By Robin May
Several years ago, “Psychology Today” reported that 62% of married people reported being lonely even though they lived with their spouse. I can imagine that percentage being a surprise to many but it actually does not come as a surprise to me. Like others who frequently work with couples, we know that marriage does not automatically equal companionship.
For those that can’t imagine the idea of loneliness in marriage, imagine that you are extremely thirsty and you know water is the only thing that will quench your thirst. Right in front of you is a water fountain but for some reason you cannot get to it in order to get a drink. You can see the water fountain…you know it has what you need, but you can’t get to it. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be? That’s how many feel right within their own marriage. Their spouse is right in front of them and they know their spouse can help quench their ‘thirst’, but for some reason the connection isn’t happening. I love how the “Psychology Today” article described this issue. They said “…we lose the love and the affection but stay in the marriage; ironically, often out of a fear of being lonely, although by doing so, we potentially doom ourselves to the very loneliness we were trying to avoid.” Now , while I don’t believe the answer has to be leaving the marriage, I don’t believe in suffering in silence forever.
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. When someone is lonely they often feel excluded from someone’s life and they feel someone isn’t connected to their life. Loneliness in marriage is often a silent killer. It happens gradually and often has deeply permeated the marriage before either party addresses the issue.
Now let me normalize this for some of you. A season of loneliness in your marriage should not come as a surprise. We all go through difficulty as we face day-to-day life circumstances. So if there is a short period where you feel disconnected in your marriage don’t be alarmed. Of course you should address the issue, but be careful not to assume your marriage is doomed for failure. The concern is when your marriage faces a perpetual season where you are isolated and disconnected from your spouse and neither of you are making an effort to reconnect.
Also, it is important to note that just because you are feeling lonely does not necessarily mean the issue is with your marriage. Remember self-awareness is a critical component to a healthy relationship. You need to know when the issue is something within you. Maybe you are suffering from depression, your own unrealistic expectations of marriage, grief or challenges with adjusting to a major change in your life. Yes, your spouse should support you, but if these are the things triggering your loneliness, be aware so that you don’t place unnecessary blame on your relationship.
Loneliness in marriage often begins with one or both spouses feeling isolated from the other. A few indicators that you are experiencing isolation in your marriage may include:
- You have no problem connecting with others but can’t seem to connect with your spouse
- You want to share how you feel with your spouse but you are hesitant too
- You feel a sense of sadness within your marriage
- You are clueless about the day to day of your spouse’s life
- You’ve learned to “keep the peace” and not deal with the “tough stuff”
Loneliness in marriage can often be described as the perfect storm. A combination of many factors, over time, can lead to the disconnect. Maybe you are both consumed with your careers; Maybe one person is focused on the kids and the other on church responsibilities; Maybe you have stopped ‘majoring’ in one another (you don’t know what your spouse does or doesn’t like; what he or she is interested in or not); You or your spouse doesn’t feel valued or understood. Again, slowly these factors begin to lead to a disconnect from the person we’ve committed too for life.
If any of this sounds familiar, I am sure you are thinking “okay okay! I get it! This is us. Now what?”. If you have found that you and your spouse have disconnected or are headed on that path, follow this simple THREE STEP plan! As you read these suggestions, try not to minimize their significance. When you’ve been in a tough place for a while, you can often become cynical. Keep your heart open…if you’ve tried these steps before, try them again. If your first thought is “my spouse isn’t going to respond to any of this”, do them anyway! If you are a person of faith, give God something to work with!
Step One: ACKNOWLEDGE IT!
Imagine that your tire has a slow leak. The longer you drive on that tire, the longer you put yourself (and all those riding with you) in danger! That is the same thing with isolation. Because it can happen gradually, it is a slow leak and can be ignored or every once in a while patched up. But eventually the “fix” won’t last and you are putting the marriage in danger. And with any change that we desire, it starts with admitting that there is a problem! First, you must admit to yourself that there is an issue. Don’t sugarcoat or down play it. Face the facts of what you are dealing with and take time to process what you believe is contributing to your feelings. It may help to get professional help to effectively sort through what you are feeling.
Step Two: ADDRESS IT!
Now that you have admitted that there is an issue, it may be time to address it with your spouse. But, if you are the person feeling disconnected, remember how you address it is critical. Your primary goal in addressing the issue is to ensure that you do not accuse your spouse but to express that you simply want to deal with what you are feeling. Your tone will either create an environment conducive for change or cause a greater rift. Take responsibility for how you may have contributed to this season of your marriage (“I know that I have been consumed with my job, and I apologize for that. Our marriage is important to me and I want to be connected to you”.). This step isn’t easy but your marriage is worth it!
Step Three: ACT ON IT!
It’s now time for you to DO something! If you are feeling disconnected from your spouse, do something consistently that will allow you to engage in his/her life. For some couples, it can be as simple as going shopping with your wife or buying tickets to the game for you and your husband. Taking the initiative to even ask your spouse out on a date may be a powerful step towards reconnection. YES…initially it will feel awkward. But as you continue to intentionally engage with your partner the more comfortable it will feel.
For others, the issue may be more extensive and you may need professional support to help you reconnect. And yes, even if your spouse refuses to go to counseling, you still should make it a priority. Counsel is vital to a healthy marriage. Remember, “Pride causes arguments, but those who listen to others are wise.” (Proverbs 13:10).
Understand that your marriage will stay just as it is until you decide to do something different. Commit to making an effort today. ACKNOWLEDGE! ADDRESS! ACT!
Interested in assessing the strengths and areas of growth for your marriage? Consider investing in the “CRA”: A customized relationship assessment. Click HERE for more information!