Original article published by Dr Stephanie Azri in Life Hack in February 2021. To read live click here.

For many people, being into a stable relationship implies that they’ll benefit from companionship through the rest of their lives. From bouncing ideas with a special person, to having a physical presence, we expect a relationship to give us a sense of closeness, mutual affection, and deep rapport.

What we don’t expect though, is to feel alone in a relationship.

As a relationship therapist, I commonly see couples expressing a sense of void, a sense of loneliness within their partnership, one they struggle to make sense of. It can be very difficult for the couples involved.

Loneliness, as discussed well in this article, can mean different things for different people however, it generally includes some of the following:

  • Feeling unheard or not listened to by your partner
  • Feeling unloved or uncared for
  • Feeling disconnected from the relationship
  • Feeling anxious in bringing up issues
  • Not sharing news (good or bad) with your loved one
  • Overlooking their input or not feeling like your input matters
  • Feeling unsure about the future, the relationship, or yourself
  • Finding yourself a solo decision maker
  • Beginning to make plans (short or long term) that don’t involve your other half
  • Feeling sad, empty or hopeless

If you are in a relationship, and yet have began to feel lonely, you may wonder what caused it and how to fix it.

As discussed in another article, Relate (UK) acknowledges how complex the notion of loneliness can be. It can include internal factors which to a degree, belong to you, as well as factors that are shared with your partner equally. Understanding both of these can help you address them better.

Feeling lonely from within…

You might stare at this heading and wonder how it is possible for internal factors; personal traits, behaviours or events, to impact on feeling lonely while in the company of someone you love.

Hear me out…

Attachment styles and relationships

We’ve all heard about ‘attachment’ when it pertains to children, but how does attachment play a part in adults when it comes to relationships?

In brief, there are four attachment styles grown ups can display. These include:

  1. Secure

Secured adults need less ‘attention’ that their counterparts. They tend to be more satisfied in their relationship, trust their partner more, and balance the mix of needing support VS needing independence (and of course value the same in their partner). Adult with a secure attachment pattern generally don’t complain of feeling lonely in their relationship, presenting with a more ‘easy going’ attitude.

2. Dismissive-avoidant

Partners with a dismissive avoidant attachment tend to put distance between them and their loved one. They may isolate, take on the role of the ‘manager’ or ‘parent’. Dismissive-avoidant partners may attempt to convince themselves that they’re independent and no longer need connection from their spouse, however this only leads to an element of detachment and defensiveness. They may be harsh and/or act like they just don’t care (but newsflash- they do).

3. Anxious-preoccupied

Spouses with an anxious attachment style tend to seek, sometimes at the risk of really annoying their partner, constant presence and reassurance. They have been described as ’emotionally hungry’. They may talk about needing their partner to ‘complete’ them or ‘rescue’ them. Worse, they may feel that without a fulfilling relationship, they do not matter or are only ‘half’ of themselves. The risk in this attachment style is becoming clingy and needy, and in being rejected by an exhausted partner, feeling lonely in their relationship.

4. Fearful-avoidant (a.k.a., disorganized)

Finally, a partner in a disorganized attachment pattern may live in a constant state of fear and/or confusion trying to balance being too close, or too distant from their partner. There’s a real ambivalence in these people in that they feel they never get it right and feel overwhelmed by their emotional cyclones. Sadly, adults with this attachment style often have a history of difficult upbringing. This translates in constantly feeling hurt (subjectively at times) by the person they absolutely need to feel safe. To make matters worse, they generally struggle in problem solving their needs.

You can see how your attachment style may have something to do with feeling lonely in your relationship. If you’re not quite secure in your attachment, it’s not too late to change this. Rewriting your narrative via self-help books, therapy and/or with the help of an understanding partner is a good place to start

Mental health and loneliness

How does mental health have anything to do with feeling lonely in your relationship?

Put simply, a great deal. Our thoughts affect our emotions and subsequently our behaviours. Imagine how a depressed person may feel about their relationship if they’re feeling flat, low, insecure? They are likely to feel lonely, because depression as a rule make us feel like that. The same goes for anxiety. If we’re feeling anxious, we might find ourselves feeling fearful, jumping to the worse case scenario, or simply internalize all these emotions and blocking our partner’s influence by the same token.

Taking this one step further, trauma may impact on how we manage relationships, trusts others, and assume the worst. When people have genuinely experienced adverse events through their lives, they may continue to expect them. This may also lead them to feel very lonely as a result of their somewhat distorted experiences.

Working on your mental health is beyond important. It’s vital to a healthy relationship. This is because YOU matter. Your happiness matters. Your relationship matters too.

Depending on how your mental health may be compromised, you could attempt to work on it by yourself via motivational podcasts/quotes, self-help, self-care, and/or simple things such as the tips discussed in this Life Hack article by Mandy Kloppers. If your mental health requires a little bit more work, please seek professional support from a therapist and/or your family doctor.

