February 20, 2024

3 Ways to Know If You’re in a ‘Lonely Marriage’, from a Psychologist

Marriage, often considered the epitome of companionship and a sacred vow of mutual love, can paradoxically create feelings of deep loneliness for some people. Despite the promise of love and support, the reality can fall short, leaving partners feeling isolated and disconnected.

Marital loneliness goes beyond mere physical absence and includes a deep sense of emotional detachment and unfulfilled intimacy. It’s about the feeling of being unseen, unheard and misunderstood, despite sharing a life with someone.

Loneliness is not just an emotional burden. Research shows that it is associated with increased functional decline and mortality. Lonely individuals face higher risks in various aspects of daily life, from basic tasks to long-term mobility. The research also shows how death rates can increase by 45% over a six-year period.

Several factors contribute to marital loneliness:

  • Inadequate communication or a lack of meaningful conversations can lead to emotional distance.
  • Monotonous daily routines without novelty or excitement can promote loneliness and disconnection.
  • Lingering unresolved conflicts or unaddressed grievances create emotional barriers, exacerbating feelings of isolation.
  • Discrepancies in individual growth trajectories or life goals can alienate partners.
  • External stressors Such as financial problems, work pressure or family conflicts put pressure on marital ties, increasing loneliness.

Here are three indicators that can help you determine if you are experiencing loneliness in your marriage.

1. There is an emotional separation

According to a study published in Contemporary family therapyCouples who have frequent and meaningful conversations tend to experience greater relationship satisfaction, perceive more positive qualities in their relationships, and feel closer to each other.

When conversations with your partner remain superficial or when important topics are avoided, it may indicate a breakdown in communication. Pay attention to both the quality and quantity of your interactions. If you notice a lack of meaningful dialogue or a tendency to avoid discussing critical issues, this may indicate emotional distance.

Communication is not just about exchanging words. It’s about truly understanding and connecting with your partner on an emotional level. So:

  • Instead of expecting your partner to intuitively understand your emotions, which can lead to misunderstandings, express your feelings openly and directly without blaming anyone. Use statements like “I feel lonely and disconnected” to promote understanding, and be receptive to your partner’s perspective; they may experience similar emotions.
  • Make a conscious effort to understand your partner’s perspective. Think about their current reality, challenges, sources of joy, concerns and desires. Approach this exercise with empathy and openness for renewed emotional connection in your relationship.

2. You avoid your partner

If you find yourself resorting to avoidant behavior in your marriage – such as spending an excessive amount of time away from home, pursuing odd hobbies, or often finding excuses to avoid interactions with your spouse – it may indicate an underlying loneliness within the marriage. Take a moment to think about your actions and motivations. Do you seek comfort and fulfillment outside the relationship instead of within it?

Avoidance can be a coping mechanism for unresolved conflicts or unaddressed problems. Research shows that spouses with higher levels of attachment avoidance are more likely to distance themselves emotionally or physically during moments of tension or negativity in the relationship.

Rather than retreating further, consider tackling these challenges head-on. Studies suggest that in addition to initiating conversation, actively validating and affirming the relationship through expressions of affection, support, or commitment can reduce attachment avoidance and strengthen emotional bond and commitment.

3. Your bedroom collects dust

Sexual intimacy is a crucial aspect of marital satisfaction and connection. When there is a noticeable decline or complete absence of sexual activity within the relationship, it may indicate an underlying emotional disconnect or dissatisfaction. Intimacy goes beyond the physical act and includes emotional closeness and vulnerability shared between partners.

Research points to several factors that promote marital intimacy, including:

  • Family dynamicsincluding relationships within the extended family
  • Shared time spent together and the duration of the marital relationship
  • Reciprocity in self-sacrificewhere partners make sacrifices and receive similar gestures in return
  • Express appreciation and recognizing each other’s efforts
  • Participate in new joint activitiessuch as hobbies or experiences
  • Parenting can also deepen emotional bonds, as shared experiences of raising children strengthen intimacy

With this information in mind, you can identify the turning point in your marriage. Whether you’ve been feeling lonely for a while or it happened recently, thinking about possible triggers can provide insights. Has a major life event, such as having a baby or losing a job, affected the dynamics of your relationship? Are either of you bothered by the increased workload? Identifying catalysts often leads to finding solutions.

While you’re at it, realize that it may be unfair to put all your eggs in one basket. Relying solely on your partner to fulfill all your needs – as best friend, confidante, and lover – often leads to disappointment and burnout for both parties. It is essential to diversify your sources of support and joy. Research shows that cultivating friendships outside your relationship can provide invaluable support, especially during difficult times.

Not sure if your relationship qualifies as ‘lonely’? Take the evidence-based Loneliness in intimate relationships scale Find out.

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