Loneliness is the opposite of what we hope to experience with the most important person in our life: our husband / wife. Yet, once the initial excitement and honeymoon period is over, many people feel less and less connected with their partner, leading to a sense of loneliness and growing apart. Then, unless they step out of the relationship, they’ll most probably feel trapped in an unhappy, lonely marriage that prays on their mind and might even erode their physical health.
You might be asking yourself how you could avoid getting to that point in your marriage or how to get back to feeling connected and loving towards your partner as well as feeling loved. This is exactly what we’re going to look into.
The power of relational self-awareness
Self-awareness as the name suggests entails being aware of yourself: your behaviour, your thoughts, your feelings, your embodiment (how you stand, your facial expressions, your breath, etc.). It’s basically a skill that allows you to monitor yourself as life happens, rather than subsequently analysing a memory. Relational self-awareness is being aware of yourself in a relational context, in our case, as you interact with your partner.
It’s an immensely powerful skill because if you feel that your relationship isn’t going the way you would like it to, you might need to make some changes, and that can only be done once you’ve become aware of what are doing or fail to do during your interactions.
Unless we’re talking about an emotionally and physically abusive relationship (if that is the case seek immediate support in your local community!) becoming lonely in a relationship is down to two people, not only one of them. And whilst bringing the two of you close again will necessitate both of you, you can start the process on your own as well.
First, let’s talk about how you experience loneliness. Answer the yes or no to the following questions:
- I feel lonely most of the time.
- I feel lonely sometimes
- I rarely feel lonely, but when I do, it’s overpowering.
- I feel lonely whenever I am alone with my partner.
- I feel lonely when I am in a group and think my partner has more fun with others than me.
- I feel lonely when I talk to my partner but I feel (s)he isn’t listening to me.
Time of day
- I feel lonely in the mornings
- I feel lonely in the evenings.
- I feel lonely through the day and it even keeps me up at night.
- On the scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is negligible and 10 is excruciating) I usually feel lonely below 5
- On the scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is negligible and 10 is excruciating) I usually feel lonely above 5
This gives you a rough map to understand how you experience loneliness in your relationship. You could also sit down and journal about the topic, or check in with yourself five times a day to gauge your level of loneliness.
You might perceive yourself as more lonely than you experience it thought the day. This is due to the brain’s negativity bias, when you think about how lonely you are, you might only remember the moments when you felt overwhelmingly lonely, even thought that was only a few minutes in your day. The only way for you to distinguish between your perception of loneliness and your actual moment to moment experience of it is through rigorous self-reflection for a good few weeks.
You might decide to only measure it when you’re with your partner, or in all context to get an overall idea of how the experience of loneliness imbues your life. Try to do this stage as an objective scientist would do: gather data, write it down somewhere convenient (e.g. on a phone app) but don’t analyse it or try to change is just yet. Wait until you have enough data to do it, we’ll get back to the analysis part in the third section of the article.
Relational mindset shift
Your level of happiness and satisfaction in your relationship is down to many factors, some of which you have immediate control over, others you don’t. I invite you to focus on a factor that you do have control over: your mindset.
At the heart of a relational mindset is developing a relationship cherishing micro-culture. This means that most of the time you think of your marriage as a good thing, as something you are happy to have entered and committed to, and that you’re ready to work on it and work on yourself to make the relationship better for both of you. This attitude to your marriage drives you to do things for the benefit of the relationship because you know that you’re striving for “us”—the home of two individuals who decided to navigate life together.
A mindset that doesn’t cherish relationships and in fact undermines it is a “me against you”, “you against me” mentality. Here, there’s constant competition over who is right and who is wrong, who should do certain chores, how to hurt them back when you feel hurt. It’s a highly individual driven attitude, where the other is to some extent objectified: “what can I get out of them”, “how can I make them see my point”, “how can they make me feel happy.”
As you can see, the relationship cherishing leads to developing a new identity: two people are part of a larger entity, so all actions serve to strengthen it. In the second case, the relationship is there to make you happy, so it’s not unity driven, and it can make compromises difficult.
No one is perfect, individualistic tendencies will show up in all relationship to some extent. But if that’s the dominant mental and emotional landscape you live your life in, it can lead o loneliness. Every time you feel they don’t do what you expect them to, or you have another fight about who is right and who is wrong, you’re slowly growing apart.
Once you have gained awareness of your predominant mentality, you can proceed with transforming it. It’s not about giving up on your individuality and personality to fit in with someone else, it’s about finding a common ground and working towards benefiting both of you in most interactions. Looking at your relationship differently will make showing up in a more positive and loving way slightly easier, and once you’ve practiced it enough, it can become second nature.
Relational skill building
Awareness and mindset shift isn’t enough. You need to behave differently to get different results and that usually requires building new skills. I’ll talk about three fundamental ones here: self-regulation, communication skills, and healthy boundaries. If you build these, you’ll definitely notice a positive impact on your love life.
When we’re really stressed or angry, we often say or do things that are hurtful and regret later. Unfortunately, the regret we feel doesn’t seem to be as effective as we’d like it, because most of us tend to repeat those arguments and behaviours over and over, hurting our partner and ourselves regularly, which is why self-regulation skills are crucial.
