up a hobby, exercising, using affirmations, pampering yourself or setting yourself challenges to build your confidence. You might find it helpful to spend time in nature or write your feelings down in a journal.
- Show an interest in your partner by engaging them in meaningful conversation about things that fascinate them.
- Do things together. These could be very simple such as walking or going out or even watching TV, or you could discover a new activity together. As long as you are doing it together it doesn’t matter what it is.
- Try to understand your partner by finding out how they feel about situations. Ask them questions and really listen to their answers.
Talking to a counsellor together may also be helpful in reconnecting as they will listen to both sides and help you see the positive in each other. They can help you to unravel the causes of the disconnect, which may be a surprise to one or both of you. Unlike friends, the counsellor is unbiased and not emotionally involved in your relationship, as well as having training and experience, so you can trust their professional wisdom.
To read more about loneliness in marriage see this article by Guy Winch PhD:
and watch his Ted Talk on Loneliness https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene. Also see this article by Pam Fullerton in the Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/maria-rodale/how-to-respond-to-lonelin_b_11660958.html