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18+: Loneliness within a Marriage

Many of my clients discuss a feeling of loneliness within their marriages. Often their spouses look at them with confusion or contempt. They ask how it’s possible to feel alone when they are in the same house or even the same room much of the time. Mr. and Mrs. Just Not Feeling It may also be helpful in explaining how you feel.

When you feel lonely within your marriage, you don’t feel like you’re part of anything bigger than yourself. You feel alone, and there is no “we,” only you and your spouse, completely separate entities. You may or may not seem to be a happy couple to others, and you may or may not be able to keep a united front for the kids. Either way, when it is just you and your spouse talking to each other, you don’t feel close, connected, secure or safe.

You realize that you and your spouse are worlds apart on some basic values, which frightens you and makes you wonder why you married him or her at all. Your spouse seems to say the wrong thing at the wrong time all the time, and you wonder if this was always the case and you were too young, stupid or infatuated to notice.

You feel like your spouse doesn’t pay attention to you. Compliments are few and far between, and not about things that you yourself are proud of. You feel that your spouse wouldn’t be able to answer basic questions about what’s important to you or what you feel or think on a daily basis.

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You personally have very little idea what he or she thinks about all day, either. You have tried to ask and the conversations seem to go nowhere. Your spouse seems confused and annoyed, wondering what you want.

You often argue about silly things that are stand-ins for deeper issues. Sometimes you argue because it’s the only way to feel that your spouse is even paying attention to you. Every so often, you try to put yourself out there emotionally, but your spouse’s tendency to make sarcastic, mean, or cold remarks makes you more and more wary of taking any emotional risks. You say increasingly less about yourself, and the majority of your conversations become about the kids, work, or the house.

When you are in a lonely marriage, your spouse may want sex as much as ever, but it makes you feel sad, shut down, and even angry when you try. You feel that there is no emotional connection there. You learn to go through the motions so that you can appease your spouse, or keep up appearances in your own mind, but you often become detached from your own sexuality in the process. Kissing and hugging usually stops before sex, except the kiss goodbye in front of the kids.

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In a lonely marriage, sometimes you become a better parent because you throw yourself into your children. (But then you worry about smothering them or burdening them with too much of your emotional need.), Sometimes you become a worse parent because your depression and anger makes you shut down and pull away from your kids, or snap at them in irritation. Your kids try to cheer you up when you seem sad, and that makes you feel sadder, because you want your kids to have a happy parent. But you just can’t rally all the time to seem that way.

Sometimes you are attracted to other people, which makes you feel both guilty and angry. You don’t want to be that person who has an affair, but you feel that your spouse is driving you to it with emotional neglect. You find yourself unable to picture what your marriage will look like in five or 10 years. If you can, it makes you sad.

You take up many outside interests, throw yourself into work, or make lots of friends in order to show yourself that life can be fine without having a close relationship with your spouse. You thrive in all these environments, but grow more detached at home. The saddest part of your loneliness is that sometimes you have the feeling that your partner feels the same way that you do.

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If this describes you, please try to find a couples therapist, and read about various ways to work on your relationship. Many couples who feel even this level of disconnection find their way back to each other with hard work in counseling, even if only one person goes. Learn about what each of you brings to the table from your childhood. Also, try to read Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, 20th Anniversary Edition and Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love to help understand how and why you’ve gotten to this point.

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