When we think of loneliness we may conjure up images of an elderly person living alone. But the truth is loneliness is a state of being – and it can happen to anyone. We will all experience loneliness at some point in our lives.
But rarely do we expect to feel this way in a relationship.
However, loneliness is a feeling rather than a measure of our relationship status or how many friends we have. We can be alone and not feel lonely, just in the same way that we can be surrounded by friends and friends and feel completely isolated and alone.
Loneliness is about the quality of our connections. It’s about feeling truly seen, heard and understood by the people around us. This means we can physically be in a relationship but at an emotional level feel unconnected.
When it comes to loneliness, it can help to consider its purpose. Just like all other emotions, loneliness has a purpose. Human beings are social by nature. Back in the day, being part of a tribe was key to our survival. Loneliness then is simply a cue to connect. Just like hunger protects us from starvation, loneliness alerts us when we need more connection in our lives.
If you’re feeling this way in a relationship, think of it as your mind and body saying, “it’s time to go deeper”.
Let’s consider what this can look like in practice:
Be true to yourself – if we’re feeling lonely in a relationship, it is often because we do not feel fully seen by our partner. So the first thing to consider is whether you are giving them the opportunity to see you as your true, authentic self. Are there any parts of yourself that you hide from your partner? Perhaps there are parts that you feel ashamed of or parts of yourself you’d rather deny and keep locked away. But vulnerability is the only real route to connection. Letting your guard down and sharing your hopes, dreams, fears and weaknesses with your partner is the first step to building emotional closeness.
Step into the relationship – if you’ve been feeling lonely, it’s possible that one (or both) of you has pulled back from the relationship. Now’s the time to step back in and really own how you’re feeling. Try having an open, honest conversation where you express what’s on your mind. If you’re wanting to work at things, be clear about that and reaffirm how important the relationship is to you.
Practice being more present when you spend time together – as we get older and our relationships become more serious, so do our responsibilities. We can easily become lax in the way we spend time with our partner, going through the motions without ever really being fully present. Try scheduling quality time together where you both give your full attention. Ask your partner intentional questions like, “what was the best and worst part about your day today?”
Limit social media – social media is saturated with images of people “living their best lives”. Of course, we all know these types of photos never tell the full story. But if you’re feeling lonely right now, recognise that social media is likely to be triggering and only heighten these feelings. Try putting a temporary pause on it while you focus on yourself and your relationship.
Build up your support system – what are your other relationships like? Do your friendships leave you feeling nourished and supported? While intimate relationships are important, your partner can’t fulfil every need. Make sure you also have a full life outside of your relationship.
Try couples therapy – if you’ve tried the steps above and still don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, couples therapy is a great option. A couples therapist will be able to uncover what’s holding you both back from connecting in a meaningful way so you can make a plan for change.