What To Do When You Realize You’re Lonely In Your Marriage
As I walked through the parking lot, my phone dinged.
“I can’t stop thinking about you. I miss you.”
It was a text message from a man who was not my husband. Seeing it gave me both a thrill and a sinking feeling of dread.
When did I become the type of woman who cheated?
My sense of integrity was a point of personal pride. Lying was one of the worst things I could imagine, but I’d been doing it for weeks.
How had I gotten here?
There are so many reasons I behaved the way I did towards the end of my first marriage.
One stemmed from feeling desperately alone.
That loneliness within my marriage threatened to swallow me whole each and every day.
When someone came along and offered sweet words as a proxy for intimacy I hadn’t experienced in more than a decade, I jumped at it, even as guilt clawed at my heart and gut.
Feeling lonely in a marriage is not uncommon.
A 2019 study shows that 47% of people report feeling lonely while 43% sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful.
Feeling lonely doesn’t always result in infidelity or divorce. But if not dealt with in an honest and authentic way, it can leave one or both partners feeling miserable.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
Why Do People Experience Loneliness In Their Marriage?
For me, the loneliness in my marriage crept up on me gradually. It was a series of unfortunate events, some small, some large, that built upon each other over time.
I was overwhelmed with financial stress and parental responsibilities but felt like my husband didn’t want to participate in the daily grind of work and parenting.
Our sex life fell off in the years between our oldest and youngest sons’ births, and after the youngest was born, sex was almost unheard of. I didn’t want to be intimate with someone who didn’t think helping me around the house was worth his time and attention.
Not only did I feel lonely from the lack of help, but now I gave up physical connection as well. While I’m not proud of my infidelity, in the end, I know how it happened.
My situation wasn’t uncommon.
Heterosexual marriages tend to have a clear (and often unequal) division of labor and responsibility.
Wives take care of children, become the administrators of everyone’s lives, and do a bulk of the emotional labor as well as the daily tasks to keep the household running.
I wasn’t shy about how unfair I thought this was.
I actively begged my then-husband to do more, and I was very clear on where I needed help. When I didn’t receive it, the loneliness turned to anger and resentment.
The end of our marriage was on the horizon, even though I couldn’t see it at first. This is no surprise since the quality of your marriage can often determine loneliness.
My situation demonstrates just a few of the reasons you might feel alone in your marriage. There are so many other reasons beyond that.
Marriage loneliness may arise from:
- Stress due to financial, work-related, caregiving, or other outside factors. COVID-19 is a very clear stressor and a root cause of loneliness in recent years
- Parental responsibilities, household responsibilities, and other daily tasks, especially if those responsibilities are not shared equally
- Lack of vulnerability and not feeling like you can share meaningful thoughts, experiences, or feelings
- Lack of sex and physical or emotional intimacy, especially if you once had an abundance of it
- Feeling a lack of connection due to outside stressors, responsibilities, or because one partner seems closed off from the other
- Setting unrealistic expectations for your relationship such as expecting the heat and passion of your early years to be maintained at the same level as time goes on
- Comparing your marriage and/or your life to your friends and family or what you see on social media
- Lack of effort on the part of one or both partners
- Being overwhelmed by a partner’s dependence upon you, whether for understandable reasons, like a disability, or for other reasons that seem unreasonable to you
- Lack of social connections with friends and other adults in your life
Loneliness isn’t about how many people surround you. It’s about your connection — or lack thereof — to the people in your life.
There’s no single cause, and the circumstances of both your outside life — work, parenting, friends — as well as the relationship you have with your spouse contribute to your feelings of loneliness.
How To Overcome Feeling Alone In A Marriage
Marriage can be rife with loneliness.
The longer you’re married, the higher the likelihood you’ll experience feeling lonely. In a study of elderly people 65 and older in long-term marriages, 15% showed signs of loneliness.
Just because being married and lonely is more common than you might think, doesn’t mean it’s inevitable or that there’s no way out.
For me, cheating on my husband was one of several wake-up calls. I was in the wrong relationship, and something needed to change.
After a decade of begging for my spouse to meet me halfway, the best choice for me became to end the marriage.
But, depending on your circumstances, that’s not the only option.
You can work through this period of romantic loneliness with your partner and possibly come out on the other side stronger than ever.
Here are some ways to alleviate the loneliness you’re facing in your marriage:
- Talk to your spouse:
If you think your partner should just “know” how you feel, you’ll never be able to work through your loneliness. No one is a mind reader, and many problems in marriage stem from this idea.
