Feeling alone is never a good thing—especially if you’re married. Yet, it is a circumstance that so many married people find themselves in. One of the biggest reasons for this, according to Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., also known as “Dr. Romance,” psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together, is that many married couples enter a healthy relationship with the expectation that, if someone loves you, it also means they understand you. This is not always, or even usually, true. “Your partner can love you, and even be expressing love to you, but not understand how you receive love, so you don’t connect,” she says.
This disconnection often happens when one partner in a relationship loves the other partner the way they want to be loved—not the way their partner wants to be loved; and vice versa. This causes resentment to build on both sides and leads to both partners feeling alone, Dr. Tessina explains. “Another common scenario is that both partners get busy, with their priorities being taken up by work, children and other responsibilities that inhibit them from giving each other the time to feel emotional connection,” she says.
There is also the more unique scenario that involves being in a marriage with a partner who is physically present, but emotionally absent. “Being emotionally absent can mean not spending enough quality time together as a couple, not feeling heard or understood by your partner, not having your emotional needs met, not able to rely on them, or feeling like you’re shouldering more of the responsibility in your marriage,” explains Anita Chlipala, licensed family therapist and marriage therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love.
If you are feeling particularly alone in your marriage, it does not mean your relationship is doomed. It all depends on how early you do something about it. “Too often people wait too long, whether it’s speaking up or for their partner to take them seriously,” says Chlipala. “The latter is usually a hopeless situation because by the time the spouse takes their partner’s concerns seriously, the partner has already disengaged and it’s usually too late to save the marriage.” Also, allowing feelings of loneliness and emotional distance in a marriage to linger can open the opportunity for an affair in the future. “If your partner isn’t giving you attention, it can feel invigorating to get it from someone else and can start the cascade toward an affair,” says Chlipala.
Here, relationship experts share their top solutions for what to do if you are feeling alone in your marriage.
Figure out why you’re lonely in marriage.
Before you can really dive into remedying your feelings of loneliness, it’s a good idea to figure out why you’re feeling this way in the first place. Chlipala suggests reflecting on what is missing and what would make you feel more connected to your spouse and fulfilled in the marriage. “This step is important because you want to make sure if the loneliness is coming from your marriage or your own life,” she says. “When things don't go according to plan and a spouse has to cancel plans or is late, and the other is waiting at home, that can create a sense of loneliness if it happens often enough.” Instead of waiting for your partner to make a move, she recommends engaging in activities that make you feel satisfied and that are a good use of your time.
Communicate your feelings.
If your spouse plays a role in your feelings of loneliness, don’t be afraid to speak up. “They may be oblivious or not know the depth of your feelings, but, to avoid defensiveness, frame what you want as a positive need,” says Chlipala. “Provide a few specific things that you’re looking for from your spouse because you may have different ideas and needs.”
Practice active listening.
Just as you want your partner to hear you out, it’s important to lend an open ear to your partner. “It’s so easy to formulate your counter-argument while your partner is talking, but, instead, listen with a sense of curiosity to figure out why your partner feels the way they do,” says Amy McManus, LMFT, couples therapist and owner of Thrive Therapy, Inc. in Los Angeles. “Sometimes, when your partner is upset, simply asking them what this dynamic reminds them of will open a huge window for both of you into the reason why that thing you do pisses them off so much.”
Ramp up the sweetness.
“Married life has its unavoidable stresses and strains, but, to keep things in balance, we need to put a bit of energy into increasing the sweetness between us,” says Dr. Tessina. “Thoughtfulness, thank yous and gestures of politeness and affection are the glue that holds your marriage together and keeps things running smoothly.”
Carve out quality time.
A strong marriage takes hard work. No matter how crazy you are with your jobs, kids, and bills, Dr. Tessina points out the incredible importance of putting aside regular time each week for your marriage. “Have a ‘date night’ that includes a ‘state of the union’ discussion to keep yourselves reconnecting,” she says. “When you spend pleasant time together, you'll both be more motivated to make your marriage as good as possible.” Couples counseling is another way to connect with your spouse on a deeper level.
Remember that you made a vow to love this person through the good and bad, in sickness and in health, and that may mean periods of ups and downs, notes Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., psychologist, author of The Book of Sacred Baths and the host of The Love Psychologist podcast. “Have faith that in time you will work things out, give them some space and understanding and remember your commitment.”