In my last blog I touched upon loneliness in marriage – the feeling of loneliness is one of the utmost challenging experiences that we endure. As a young person of 28, when I married my husband I never would have thought that I would experience feelings of loneliness. In part, one of the reasons we marry is to partner in life with someone whom we love. As a single person who hopes to find a partner in life, there is nothing more exciting than finding that special person who we connect with on many levels. We think about this person, maybe obsessively, and we are ignited with joy at the thought of seeing them again. This is connection! As humans, we thrive on connection, so who would guess that at some point we would experience loneliness while being married to this person? Who would imagine that we would feel loneliness with our loved one in the room?
In our relationship, at some time, we will experience either ‘disconnection’ or a ‘thin thread of connection’ – the result is loneliness. Experiencing loneliness in a relationship may lead to feelings of sadness, hurt, despair and hopelessness. Stay with me though – all is not lost and there are ways to not only manage times of loneliness but also to reconnect with one another.
Why do we experience loneliness in Marriage?
Simply stated – loneliness is experienced when we feel disconnected from one another. Disconnection is normal, because conflict is normal and necessary in marriage. However, we need to examine disconnection in degrees. Are you experiencing extreme disconnection, minor disconnection, or somewhere in between?
Did you have an argument that created disconnection and therefore loneliness? Have you gone through a painful experience, such as a family tragedy, and each of you has coped with it differently, therefore creating disconnection and loneliness? Has your marriage been put on the back burner, meaning other priorities have taken your time and attention, so you have not been doing the necessary work of maintaining connection? I am not being judgmental here – there are times for all of us when we are distracted by other elements in our lives. As well as simply not knowing how to do the extremely challenging work in marriage.
When we experience unresolved conflict we remain in disconnection. When we do not forgive or we hold on to misunderstandings, we remain disconnected. When our needs are not met, we feel disconnected. There are many, many things that lead to disconnection and therefore feelings of loneliness.
How to respond to feelings of loneliness:
When you and your loved one are struggling with disconnection, one thing that we tend to forget is the necessary value of self-care. If the two of you are in an unresolved argument and experiencing painful disconnection, we forget how to be our own loving, compassionate and empathetic companion. Disconnection can be a time for self-care. This does not mean withdrawing in anger and punishing your partner with an attitude of “the heck with you, I’ll take care of me”. What I mean by self-care during disconnection is more along the lines of “We are both hurting and I need time to reflect, repair and nurture”.
Learn to balance endurance of the pain of loneliness with self-care. When in pain our instinct is to imagine how to move out of our pain, as quickly as we can. This is only natural, but it is likely that it is easier to imagine ways out of our relationship as opposed to finding a way back in to reconnect. It is challenging to imagine how to reconnect with each other when both of you are hurting.
However, during times of disconnection you essentially have distance – and you can use this distance to gain clarity, insight and perspective. During these times I do many things in an attempt to gain understanding, such as:
Journal – While I understand that it might be challenging to find the time to journal, I can’t express strongly enough how helpful this can be for you. When the two of you are disconnected and feeling lonely, take this time to be reflective. You can journal your hurt and you can also reflect on what you need to reconnect. Balance your hurt with remembering what you love about your partner. Journaling can provide a process of thinking and working through our thoughts and feelings.
Talk with a trusted other – The reason that I say trusted is because it is necessary to speak with someone who can balance supporting both of you. It can be challenging to find someone who can attempt to understand both sides. However, only through understanding both sides will you find the necessary support to reconnect with one another. If only one side is supported, you will remain disconnected. So, while your friends may think they are being supportive by telling you that your partner’s terrible, you deserve better, etc., what you really need is someone who is a little more circumspect and can provide a balanced perspective.
It is easy to focus on the challenges that your partner brings to your relationship as opposed to the positives that they bring. Recently, I was discussing disconnection in marriage with a friend. She said that she married young and these days finds it difficult to connect with her husband. Interestingly though – during our conversation I suggested to her that we tend to try to find a way out of our relationship rather than find a way in. She thought about it for a minute and shared a story with me. She said that she embarrassingly ran out of gas in her car recently and when she called her husband he immediately came to help her. She reflected and said “you know, he didn’t berate me for running out of gas, he simply came to help me”. It was a nice moment of reflection of what he brings to the marriage rather than what he does not bring!
Spend time in nature – For me, being in nature provides comfort when I am in pain. Time spent in nature provides a sense of healing so that I can reflect in a more positive frame of mind. However, you may find something else that comforts you, and if nothing springs to mind – explore what comforts you and brings you a sense of peace. We need to feel comfort and a sense of peace for positive reflection to find a way toward reconnection.
How to reconnect with one another?
First is to understand the root cause of disconnection and loneliness. Is disconnection a constant experience or is this a short-term disconnection due to unresolved conflict?
A client said to me “When we have conflict, there are times when my husband withdraws for days” and she described feeling lonely and rejected when he withdraws. We continued our conversation, during which I discovered that while arguing, she told her husband that she was unhappy with his behavior during their vacation. After more conversation, I shared with her that he might have withdrawn due to feelings of shame. Please understand that it was not her intent to shame him. She was simply trying to explain to him how he affected her on their vacation. She responded with “oh my, he does tell me that he feels corrected by me!” She was stunned and agreed that he withdraws due to feelings of shame. She felt hope because she knew that she could find ways to communicate with him that would not trigger shame and she could reassure him of her intent. And she could tell him that when he withdraws from her – she misses him.
Another reason for loneliness in marriage is when your needs are not being met. There are times when life is so busy that we neglect our relationship. Another reason that needs go unmet is that your partner may be going through a difficult time and be unable to meet your needs. I have also witnessed couples who have not shared what they need from one another. Have you shared with your partner what you need from them? We are responsible for expressing our needs to our partner. This does not mean that your partner will immediately respond in a positive way to you; however, you can begin the conversation. Be sure to do it in a “non-blaming” way. There are times when a partner can feel as if they have failed or they are inadequate if you approach them about what you need from them. Or your partner may feel overwhelmed or depleted due to the challenges that life can bring; therefore, asking more of them at that particular point in time may not go well. Try to think of this conversation as a collaborative and a compromising conversation mixed with empathy and understanding. I know – this is very challenging to do! I don’t find it easy in my relationship either. However, I want you to know that it is complicated and you can think of this as a process of learning that takes time.
Another way toward connection is to recognize the humanness in one another – forgive, forgive, forgive. Recognize that it is most likely that both of you feel lonely, hurt and lost as to how to find a way back to one another. It is always important to work your way toward understanding each other rather than drawing unfair conclusions (which all of us do).
One last thing – do you remember when you met your partner and you did things together? And maybe each of you introduced the other to doing something new? Couples tend to fall into the habit of doing the same things day in and day out. Try doing something new together! Whatever that might be for you, research shows that couples in a long-term relationship can ignite feelings of connection by doing something new with one another. You might be surprised what you discover! We tend to close down openness to discovering something new about our partner, believing that we already know all there is to know about them. I am always surprised when I work with a couple and I ask questions – it is inevitable that one or both will say “I never knew that about you”! There is always something new to discover in each of you.
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