As my mental health improved, so did my relationship. It was such an uplifting time both personally and as a couple. I didn’t feel lonely after that.

Feeling lonely within your relationship…

We’ve established that it is possible to feel lonely based on what might be going on internally. However, in lots of cases, this loneliness comes as a result of relational factors. These may include things such as:

Poor communication

Clearly, communication is the backbone of any relationship. It allows couples to hear each other, make meaning out of the information shared, and respond in either a positive or negative way. Needless to say, there is a right and wrong way when it comes to communication. Aggressive, dismissive, uncaring, and/or argumentative communication between two partners will lead to one feeling unheard, unloved, and consequently – lonely in the relationship.

Scheduling issues

Regardless of how much couples may love each other, without some nurturing and prioritizing the time to see each other, in time, partners may start disconnecting. Partly, it’s habit. Partly, it’s individualizing day to day routine. Nevertheless, we can’t have a relationship with a ghost! Making sure time is set aside for some good catch is paramount. This is certainly relevant for partners who work away and deal with physical absence and/or physical distance. Scheduling some one on one time is one good way to stop feeling lonely in your relationship.

Quality of the quality time

As we discussed above, it is important to find time to be together if we do not want to find ourselves lonely in our relationship. But what is as important, is making sure that the quality time that is spent, is actually good quality time. Emptying to garbage can is time spent together, but what kind of quality time is it?

Pay attention to the quality of your quality time and make it fun, enjoyable, and/or diverse. Take turns at planning your activities for a broader range of fun!

Goals and expectations

What do goals and expectations have to do with feeling lonely in a relationship? As explained by Austin Bollinger when emphasizing the importance of setting goals, goals are like the road map of any relationships. They drive us into a specific direction, with the aim to reach something we both, hopefully equally, want to achieve.

Now what happens when partners have different goals? What about when they expect completely different approached and/or outcomes?

It leads to a disconnect. A feeling of confusion, frustration, sometimes even hopelessness. Needless to say, this is enough to make partners feel lonely simply based on the fact that what matters to them, the goals they value, doesn’t match the goals of their partner. In this sense, compatibility in relationship is important. Feeling lonely in your relationship could mean that there is an existing or new shift in your directions and either you both need to revisit your goals and steer them in a common direction, or accept the journey is no longer following a common path.

Needs and unmet needs

Humans have needs. Physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, and sexual needs just to name a few. When we are in a relationship, we hope to have some of these needs – if not all, a good chunk- met by the person we love the most. Now when this doesn’t happen, we feel rejected. Unloved. Unprioritized.

Unfortunately, what happens from there is we seek to meet these needs elsewhere. It is human nature, and it is universal.

Perhaps it’s through a third party. Perhaps it’s through a distraction such as work, friends, hobbies. Perhaps it’s by cutting all expectations that our spouse may be willing and/or able to meet our needs.

We feel lonely, and our human brain will seek to fill that void anyway it can.

It took me a while to realize that expressing what my needs were wasn’t selfish. It was what people did when they felt safe. And feeling safe and nurtured was definitely what I wanted for both me and my partner.

Sexy times

Men and women experience intimacy differently. There’s a lot involved when it comes to having a good sexual experience including trust, respect, communication, and reading each other’s likes and dislikes.

For many women in longer term relationships, they need to feel emotionally connected to be in a sexy mood. Many men, however, need the sexual experience to feel connected emotionally to their partner.

What does this mean in practice?

This means that when couples are disconnected sexually, whether because of scheduling issues, relationship difficulties, parenting/stress and/or physical/mental health issues, they may feel a degree of loneliness in their relationship.

Hurt and betrayal

Yes, this may appear common sense, so I won’t harp on about this one too long. When couples experience objective or subjective feelings of betrayal, whether through affairs, lies, or other hurtful incidents, spouses may also defi feel lonely. Repairing the damage is absolutely doable, however may require patience, commitment, and major efforts on both parts. Depending on what the issues are, couples may benefit from a relationship expert to guide them in the right direction.

To wrap it up…

Feeling lonely in a relationship sounds like an oxymoron, but it happens. it may be due to internal or external reasons, all as valid as each other.

To kick the loneliness to the curb, why not try the following;

  • Write in a gratitude journal
  • Challenge your negative self-talk
  • Make time for each other
  • Express your needs and consider your partner’s needs
  • Listen actively to each other
  • Work on common goals
  • Dates, cuddles, and romance. Don’t be afraid to indulge in the good stuff!
  • And if all else fails, seek help and contact me
Couple counselling, couples therapy, sexology

Don't leave yet!

Let me support you

Subscribe to my newsletter for free resources, book chapters, and general positive psychology news. I promise not to spam you!

You have Successfully Subscribed!