Many people feel lonely– disconnected from others, adrift, and unhappy– even when they are in a committed relationship. Despite being surrounded by people and busy with life’s commitments, it’s common for people to feel as though they aren’t truly known and valued. This can lead to a sense of isolation, alienation, sadness, and a longing for true companionship.
We may see other people happily socializing and assume they connect deeply with others easily. We want what they have. The solution to loneliness is deep connection; sometimes the connection that you are missing is with your partner, and other times the connection you need to develop is with yourself.
Developing a Connection With Your Partner
When Jane and Jack first met Jane was amazed by how deeply seen and valued she felt by Jack. They talked about everything from the details of their day to their deepest hopes and aspirations. They lifted each other up and provided a soft place to land during moments of distress. Their relationship was fun, supportive, and built to last.
Once they were married, though their commitment to each other remained strong, they struggled to discuss challenging relationship issues. Eventually, Jane began to feel like Jack wasn’t interested in her life. Instead of listening to the details of her day, Jack seemed distracted. When she told him of her frustrations, he would often tell her she was overreacting, or “making mountains out of molehills”. When she tried to share her deeper worries– about her growing conflict with her boss, for example, and her mother’s worsening health– Jack would listen for a few minutes and then become frustrated, trying to dismiss her with vague reassurances like, “I’m sure it will be fine.”
Eventually, Jane stopped reaching out to Jack for support; she stopped telling him details of her day, and kept her worries and concerns to herself. Even though she and Jack still spent most of their free time together, Jane began to feel lonely. Jack, for his part, noticed that Jane had stopped sharing with him, but didn’t know why. Jack began to feel defensive and suspicious that Jane had found someone else.
Jane and Jack are a good example of a couple who are well-suited, and whose relationship looks great from the outside. Their relationship is stable, they have an agreed-upon plan for the future, a common understanding of what they want from life, and similar values. And yet, both Jack and Jane feel misunderstood and undervalued. As a result of this, both felt lonely in their marriage.
Jane and Jack came to therapy to seek help after Jane told Jack that she couldn’t stand feeling so alone in their marriage. Jack was shocked and hurt that Jane would blame him for their growing distance when she was the one who had disengaged.
In both couple and individual therapy with me, they were able to get underneath these feelings and rediscover the friendship that had served as the foundation of their relationship from the beginning. In addition to learning how to discuss the relationship issues they had been avoiding, both Jane and Jack also developed a greater understanding of themselves. This is critical, because sometimes the loneliness we feel isn’t truly about the other person misunderstanding us, but rather our own rejection and misunderstanding of ourselves.
Lonely Because You Don’t Know Yourself
For some people, committed relationships are the answer to a loneliness they have felt their whole lives. The high that comes from a new relationship– the hours spent getting to know each other and sharing their hopes with someone newly infatuated– is the kind of connection they dreamed about. Each time, it feels like a miracle drug, filling the deep well of their loneliness. But, as always happens, the infatuation recedes and a more clear-eyed and grounded intimacy takes its place. When this happens, the marriage may be rock solid, filled with friendship, and romantic love, but the loneliness returns.
In these cases, the root of the loneliness is within the individual person. For Jack, his loneliness was grounded in unexamined feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, low self-esteem, and a feeling of being “not enough.” He disengaged from Jane not because he didn’t care about her, but because he couldn’t fix her problems. And if he couldn’t solve her worries, what good was he to her?
Through his individual therapy sessions, Jack came to know himself better, which created a self-intimacy that soothed his deepest loneliness. When he was more comfortable with himself, he became better able to be present and connected with Jane. Their marriage improved dramatically, and they both felt back on solid ground.
It might sound odd to consider that you may need therapy to know yourself better, but most people do. Despite decades of education, most people don’t know how to be present with themselves. Through therapy you not only learn how to communicate with your partner better, but you also learn how to comfort yourself, love yourself, and enjoy yourself. Without this self-knowledge, it is challenging to handle conflict and distress. When you have this intimacy with yourself, on the other hand, all of your relationships improve and your marriage will only be stronger.
If you feel lonely in your relationship, reach out for support. I am happy to help you feel better!