The last few years have been so hard on all of us, and it’s been hard on our relationships.
In times like this, you get to see who’s really there for you.
Who’s picking up the phone and checking in and making sure you’re okay.
Who listens when you’re feeling upset and lost and like the world will never be right again.
And sometimes the people who are supposed to be there for you—like your boyfriend, or your husband, or your family—are the ones who go silent.
Loneliness is All Around
Three in five U.S. adults feel lonely, and that includes folks who aren’t supposed to feel lonely.
Being in a relationship is supposed to mean you never feel lonely again, but that just isn’t true.
You can live with someone and yet never feel like they see you or care about you or want to know what’s going on in your heart and mind.
You can have a family and still feel lonely. In fact, parents tend to feel lonelier than non-parents. (A whopping 69% of mothers feel lonely.)
What’s behind many of those feelings of loneliness is not being able to share our feelings with someone we trust.
Maybe we don’t feel comfortable talking about it, or maybe we don’t have someone to have conversations like that with.
No wonder we end up lonely in our marriages or lonely while surrounded by kids.
It’s not that we lack company. It’s that we lack mature emotional connection.
We just want to be seen and known and held. We want to feel like someone has our back and cheers us on. We want to talk honestly about our feelings with someone who cares.
My question for you is…
Do your relationships give you that?
Don’t Ignore It
Loneliness is a wakeup call that something has to change.
Like all our negative feelings, it has survival value. The discomfort of loneliness pushes us to seek human connection.
But sometimes loneliness can push you in the wrong direction.
When we feel lonely, we are more likely to accept unsatisfying relationships. We lower our standards. We allow people to treat us in ways that we might not otherwise permit.
We settle for company when what we really wanted was a friend.
Think about the last relationship you were in. Before it ended, did you notice yourself feeling lonely?
Loneliness is a sign that your emotional connection was disrupted. He was sitting right next to you, but he wasn’t there emotionally.
And I’ll bet that you did everything in your power to emotionally reconnect with him.
You tried getting him to talk. You planned a fun evening out. Or you became the “perfect partner”—you never criticized him, you were always happy and breezy—in the hope he’d remember how good you were together.
Relationships can make us desperately lonely.
You can feel lonelier in a relationship than you EVER did when you were single.
When you’re on your own and you feel lonely, there’s so much you can do.
You can meet up with friends. You can get out in nature. You can hop on an online dating app and get started meeting people.
But when you are lonely sitting next to the one person who was supposed to help you never feel lonely again, what do you do?
What Are You Working So Hard to Save?
The way we try to save our relationships doesn’t work.
We try to fix things or make things right by suppressing ourselves.
We bite our tongue. We don’t push him. We make everything easy.
We transform ourselves into a beautifully wrapped gift in order to tempt him.
But we often find that he’s not the slightest bit interested in unwrapping us.
He was never interested about what was beneath the surface.
What he wanted was a convenient girlfriend or wife.
Someone to cook his meals, warm his bed, and make him feel good.
Or maybe, just maybe, he was afraid of what he’d find if he peeked beneath the prettily-wrapped surface of you.
He might find emotions he doesn’t know how to deal with.
He might find the x-ray goggles you’d been using to see into his soul.
He might find an entire world inside you he doesn’t understand.
So he covers you back up quickly, pats you on the head, and turns back to his device. He is gone again.
Is he lonely, too?
What is he thinking when he’s sitting there silently?
When he’s tired or sad or wistful, does he say anything to you?
Or does he put on his “man mask” so no one can see his feelings?
Don’t Let This Go On
Emotional connection is the glue that keeps relationships together.
Without it, you are adrift. You’re together in name only.
My challenge for you is to treat loneliness like the warning sign it is.
WARNING: EMOTIONAL CONNECTION NEARING EMPTY…
You can try opening up a conversation by saying:
I’m sitting here next to you, and it’s really weird. I feel so lonely. I don’t know why. Do you ever feel that way?”
An attuned partner will hear that word “lonely” and feel a hit of concern. He’ll stop what he’s doing and turn to you.
What you’re looking for is the response beautifully described by Dr. John Gottman:
When you are in pain, the world stops and I listen.”
You can’t emotionally connect if you are with a partner who wants to stay disconnected.
If he consistently shuts you down, gets defensive, or dismisses your experiences, then he is showing you what he wants.
He wants to keep you out.
Staying with him will come at a price. You’ll never been seen. Or heard. Or known.
Even though this relationship feels like the only thing saving you from being alone, it’s actually the cause of your loneliness.
You may just find that being on your own opens up a whole world of social opportunities.
You won’t have to tiptoe on eggshells. You won’t have to put on a happy face.
You will be able to be yourself, say whatever comes to your mind, and feel whatever it is you feel.
Sound like bliss? 😉
You Might Also Be Interested in…
This interview I did with Dr. Doug Weisman on intimacy anorexia, a condition that prevents some partners from being able to show up emotionally in relationships.
Let us know what you think!