NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Feeling Lonely in a Relationship

Everyone feels lonely sometimes.  It's not unusual.  There are different kinds of experiences of feeling lonely.  

Usually we associate feeling lonely with being alone. But it's not unusual to feel lonely from time to time while you're in a relationship.  You and your partner or spouse aren't always going to feel emotionally attuned.  

But when you feel lonely most of the time while you're with your partner, this is a different kind of loneliness and can be indicative of problems in the relationship (see my article:  What's the Difference Between Solitude and Loneliness?).

Feeling Lonely in a Relationship

There are many reasons why you could be feeling lonely or emotionally estranged from your partner.  Assuming that you and your partner spend time together and that you're not away from each other for significant periods, it's important to determine what's causing you to feel lonely and if your partner is feeling the same way.

Are one or both of you withdrawing emotionally when you're together so that you're in the same room but you're not connecting with each other on an emotional level?  Are you bored?  Has your sex life waned?  Have you grown apart?

The following vignette is a fictionalized composite that illustrates a particular cause of loneliness in a relationship:

Alice and Peter:
Alice and Peter were married for 15 years.  They had two sons, who were 11 and 12.  They both had successful careers.  When they first got married, they had a very passionate relationship.  But in the last few years, they focused most of their free time on their sons' various activities, including sports events.  Their once passionate sex life had waned to nearly nothing (see my article: Reviving Your Sex Life).

Feeling Lonely in a Relationship

After their children went away to sleep away camp for the first time, they found themselves together and alone for the first time in a long time.  Before their sons left, they each thought they would enjoy having time to themselves for a change.

But after their sons were gone, they both felt awkward around each other and somewhat at a loss as to how to spend their time together.  Both of them felt too uncomfortable talking about it, so they each dealt with the awkwardness and loneliness they felt on their own.  They each found individual projects to work on in their spare time, and they tried to avoid the emotional awkwardness by spending their time apart.

As the weeks passed, they each felt more emotionally estranged from each other.  Finally, when it became too uncomfortable for her, Alice broached the topic with Peter, feeling embarrassed and shy, but  deciding that it was better to talk about it than to keep sweeping it under the rug.

So, over breakfast, before they went off to their separate projects, Alice told Peter that she was feeling lonely.  There was an awkward silence, which increased Alice's embarrassment and feelings of awkwardness.  Then, Peter looked away and said he was feeling the same way.

They talked about how they never realized, while the children were around, that they had lost sight of their relationship.

They acknowledged to each other that they still loved one another, but their sex life had waned to nothing.  This was a difficult conversation to have, but it was a relief for both of them to stop avoiding each other and the so-called "elephant in the room" of the loneliness that they each felt around each other.

Peter and Alice realized that they needed to get to know each other again.  They loved their sons very much, but they realized that they needed to spend more quality time with each to rekindle their relationship.

But they didn't know how after all this time, so they sought the help of a marriage counselor. In marriage counseling, they learned to re-engage in the activities that they used to enjoy--going out dancing, going to the theatre, and reading aloud to each other.

To rekindle their sex life, they rediscovered how to be sensual with each other and, eventually, becoming sexually intimate again after years of not being sexual at all.  When their sons returned, they made sure to continue to find time for each other by going out on a "date" at least 3-4 times per month to maintain the emotional and sexual intimacy they discovered with each other while their sons were away.

Loneliness and Estrangement Can Develop Over Time in a Relationship
The scenario above is only one example of how loneliness and emotional estrangement can develop in a relationship over time without the couple even realizing it.

There are many other examples, too many to discuss in one blog post.  

One common complaint I hear from couples in my New York City private practice is that one or both people are continually preoccupied with their cellphone.  This could be a topic unto itself.  Another common complaint is that one or both people have outgrown each other.

Getting Help in Therapy
The main point of this blog post is that if you're feeling lonely in your relationship, you owe it to yourself and your partner to communicate this before it's too late.

You're not alone.  There are many individuals and couples that experience this problem.

If you're unable to work on it on your own by rekindling your relationship, you can seek the help of a licensed mental health professional who  specializes in working with couples.

About Me
I am a licensed New York psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.