Marriage, often seen as the epitome of companionship and a sacred vow of mutual love, can surprisingly create feelings of deep loneliness in some people. Despite the promise of love and support, the reality can fall short, leaving partners feeling isolated and disconnected.
Loneliness in marriage extends beyond mere physical absence to include a deep sense of emotional detachment and unfulfilled intimacy. It’s about feeling unseen, unheard and misunderstood despite sharing life with someone.
Loneliness is not just an emotional burden. Research suggests that it is associated with increased functional decline and mortality. Lonely people face higher risks in various aspects of daily life, from basic tasks to long-term mobility. The study also shows how mortality rates can increase by 45% over a six-year period.
Several factors contribute to marital loneliness:
- Poor communication or the lack of meaningful conversations can lead to emotional distance.
- Monotonous daily routines without innovation or excitement it can promote loneliness and disconnection.
- Prolonged unresolved conflicts or unclear complaints create emotional barriers, reinforcing feelings of isolation.
- Discrepancies in individual development trajectories or life goals can alienate partners from each other.
- External stressors such as financial problems, work pressures or family conflicts strain marital bonds, intensifying loneliness.
Here are three indicators to help you determine if you are experiencing loneliness in your marriage.
1. There is an emotional disconnect
According to a study published in Contemporary Family Therapycouples who have frequent and meaningful conversations tend to experience greater relationship satisfaction, perceive more positive qualities in their relationships, and feel closer to each other.
When conversations with your spouse remain superficial or important topics are avoided, it may signal a breakdown in communication. Pay attention to both the quality and quantity of your interactions. If you find that meaningful dialogue is lacking, or if there is a tendency to avoid discussing critical topics, it could indicate emotional distance.
Communication is not just the exchange of words. It’s about truly understanding and connecting with your partner on an emotional level. So:
- Instead of expecting your partner to intuitively understand your feelings, which can lead to misunderstandings, express your feelings openly and directly without assigning blame. Use statements like “I feel alone and disconnected” to promote understanding and be receptive to your partner’s perspective—they may be experiencing similar feelings.
- Make a conscious effort to understand your partner’s point of view. Consider their current reality, challenges, sources of joy, concerns and desires. Approach this exercise with empathy and openness for a renewed emotional connection in your relationship.
2. You avoid your spouse
If you notice yourself engaging in avoidant behaviors in your marriage—such as spending excessive time away from home, pursuing separate hobbies, or frequently making excuses to avoid interactions with your spouse—it may indicate underlying loneliness within the marriage. Take some time to think about your actions and motivations. Are you looking for comfort and fulfillment outside of the relationship rather than within it?
Avoidance can be a coping mechanism for unresolved conflicts or unresolved issues. Research shows that spouses with higher levels of attachment avoidance are more likely to withdraw emotionally or physically during times of tension or negativity in the relationship.
Instead of retreating further, consider facing these challenges head on. Studies suggest that in addition to engaging in conversation, actively validating and affirming the relationship through expressions of affection, support, or commitment can reduce attachment avoidance and enhance emotional connection and commitment.
3. Your bedroom is gathering dust
Sexual intimacy is a critical aspect of marital satisfaction and connection. When there is a noticeable drop or complete absence of sexual activity within the relationship, it can signal underlying emotional disconnection or dissatisfaction. Intimacy extends beyond the physical act and includes emotional closeness and vulnerability shared by partners.
Research highlights several factors that enhance marital intimacy, including:
- Family dynamicsincluding relationships within the extended family
- Common time you spent together and the duration of the marital relationship
- Reciprocity in self-sacrificewhere partners make sacrifices and receive similar gestures in return
- Expressing appreciation and recognizing each other’s efforts
- Participation in new joint activitiessuch as hobbies or experiences
- Parenthood it can also deepen emotional connection, as shared experiences in parenting strengthen intimacy
With this information in mind, identify the turning point in your marriage. Whether you’ve been lonely for a while or it’s a recent incident, thinking about possible triggers can provide insight. Has a major life event, such as having a baby or losing a job, affected the dynamics of your relationship? Has the increased work pressure affected any of you? Identifying catalysts often leads to finding solutions.
While you’re at it, realize that it might be unfair to put all your eggs in one basket. Relying solely on your partner to fulfill all of your needs—as a best friend, confidant, and lover—often leads to frustration and exhaustion for both parties. It is important to diversify your sources of support and joy. Research suggests that cultivating friendships outside of your relationship can provide invaluable support, especially during difficult times.
Not sure if your relationship qualifies as “lonely?” Take the evidence-based evidence Loneliness in Intimate Relationships Scale to learn.