Feeling lonely in your relationship? 7 tips to help combat emotional isolation
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be alone to feel lonely. And you certainly don't have to be single either.
While it's natural to assume that being in a relationship will fulfill all your needs for mutual affection, rapport, and closeness - unfortunately, this isn't always the case. You could well be in a stable, long-term relationship and still yearn for closer companionship.
In fact, psychodynamic psychotherapist Eliza Goldberg tells Four Nine that loneliness is actually quite common in relationships - and even in marriages.
"Loneliness is experienced when a loss of connectedness between partners has happened," she says. "This loss of connectedness, either experienced by one or by both partners, can occur due to all sorts of life circumstances: stress, mental health problems, illness or death of a parent or other loved ones..."
The unfortunate reality is, relationships don't always keep us protected against feelings of isolation. In fact, living with or spending time with a partner that you no longer have a connection with can potentially increase your loneliness.
Now, the solution to your loneliness does largely depend on what's causing it in the first place, but here are some handy tips to help you combat the emotional isolation you've been experiencing.
1. Show compassion towards yourself
Before actively trying to resolve your loneliness, the first thing you should be doing is showing yourself compassion. It can be jarring to suddenly feel lonely in a relationship that may well have started out as a very passionate, attentive, and affectionate one.
Goldberg explains that it can sometimes be even more difficult to experience loneliness while you're in a relationship, as others may not be able to understand how someone with a partner could feel that way in the first place.
"It is important to remember that this is normal and happens to a lot of people and that we are not alone in this," she says.
According to licensed therapist Shelley Treacher, people tend to put themselves down for feeling unhappy, in spite of the perfectly rational reasons for their unhappiness.
"Understanding and compassion go a lot further to resolution than denial or self-criticism," she tells us. "Can you spot how you're running yourself down when you feel lonely? As if it's your fault somehow? This self-criticism will only contribute to feeling more lonely. Where compassion can help you feel warmer and more connected."
2. Figure out the cause of your loneliness
A major part of working towards a solution for your loneliness is figuring out what exactly the cause is. Perhaps it's an obvious one - for example, your other half might work long or unsociable hours and you might not get to see them as often as you'd like.
Or it could be that the reason for your loneliness is harder to pinpoint. Nevertheless, Goldberg stresses the importance of working out what has caused this "loss of connectedness" in order to "reflect on what our part in this situation could be."
"Sometimes we are angry with our partner but have not expressed this. Instead, we have defended against this feeling by diving into our work, for example," she adds.
Counselling psychologist Raluca Ursica tells Four Nine that loneliness generally stems from feeling emotionally disconnected - not only from our partner but also from ourselves.
"We might feel that our partner doesn't listen or see us or maybe that our feelings don't deserve to be heard or acknowledged," Ursica explains. "We choose to disconnect for fear of rejection or of being misunderstood."
Also, according to Treacher, while your loneliness may well be a result of something in your current relationship, feeling lonely in the present could stem from previous difficult relationships too.
3. Communicate with your partner
Naturally, if you're committed to your other half, then you need to communicate your feelings to them so that they are aware and can make an effort towards helping the two of you become more of a unit.
That's not to say that opening up about issues in your relationship is easy - far from it. Ursica completely empathises with those who struggle to speak openly about the pain they are feeling. Ultimately, though, it is wholly necessary.
"What we forget, is that the only way to connect is by being vulnerable, authentic," she says. "Showing up for ourselves and our partners, opening up about our needs, feelings, wishes, and dreams is the way we create emotional intimacy and build authentic relationships."
Goldberg urges lonely non-singles not to delay communicating with their partners about their loneliness and stresses the importance of finding a dedicated space for a heart to heart.
Now, in terms of how to go about communicating with your partner, look into "Non-violent communication," which Treacher says "encourages exploration and understanding, using 'I feel...' rather than 'You did this...'"
4. Do something special with your partner
Once you have communicated your feelings to your partner, it would be helpful for the two of you to break up your potentially mundane daily routine by carving out some time for a date night, a fun activity, or even a weekend away.
Try to compromise by agreeing to do something that might not necessarily be your cup of tea. The aim is to show your partner that you want to spend time with them and are happy to do something that they enjoy if it means being in their company.
Use this time to focus on each other and perhaps reignite that lost spark. If you still see potential in your relationship, try not to let it slip into platonic territories. Be tactile and flirtatious with your partner and see how they respond.
It's possible that you may not get the response you hoped for, but at least you'll know where you and your relationship stand.
5. Nurture your other relationships
Just because you're feeling lonely in your romantic relationship, doesn't mean you have to feel lonely when you're with your friends and family. So, don't neglect the time you spend with the people you are closest to.
"You might more easily find people on your wavelength doing something that aligns with your values, away from the relationship. Find support elsewhere," Treacher advises.
You may even consider forging new connections, which you can do in a number of ways. Consider joining a club related to your interests, perhaps start using platonic friend-making apps such as Meetup, get chatting with one of your neighbours or colleagues and if you hit it off, ask them to hang out. Be open to meeting new people at events such as gigs, or invite friends and acquaintances around yours for a party or small gathering - each with a plus-one in order to extend your circle.
Of course, seeking company outside your romantic relationship doesn't necessarily have to mean with a person. You could also look into adopting a cat or a dog so that you have a four-legged companion to get you through tough times.
6. Find a new interest or hobby
If you feel lonely even when your partner is around, then it may be best to spend more time on your own doing things that bring you joy.
Rather than doing something mundane like watching TV (unless, of course, it's something you're passionate about), you could try to find a new interest or hobby to distract you from your relationship woes.
Some solo hobbies include baking, writing personal essays, fictional stories or poetry, working out, drawing, or you could even start creating your own content on TikTok or YouTube.
You could also try to learn a new skill such as playing an instrument or brushing up on your DIY. If you're someone who gives up on things easily, try your best to stick to it - it might give you a real sense of achievement.
7. Seek professional help
If you feel you have tried everything in your power to alleviate your loneliness and it remains an issue, it might be best to seek help from a professional, Goldberg says.
You could perhaps look into getting individual therapy sessions in order to figure out the underlying causes of your unhappiness. Or, if your partner is willing, try going to a couples counsellor.
Deciding to enlist the help of a professional, if it's a feasible option for you, is a good indication, according to Goldberg, as "wanting to improve how we are feeling is often a sign that we see a possibility for improvement, and these are important steps to reduce loneliness."
Ultimately, you'll have to decide for yourself whether you feel your relationship is worth fighting for or whether it might be best to call it quits.