Why do people marry? For love, companionship, sex, support… the list can be endless. Despite all the arguments against the institution, marriage remains the gold standard for those entering committed relationships. Never mind that for a lot of couples these days, ‘happily ever after’ seems more like a fantasy while being ‘lonely in marriage’ is more the reality.
Now, don’t get us wrong. Fairytale relationships do exist. Look at William and Kate – perfectly made for each other in every way. But at the other end of the spectrum was William’s mother, the late Lady Diana, one of the most beautiful and enigmatic women in the world, who had openly confessed to being emotionally hollow in her long marriage.
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Being sad and lonely in a marriage has become so common that it does not evoke a sense of surprise among marriage counselors. According to a 2018 study by AARP Foundation, around 31 % of married people who were 45 years and older reported being lonely. Perhaps it’s time to take it more seriously than it is right now?
What Entails Being Lonely In A Marriage?
Dr Vidya N, counselor at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences says, “It’s a pity that being lonely in marriage is not considered as much of a problem than say, being in an abusive relationship. Of course, emotional and physical abuse is definitely a more serious issue but loneliness can lead to depression and related mental health problems,” she says.
Now, being lonely in a marriage does not exactly mean you are in a bad marriage. It is possible that to the outside world and your friends, the two of you might seem to be the perfect couple. It may also not mean that you do not love your partner. But the emotional distance and lack of intimacy may lead to a heightened belief that the marriage is collapsing.
So how do you define loneliness? “If your union isn’t one in which humour comes easily; it isn’t one in which your partner’s idiosyncrasies are still endearing, or isn’t one in which your emotional needs are being met, perhaps you are in a lonely marriage,” explains marriage researcher Carol Bruess in a TED session.
The case of Manjula V (name changed) illustrates this. A 43-year-old journalist, she has been in a loveless marriage for around two decades. Her relationship had an ideal beginning with her man wooing her and doing everything he could to win her.
They married soon but it was far from smooth. Issues with extended family, career struggles, an extra-marital affair…in a nutshell, the marriage had all dramatic elements except love.
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“Beyond a point I stopped caring,” says Manjula. “I lead my own life, he leads his. This arrangement of living separate lives while married suits us both. There is no acrimony or fights anymore but there is no love or excitement either. ” In a nutshell, there is zero emotional fulfillment or satisfaction but it works for them.
What Causes Emotional Abandonment In A Marriage?
These kind of lonely marriages have become all too common now. In the best case scenario, as Manjula pointed out, a couple may opt to live together but lead separate lives but at its worst, being lonely in marriage is the first step towards separation.
The story of every not-so-perfect marriage is different but the one common factor in all them is: the feeling of being emotionally abandoned.
A marriage is supposed to be the union of two souls, it’s meant to provide companionship and support during good times and bad but when your core emotional needs aren’t met, loneliness is the first feeling that creeps in.
Emotional abandonment in marriage makes you feel empty from within. Despite living with a person, interacting with him or her daily, perhaps even having sex, you do not feel a connection or warmth. You could feel your partner has emotionally checked out of the marriage. These are some of the reasons for emotional abandonment.
1. Very high expectations
Most couples today, enter a marriage with very high expectations. A spouse is expected to be a best friend, great lover, caring parent, humorous and intellectually stimulating partner, a successful professional and more. They might possess all these qualities but it’s impossible to sustain such high traits over a long period.
Michael Pratt (name changed), a businessman narrates his experience. “My wife says she feels empty. I understand her as I know I am not able to spend too much time with her or fulfill all her needs. But after 15 years of marriage, with a 12-hour job and stress on all fronts, I can’t be the 21-year-old lover boy I used to be, can I?”
2. Lack of communication
Good communication is the key to a good relationship. But you feel ignored when your partner gives you the silent treatment to whatever you say. Gradually, you stop sharing important things with him/her. The walls between the two of you rise higher as you have no choice, save for accepting a lonely marriage and its repercussions.
You may even find yourself talking more to your friends or family or an outsider than your own partner. “I was ready for the loneliness in an unhappy marriage,” says Manjula, “But what I couldn’t bear was the zero communication. At times, I would change my office timings so that I could avoid my husband. The result was that the gap kept growing to a point of no return.”
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3. Extra-marital relationship
An affair is perhaps the cruelest blow that can result in emotional abandonment in marriage. Unfulfilled desires and unmet expectations can lead you to the arms of another where you seek (and receive) gratification however, it can be devastating for your partner.
Even the desire to make it work will reduce since he or she is obviously getting what is lacking in the relationship from another quarter.
As the chasm widens, the other half in the equation will continue to be lonely but married especially if they are unaware about the affair.
How To Cope With Feeling Lonely In A Marriage?
‘I am tired of being lonely in my marriage but I have no choice,’ is a frequent complaint of those who are fed up of leading hollow lives with fake smiles.
Loneliness can be tough to cope with, especially if a person is looking for the partner to complete a void that he or she was carrying even before they met or started the relationship. It can weigh heavily on your heart and you start feeling unwanted in the relationship.