We all learn different ways to respond to high levels of activation strong emotions that accompany it. As a response to what your partner does or says, you might immediately start shouting at them, or you might suppress what you feel until you can no longer hold it in and then explode with all past the hurts that come to mind.
There’s nothing wrong with both of you arguing passionately about things if that’s the way you both like to tackle disagreements and there’s a lot more love and kindness in your relationship than arguments. However, if you prefer to confront and let your emotions out and your partner would rather just talk it over or get on with life without touching a topic, there might be a conflict management incompatibility between the two of you.
Incompatibility can lead to a lot of stress. Either of you can learn to become more validating and understanding in arguments, and one way of doing that is by learning to self regulate so that the emotions don’t rise to high levels.
An easy way to regulate yourself before you respond to a situation is the physiological sigh: basically using your body to calm down the mind. It’s making the outbreath longer than the inbreath. But also, you can double or triple your inhalation (short inhalations) and then exhale slowly. This will calm you down and make it possible for you to choose how you respond to a situation rather than go into a kneejerk reaction.
You might want to practice the physiological sigh in the relational context when you’re not in the midst of an argument, so that you overlearn this skill and enhance your ability to apply it when you’re feeling stressed or angry.
2. Communication skills
One of the most off-putting remarks start with “you always..” and “you never…” not only are they gross generalisations but an attack on personhood.
It’s important to voice our feelings and our needs, and the best way to do that is not by attacking our partner, but by expressing how we feel, which usually starts with “I feel very… when you”, “I felt… when we…” This way you’re expressing your feelings honestly but you’re not accusing your partner or demanding anything.
It’s also important to be specific. One of the things that often happen is called “kitchen sinking” basically instead of saying that you were upset that your partner forgot the anniversary, you throw a hole list of hurts at them. This is counteractive because neither of you will be happy at the end of it, nothing gets solved and it can either lead to an argument or one of you walking out on the other.
When voicing something, make it as specific as possible, even if other hurts come up, use physiological sigh to calm yourself down, and then return to the topic at hand. You might schedule another meeting to discuss another topic.
If you’re more likely to shy away from confrontations, you can rehearse it with a friend or in front of the mirror before you engage in it live. Tell your partner that you’re learning to voice your feelings, that you find it hard but it’s a skill that will bring you closer and reduce unnecessary friction. This will most likely encourage them to help you with the process.
3. Healthy boundaries
We can distinguish between four types of boundaries: porous, rigid, a mix of the two, and healthy. A porous boundary lets everything in, usually people pleasers have this type of boundary: they say yes to everything and they tend to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others around. Someone who has rigid boundaries tends to say no to most things and isn’t very open to ideas or compromises. A healthy boundary, on the other hand, allows you to prioritise your well-being and show up assertively in a relationship.
Remember that whenever you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. If you’re prone to saying yes to things you’d rather not do, a way to change that is to rehearse saying no. You can imagine the person—you usually say yes to even when you’d rather say no—in front of you and say no loud and clear, you can even put a hand in front of you. Feel the strength in you body and in your voice as you repeat it a few times. Do that for a few days or weeks.
If you’re more likely to say no to everything, rehearse saying yes, and enhance the experience by holding your palms facing up as if ready to receive something. See how it feels in the body, then adjust it to feel a little more comfortable and rehearse it.
There is more to boundaries, but if you’re just starting this journey, doing this one exercise over a few weeks has the power to change your experience quite a bit.
Know when to get out of a relationship
This is a tough one and you might need the support of a therapist or coach to help you see things clearly before you make up your mind. Not all relationships are healthy for us, and sometimes the only way to get out of a lonely marriage is through divorce. And it’s okay!
Whilst separation is probably one of the last items on the list of possibilities, unless it’s an abusive marriage (seek support if that’s the case!) it is definitely a solution to getting unstuck and creating the life you desire. One thing that you want to avoid is running into this decision just to repeat it with your next partner. If you do decide to go on separate ways, seek therapy so that you heal the relational wounding that might have led you into this relationship in the first place.
It’s very easy to seek love where there isn’t any and end up in another marriage with an emotionally distant man or woman. By understanding your patterns and changing some of them, you’ll be better placed at finding a loving and lasting relationship where both of your thrive and love each other.
There are hardships in life and marriage won’t protect you from it, but when the two of you are focussed on the unity of your relationship and are working to solve things together, you’ll feel supported and loved as well as feel that your support and love is received and cherished.
If you feel lonely and unhappy in your marriage, do something about it because time won’t solve anything. You’re more likely paving the way to marital patterns that dive you away from each other rather than driving you towards each other.
If your partner agrees to go to therapy with you, all the better. If (s)he doesn’t, then go on your own, work on your emotional wounding, mindset, and marital skills. It usually positively impacts the relationship as well, or it might make it more clear to you whether you and your spouse have non-negotiable incompatibilities, in which case you’ll know that the solution might be choosing different paths.
In either case, don’t resign yourself to a lonely life, it negatively impacts your mental and physical well-being, and you’re depriving yourself of a love that would be satisfying.
Do you need personalised support?
If you’re interested in honing your embodied relational intelligence skills to build a loving, mature, and lasting romantic relationship either with your current partner or the one you commit to next, reach out or simply buy one of my coaching and or hypnotherapy services and I’ll meet you on Zoom.