3 Reasons Why You Feel Lonely In Your Relationship (& What To Do)
One of the things that people rarely speak of is the loneliness you can sometimes experience in romantic relationships. Even partners in marriages are vulnerable to periods of feeling isolated, unsupported, or alone. Since companionship is the cornerstone that many relationships are built on, it can be hard to believe that you might find yourself feeling lonely despite initially feeling stimulated and fulfilled.
Here are several reasons why you might feel lonely while in a romantic relationship with someone and what you can do about it:
1. You and your partner haven’t truly achieved intimacy.
Intimacy is a safe emotional and physical space that allows two people to be at their most vulnerable without fear of shame, judgment, or rejection. Some people easily confuse intimacy with sex, which can be a part of intimacy but certainly isn't the only form of it.
Many couples believe that they have done the work to build intimacy in the early phase, when feeling connected and mutual acceptance of each other’s flaws comes more easily for some. However, it’s not until you need support through a challenge or crisis that you will be able to determine if your partner can truly handle your imperfections, vulnerabilities, and emotional needs. You may experience loneliness if you discover that you can’t be your most vulnerable self with your partner at times when you need it the most.
What to do: Building intimacy is a process that can extend well beyond the initial phase of your romantic relationship. Pay attention to how your partner supports you through challenges and crises. Express your expectations for support as clearly as you can in the beginning and speak to your partner about occasions where they fail to meet your emotional and physical needs. If they are unable to support you in ways that feel satisfying when it truly counts, it’s likely that you won’t be fulfilled in your relationship.
2. You and your partner have opposing interests.
The saying “opposites attract” holds a great deal of merit. Many of us are attracted to people who have different strengths, habits, and interests while sharing some important core values and embracing the same “big picture” together. It requires patience and acceptance to love someone who approaches life differently, and this is easiest to manage in the early phases of dating.
When partners are at their best, they can benefit from having a partner with different interests and goals if they view them as complimentary. But a natural byproduct of being opposites is that your opposing interests, projects, and goals will often take you in different directions. Many partners are shocked to discover just how little they have in common with their partner outside of the honeymoon phase. This can foster feelings of loneliness in your relationship.
What to do: Adjust your expectations for your relationship. Initially you may have expected to have more shared interests, joint projects, and things to talk about together. However, your relationship may not look like a relationship between two people who have lots in common besides the big picture. Be aggressive about discovering activities you can enjoy together and make sure both of you are fully present during those activities. It’s also helpful to pick a few meaningful projects and activities to support your partner through despite having very little personal interest in them. If your partner is willing to do the same, then you may experience feeling more companionship and support from each other over time.
Lastly, having healthy friendships outside of your relationship where you share similar interests, hobbies, and goals can provide even more balance and stabilize your relationship—and help you mitigate any feelings of loneliness that may come from not sharing every single passion with your significant other.
3. There’s a void inside of you that a romantic relationship can’t fill.
Different life experiences can leave us seeking validation, praise, and support from outside sources. Sometimes we're unaware and unable to connect the experiences from our past to our current feelings and behaviors. For example, if you failed to receive healthy doses of love, attention, and connection while growing up, then you may seek large amounts from others. Even deep wounds from previous romantic relationships can hinder your ability to feel whole and take sole responsibility for your own happiness.
If you don’t take the time to acknowledge and process meaningful and traumatic experiences from your past, you may attempt to use romantic relationships to fill any voids that exist. But a healthy relationship can only take you so far. Counting on your partner to fulfill your unmet needs without working toward healing old wounds will ultimately leave you feeling lonely and disappointed.
What to do: If you’ve received feedback from partners about having unrealistic expectations or needs, make time to consider if their claims hold validity. Feeling chronic loneliness in your relationships is one indicator that you may need to do some emotional work to ensure that you have healthy self-esteem and are able to love yourself without needing validation and physical gestures from others to feel complete.
It’s also possible that you struggle to let partners in on an emotional level, which is another sign that untreated trauma is present for you. It takes vulnerability to open up and allow your partner to help you if you’ve been hurt in the past. However, being too independent while in a partnership can create a wall around you that your partner can’t easily penetrate, leaving you isolated and feeling alone. Do the work needed to heal from your past and give your current relationship a fair shot.
It may be your relationship—or it may not be.
While it’s common to experience a short season or two of loneliness in long-term relationships, they shouldn’t persist or become regular occurrences. If the loneliness you feel isn’t related to schedule conflicts or the challenges that long-distance relationships can create, deeper issues that exist between you and your partner may be the culprit.
Take the time to examine your connection, compatibility, availability, and self-concept. These are vital components of a fulfilling relationship. You may discover that some areas are stronger than others, but what’s most important is having a partnership where both parties are willing to work on improving the areas that need strengthening.
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Weena Cullins, LCMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 15 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families. Her clinical advice has been featured at NBC News, The Huffington Post, Insider, Redbook, and many more mainstream media publications.
Cullins speaks to local, national, and international audiences about relationships, money matters, parenting, and the role of spirituality in achieving your personal goals, and she serves as a moderator/facilitator for community-based panel discussions sponsored by local nonprofit organizations. She previously worked as an adjunct professor and clinical supervisor at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she obtained her master's degree in family studies, and she has intensive clinical training in working with trauma survivors. She uses empirically validated treatment modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy and emotion-focused therapy with her clients.