As Michael Pratt says, “My wife is lonely and so am I, it’s like two strangers living under one roof. There is no conflict, but living separate lives while married is too draining for the mind and body.”
Lack of investment in a marriage makes you disconnected and you feel unwanted. If you want to cope with the situation, the first step is to stop denying your loneliness.
A lot of people who are lonely in marriage put up a pretense of ‘everything is fine’ probably because they feel it’s pointless to make it work. But a lesson you learn from failed relationships is pretense takes you nowhere.
Well, you may or may not want to work on your marriage but you definitely need to work on your loneliness so that your life doesn’t feel incomplete. Here are a few suggestions to not just work through it but survive it.
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1. Find out the root cause of your loneliness
Some people have a ‘heritable trait’ and they are genetically predisposed to feeling loneliness more than other people throughout their lives. No one can take away your loneliness, only you can. It would be even tougher if you put that pressure entirely on your spouse.
So if you find yourself being constantly low and lonely, find out from a mental health expert if it’s a medical problem. Opting for counselling could help you figure out your issues. You will have to deal with your pain, emptiness and loneliness at the root level before your expect your spouse to fill the void.
2. Think about your past relationships
It is important to have a conversation with your spouse if you feel he or she is not aware of your loneliness at all. Maybe they have been trying to make you feel fulfilled emotionally but it has escaped your notice completely.
If you have not been able to shake off the feeling of being lonely in marriage, probably it’s due to self-confidence issues, low self-esteem or some kind of insecurity. Look at your past relationships. Has it been a pattern? If yes, then the solution has to begin with you.
3. Is your partner lonely too?
To find out the real cause of your loneliness, figure out if your partner is feeling lonely too. Maybe s/he has his own set of problems in the marriage that you didn’t realise, caught up as you were in your vortex of emotions.
If your partner has been as dissatisfied with the marriage and acknowledges their issues with it, it is likely that you have relationship problems which you have been ignoring.
This issue will need to be fixed otherwise the feeling of being married but lonely will never go away. That is the time when you should consider seeking relationship counselling that might help in addressing your common issue – loneliness – and help bring you together again!
Related Reading: The Top 3 Reasons Why A Couple Fights About The Same Things
4. Reconcile and discuss your beliefs
Psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini asks, “Are your beliefs about money, sex, faith, parenting etc getting in the way of an intimate connection? Often the problem lies in the differing beliefs that lead to other issues.” When you and your partner differ at the core, you don’t have the same family values, it gets increasingly difficult to connect with them.
If you have constantly differing opinions on some fundamental issues, it can either snowball into big fights or lead you to be physically and emotionally distant. That’s when you start feeling things like ‘my husband doesn’t understand me’ or ‘my wife refuses to see reason’ come up.
5. Rework your sex life
Lack of sexual desire can be a hallmark of lonely marriages. Of course, when there is emotional distance it is difficult to show up in bed but sometimes the route to the heart can be through sex.
Do not withhold sex because it is an important element that keeps a marriage alive.
Even if your sex life is nearly dead, try and take the initiative to resuscitate it, however awkward it may seem initially. Better sex can lead to more connection and conversation.
If you find your sexual compatibility then you can find togetherness both physically and mentally.
6. Have a circle of friends or develop common hobbies
Do not look at friends or work as a means to escape your spouse but ensure you have a healthy community outside of marriage. Feeling lonely in marriage is common among those who are completely dependent on their spouse for all their emotional and physical needs.
Instead, develop your own personality and have a life outside of the marriage too. Be careful to not let this outshine your marriage or else it will be a case of living apart together. Instead, try and find common ground through shared hobbies or friends that may help rediscover the lost love.
7. Re-engage and re-connect
Once you have identified the loneliness and causes of it, make a decision if you want to remain in the marriage and give it a shot. Your decision will determine your next steps. Make true attempts to bridge the gap as it cannot happen overnight.
Take small steps like say, helping in the kitchen or playing his or her favourite music. Approach your partner with problems without sounding like you are nagging, because he will get put off by a nagging wife. Make genuine attempts at reconciliation. Small gestures of kindness and generosity can go a long way.
It is quite possible that despite all your attempts, the gap between your partner and you might be difficult to bridge if he or she has emotionally checked out of the union.
However, that does not mean that you give up on a relationship completely. We all deserve to be in marriages that fulfill us completely so don’t settle for the emotional abandonment. Fight for what you deserve.
When a marriage loses its zing, there is a sense of déjà vu during every crisis. If a couple loves each other but does not like being together nor do they feel emotionally connected, it can be said that they are lonely despite being married.
A feeling of discontent and disconnect with the spouse, lack of communication, zero engagement in each other’s likes and dislikes are some of the signs of loneliness in marriage.
When you do not feel like reconciling with your spouse over differences, when you feel lonely despite being married and staying together, when there is nothing but a sense of depression and disconnect with your partner and there is no hope for reviving the lost spark or giving them attention, the marriage can be said to be truly over.
No, loneliness in a marriage, if continued for a long time, can lead to mental health issues. A marriage should be all about shared joys and contentment and you deserve to be in a happy fulfilling relationship than half-baked one defined by loneliness.