Do you feel disconnected and disengaged from your partner? Perhaps you’re feeling unheard or unloved. Or you just have a vague sense that you’re drifting apart. Being lonely isn’t something reserved for people who are alone or single. You can feel lonely in a crowd – and you can feel lonely in a couple. Your relationship may have lost its spark, not be working as well as it once did, or there could be practical barriers to intimacy. Do you ever wonder “Why do I feel lonely in my relationship?” If so, here are some possible reasons – and things you can do about it.
What does loneliness in a relationship feel like?
We can all experience feelings of loneliness at any point in our lives – whether or not we have a partner. Loneliness is a feeling of disconnection, isolation and sadness, caused by a lack of companionship. But you can feel lonely even in the same room as your partner.
Often in a relationship, loneliness can manifest itself in more indirect ways than simply feeling on your own. You might feel irritated or annoyed with your partner, find that you’re bickering or arguing, or tend to interpret things they do in a negative way. Furthermore, you may give them the ‘cold shoulder’ – the silent treatment – or avoid them. Perhaps you’ve become less attracted, intimate or sexual. Or you might just have a vague, underlying sense that you’re drifting apart.
You’re not alone in feeling lonely. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, dissatisfaction with family life is the top reason for loneliness. It found that 28% of Americans who are dissatisfied with their family lives feel lonely all or most of the time.
10 common reasons for feeling sad and lonely in a relationship
Everyone, and every relationship, is different. The reasons you may feel unhappy or lonely in your relationship will be unique to your situation. As Tolstoy wrote in the opening line to Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That said, there are some common reasons for feeling lonely in a relationship – some of which may resonate with your situation:
- Your needs aren’t being met. Sometimes this can be solved by clearly communicating your needs to your partner. Though your partner may not always be able to meet those needs. Or you may be looking to your partner to fill some void in yourself – in a way that may be unrealistic and even unhealthy. “You complete me” is a great movie line (Jerry Maguire, 1996) – but it’s not a great manifesto for life.
- Incompatibility. The initial thrill of a new relationship may, over time, be replaced by the realisation that you’re just not compatible. The relationship goes nowhere, and you drift further apart – accompanied by feelings of loneliness. Other emotions may also include resentment, irritation, intolerance and unhappiness.
- Intimacy fizzles out. ‘The thrill is gone’ – as Chet Baker once sang. Some relationships just lose their spark. Intimacy is important for feeling connected. Without it, you might drift apart and feel like you’re just going through the motions. You start to feel a sense of isolation, separation – and loneliness. This is especially common in long-term relationships.
- Distance and physical separation. Long-distance relationships can be tricky. You may be separated for long periods due to work, studies or military service. There are many reasons for physical separation – but they can all lead to feelings of loneliness.
- Lack of time. Are you both just too busy? Has one of you started a new job? Do you have a new family that’s making it hard to spend time alone together? Or does your partner have time-consuming hobbies and interests, or spend long hours at work? And why do you have limited time together – out of necessity or avoidance?
- Life changes. A common reason for feeling lonely in a relationship is a major life event or upheaval. It could be a new job, a change in relationship status such as moving in together or getting married, or family changes such as having children – or the children moving out.
- Breach of trust. A betrayal, such as an affair, can affect a relationship more profoundly than you may realise. It can take a long time to work through, and lead to resentment, disconnection – and loneliness.
- Physical health problems. If your partner is dealing with a chronic illness, serious disease, or spending time in hospital, you may feel anxious, stressed and lonely. You may want to support your partner – but also need support yourself. This can be an isolating experience. While you will hopefully be able to rely on the support of friends and family, you may miss the support and companionship of your partner.
- Mental health problems. Common mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety may not be directly related to the relationship. But they can impact it, create a sense of distance and loneliness, and lead to relationship problems. Problems such as alcoholism or other addictions can also be very isolating, leading to loneliness. It’s important to address the underlying problems, whatever their severity. A therapist can be helpful here – with both the causes and effects.
- Physical or emotional abuse. Any kind of abuse in a relationship can lead to loneliness. But it can also lead to more serious problems, including depression, substance use and physical injury. Help is available. You can talk to your GP or a therapist, and you can find help via a number of charities. In the UK, women can get in touch with Refuge or Women’s Aid, men can call Men’s Advice Line or Mankind, and if you identify as LGBT+ you can call Galop. Anyone can call Karma Nirvana for support relating to forced marriage or honour crimes.
Your relationship may simply not be working as well as it once did, there could be practical barriers to intimacy, or you may be looking to your ‘other half’ to compensate for something you feel you lack in yourself.
How to stop feeling lonely in a relationship
If you’re feeling lonely in your relationship, try the following tips:
- Name your feelings. Is it loneliness you’re feeling? Or are you feeling sad, neglected, let down, unsupported? Spend some time checking in with yourself and reflect on what it is, specifically, that you’re experiencing. This will then help you better understand the problem, and communicate your feelings accurately to your partner.
- Talk to your partner. This may sound obvious. The problem is, we often assume that our partners should intuitively know what we’re thinking and feeling. However, your partner may have no idea how you feel. They may not be aware that you need more of their time or support – because you haven’t told them. Many couples find that having a conversation is all that’s needed to start solving the problem. Try to be non-judgemental, and focus on communicating your own feelings rather than, say, your partner’s behaviour – and you’re likely to make progress.
- Listen. The flip side of talking about how you’re feeling is to listen to your partner’s point of view too. If you’re on the same page, you can work together on improving things. But communication is key. Not talking to each other about things that are bothering you is likely to allow things to fester, and lead to feelings of loneliness.
- Make time for each other. Sometimes the solution can be to simply make more time for each other. In our always-on, busy culture it’s easy to get caught up in work and other projects, and neglect our loved ones – albeit inadvertently. But relationships need time and effort. Can you set aside one evening every week or so as a ‘date night’? This may require some advance planning, such as arranging a babysitter. But it might help reignite the spark.
- Find a shared interest. Maybe you have very different interests and groups of friends. Over time, this may have resulted in you drifting apart and spending less time together. Is there an interest or activity that you would both enjoy that you can make time for? It could help bring you closer together again.
- Spend less time together. Yes, this sounds counterintuitive! But if you’re feeling lonely in your relationship, those feelings of loneliness may be assuaged by spending more time with friends and family, or by joining a sports team, hobby group, evening class or volunteering. The company of others, outside the relationship, may help reduce your feelings of loneliness – and actually help the relationship.
- Couples therapy. There’s no shame in asking for help. In fact, an outside perspective could be just what you need. It might make all the difference. Couples therapy helps you and your partner to make changes in your relationship with the help of a therapist. It can help get the ball rolling, the conversation started – and it demonstrates a commitment to your relationship. You can see a therapist alone or together. And you can even do it online, making it easier and more convenient to fit into your schedule. Find out how you can get started with My Online Therapy.
Talking about a problem doesn’t make it go away, or even necessarily solve it quickly. But it is the first step – and it’s important to make time and space for that conversation. You may overcome your problems. Or you may ultimately decide to part ways. But communication is essential – and therapy may help facilitate that. It can offer you the space to grow and decide what you would like the future to hold – for both of you.