You need to let them know how you feel. Yes, even when saying what you’re thinking and feeling seems impossible.
It’s important to be specific about your feelings and not play the blame game. Avoid language like, “You make me feel this…” or “You don’t do this anymore, and I feel lonely.”
When someone feels blamed or attacked, they don’t hear what you’re trying to tell them. Instead, they become defensive and want to prove you wrong.
Try something like, “I’m feeling lonely and disconnected. I’d like to feel more connected to you. Here are some things I’d like to try.” Be open to hearing what your spouse thinks, and how they feel. They may also be feeling lonely and disconnected.
- Try to figure out when things changed in your marriage:
Whether you’ve been feeling lonely for years or this is a new phenomenon, with a bit of thought, you can probably come up with a catalyst for the change.
Was it when you had a baby? Did someone lose their job? Is either of you feeling more pressure from work? When you can pinpoint a reason, you can often figure out the fix.
For me, loneliness had crept up through the years, but the catalyst was the day my then-husband responded to my plea for help around the house with, “If I don’t want to do something, I’m not going to do it, no matter how much you ask me.”
Looking back, that was the moment I knew I was alone in this relationship.
- Spend more time together:
In many marriages, loneliness stems from a lack of connection because of busy, hectic lives. Building careers and businesses, raising children, taking care of aging parents — things that take your attention off your spouse are everywhere.
You will never “find” time for each other. You’re going to have to make it. This can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like.
Watching a favorite show together once a week as a standing date gives you both something to look forward to. Calling in favors with in-laws to watch the kids once a month so you can have a date night gives you both a night off and adds romance to your life.
Whatever you have to do, do it.
- Develop friendships outside your relationship:
Good friends make even the toughest days a bit brighter.
If not for my friends, my eventual split would have been much harder. And because of them, I was able to enjoy life even when things were really tough at home with my husband.
When we depend on our partners to be everything we need — best friend, confidant, friend, and lover — we’re often left unfulfilled because they can never be all things to us all the time.
And they can often be burned out trying to fulfill every need.
Making friends in adulthood feels awkward and difficult. But it is possible.
Get into old hobbies you used to love or try new ones that interest you. Look for online communities centered around these activities or in-person meet-ups in your area.
Say yes to the offer of lunch with a co-worker. Join the office bowling team. Being open to joining other people creates space for friendships to grow.
- Seek professional help:
You want your marriage to work, and you want to feel more connected and end the loneliness. Sometimes a deep conversation with your spouse isn’t enough.
You may need professional help.
This could be one-on-one therapy for yourself to help you figure out your loneliness. It could be couples counseling to help you connect with one another. Maybe it’s both.
Therapists don’t take sides in marital disputes or problems. But they can help you both see the situation with a fresh perspective.
- End your marriage:
Out of all of the aforementioned solutions, the only thing I didn’t try was therapy. It wasn’t accessible to us, and it wasn’t something I valued then like I do today.
Could a therapist have helped our marriage? I don’t think so. All these years later, I know it was the best decision I could have made.
That didn’t make it easy, though.
Sometimes problems cannot be reconciled. You can’t always rekindle the old passion and reconnect in new ways.
Breaking the news to your spouse can often be painful.
I watched my husband’s heart break in real-time, and the look on his face is burned into my memory. I did not want to have the conversation, but I knew I needed to.
Ultimately, you deserve to live a happy, fulfilled life, and if ending your marriage is how you’ll be able to achieve it, do what’s right for you.
Talk to your partner, make plans together, and when all efforts fail, get help from a professional who can help you navigate your concerns and offer potential solutions. Marriage is a partnership and requires teamwork if it’s going to succeed.
With that being said, after exhausting all options, leaving the relationship may be the right decision for you. You deserve happiness, and if it can’t be found in your marriage, then it’s time to forge a new path for yourself.
If you’re feeling alone and lonely instead of marital bliss, you’re not the only one. It’s all-too-common in many marriages, whether you’ve been together a few years or a few decades. You don’t have to “just live with it” either.
Thinking through why you feel lonely and then taking action to help yourself — and your spouse — is the best thing you can do.
Chances are good that your partner either feels similarly or will want to help you feel better once they know how you feel.
But first, you need to open up to them and have some difficult conversations about what you’re thinking and feeling. Then, and only then, will you find the best path forward in your marriage.