The years have seemingly flown by. Two or three children later—and lots of memories tucked away in photo albums—and you and your spouse have experienced so much together. The birthday parties, the vacations, the anniversary trips away from the kids to get away and have some much-needed alone time. Before the kids were born, you still felt like the young lovers you used to be—fun, flirtatious, sexual. And then you woke up one morning and realized that you no longer recognized the person staring back at you in the mirror. It wasn't so much the wrinkles or graying hair—it was the look in your eyes. You feel lonely in your marriage.
Having a lonely marriage is not uncommon. This scenario plays out in households across America—people who are married yet lonely. It's usually a subtle change over the years. It's the joy and happiness that once took center stage in your marriage, with the children smiling at Mom and Dad dancing in the living room, that now succumbs to a hug here and there, and maybe an "I love you" on a good day. And as you look in the mirror, you wonder, "Am I alone? What happened?" What was once "I do" has shifted to "What do I do?"
Being lonely in a marriage can be confusing, frightening, and put the relationship at serious risk. What used to be "we" and "us" has become "you" and "me." What used to be a strong bond has started to crack under the pressure of loneliness and the fears and temptations that come with it. The weight of having to put the "happy mask" on when you leave the house is getting tiresome. You may experience mental health issues such as depression, feelings of abandonment, or anxiety. You might feel like your spouse doesn't even pay attention to you. Compliments have decreased while arguments have increased. You may even resort to arguing with your spouse because that's the only time they pay attention to you for more than a few seconds.
You're in a lonely marriage, and you want a change for the better; you want to feel like a loving, close married couple again. So, what steps can you take to mend what was once felt unbreakable but is now cracking at the seams?
You're not alone. Even in the very best of relationships, there will be times when one or both partners drift apart and feel somewhat distant and even estranged from one another. It's normal to have a season of feeling disconnected. Even though you're married, you're still two separate people with unique needs, dreams, and aspirations. So, what are some steps you and your spouse take to grow physically and emotionally closer together?
I'm Married And Lonely. What Do I Do?
The reason you feel like you're in a lonely marriage has something to do with both you and your spouse, at least to some degree. If you think your spouse is distanced and emotionally unavailable, check in with yourself first. You want to avoid putting any blame on your spouse before you've first performed a self-analysis. Again, you're two separate people, and along with your desires and needs, you also have separate upbringings, triggers, and baggage that you've brought into the marriage. There may even be deep-rooted mental health issues that need to be addressed. Getaway for the day and meditate on yourself. Has work been overwhelming? Have you put in a lot of overtime? Have you had difficulty sleeping? Are there triggers from your childhood that plays a part? Find that person within and be honest with your emotions. Once you've done this, it's time to make your move.
When someone is in a lonely marriage, it sometimes takes making that first move. And although it's always reassuring and easier when your spouse makes the first move toward closing the gap (not to mention comforting that they do care), it's better to make that very important and necessary first move yourself. Your spouse may feel insecure or afraid, or maybe resentment has slowly seeped through. Nevertheless, it's time to approach your spouse lovingly and safely.
It probably took a long while for the marriage to become lonely. Maybe even years. So, bridging that gap doesn't have to be immediate, drastic, or abrupt. The slower approach is likely to be a safer and more effective one. Hold hands while watching TV, tell them how attractive they are to you, tell them you're proud of how hard they work or try doing some gardening or another activity together. The subject of loneliness doesn't necessarily need to come up in this early stage. Sometimes gentle and subtle actions such as a kiss on the cheek or rubbing your hand across your spouse's back as you walk by are just as powerful, if not more, especially when you're making that first courageous move to put the flame back in your marriage.
Now it's time to communicate verbally.
Let's face it—communication in a marriage can go from flirting, compliments, and promising the world to each other to discussions around bills, chores, and the latest report card. Now is the time to focus on communication that revolves around healing, closeness, and love for your spouse. Think back to when you first started dating your spouse. Try to communicate the way you used to. Keep it light and easy.
Again, you will likely benefit by taking it slow. Rediscover your spouse. Reestablish the emotional connection. See the things about your spouse that once made you smile and stay up all night but have now been put away. Be loving, gentle, caring, and honest with your spouse about your feelings, concerns, and desires. Refrain from being judgmental and accusatory.
Furthermore, be sensitive to the possibility that mental health issues such as anxiety or depression have slowly taken root. Please don't rush the discussion but instead nurture it. Truly listen to your partner by using active listening techniques.
At this point in the reconciliation process, one can be tempted to expect the healing process and reciprocation from the spouse to go more quickly than is natural. It's important to remember that your spouse may need more time than you to meet you halfway. Your spouse may still be feeling lonely. Continuing to focus on yourself and your marriage will help lessen the triggers you might be carrying, like abandonment issues or self-esteem.
It's time to spend more quality time together. Go on a date to your favorite restaurant, see a movie, go on a road trip. Do whatever it takes to show your spouse that they are the priority, that they mean the world to you, that you made a special effort to make them feel important. Spending quality, uninterrupted time together can significantly improve the health of your marriage, not to mention your mental health.
It's imperative to read the signs from your spouse as each step is approached to ensure that you're not moving too fast or slow. It's time to love your spouse physically. One of the things that had probably dissipated is physical intimacy with your spouse. Yes, you may be physical, but you may not be genuinely physical like you were before. Again, this is a valuable time to be trusting, loving, and safe as you move to this next stage.
Don't let go of the emotional connection and continue to make that extra effort to spend quality time with your spouse because these steps need to be coordinated for a successful re-bridging of what once was. Remember how spontaneous and fun you both were in the early days of your marriage, and try to reenact that. Show some light PDA or whatever it takes to continue healing and recreating what has long since waned.
You were once in a lonely marriage, and now you're not only back to where you were, but by persevering and working through this as a couple, you've contributed toward possibly making the marriage even stronger than it was. There's something about achieving victory as a couple that tightens and strengthens the bond between you two and will, in turn, prove essential should you ever have to face another challenge together. Now's the time to keep working on the steps you've accomplished. However, keep a close eye on subtle regressions and seek out a mental health professional if necessary to continue to forge a stronger and more confident relationship.
You're dating like high school sweethearts again, your spouse is making your favorite dinner, and the kids feel safe, confident, and giddy that their parents are dancing in the kitchen to Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé—all while cooking together. The health of your marriage and family is healthier than it's been in years! It's time to exhale. It's time to recognize your accomplishments and identify that marriages have ebbs and flows. Relish this moment and continue to work toward ensuring that your marriage is loving, strong, and protected.
A Deeper Connection Through BetterHelp
Studies show that individuals experiencing complex emotions arising from their relationship, such as loneliness, can benefit from online couples counseling. In one study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, the effects of online couples therapy were examined. According to researchers, a small percentage of couples seek out counseling due to certain limitations. This study makes the case that online interventions are accessible, cost-efficient, flexible, and effective in counseling distressed and satisfied couples. Researchers found that online couples counseling participants experienced increases in constructive communication and commitment and overall relationship satisfaction.
With BetterHelp's online platform, you'll have the opportunity to reach out to your counselor outside of sessions. If you have a concern about your relationship, would like to ask a question, or want to chat, send your counselor a message, and they'll get back to you as soon as they are able. Also, the messaging and journal features provide you with a record of some of your interactions so you can go back and review certain conversation topics or important ideas. The licensed counselors at BetterHelp know how to get your marriage on the right track. Read below for counselor reviews from those who have experienced similar issues.
"Steve has helped me personally in so many ways to better myself and tackle life's struggles and navigate me through tough times. Not only me personally but my wife and our marriage as a whole. I truly believe that without Steve's help and guidance, our marriage would not be where it is today."
"Dr. Harrell was there for me and helped me get to the issues of my problems and triggers. I am a much better person and feel like a new person. I am pursuing a dream that I never thought would be possible to achieve. Again, my wife and I are on speaking terms with a small glimmer of hope. I honestly wouldn't be where I am now without her support."
The subtle, sometimes practically unnoticed falling apart of a marriage is common. And the loneliness that is felt as a result is also not out of the norm. Although a lonely marriage may feel uncertain, scary, and terrifying, it's something that can be healed and strengthened with intention and commitment. If problems persist or feel unresolvable, individual and couples counseling may prove invaluable in getting you back to the couple you once were.