What to Do If You're Married but Lonely

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You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. While being in a committed relationship might seem like the solution to the feeling of loneliness, it is possible to be married but lonely.

Loneliness is a subjective state of mind in which people desire more social contact but feel disconnected or isolated from other people. It's more about how you feel about your connectedness to others. If you’ve ever felt lonely in a crowd, you can appreciate that being surrounded by other people isn’t necessarily a cure for feelings of isolation. 

You might be spending time with your spouse, but this doesn't mean that you can't feel lonely even in their presence. These feelings can lead you to feel empty, unwanted, or misunderstood by your significant other.

According to a 2018 survey by the AARP, being married but lonely is far from uncommon. Nearly 33% of married people over the age of 45 reported feeling lonely.

This article discusses why people are sometimes married but lonely as well as some of the steps you can take to combat feelings of loneliness in your marriage.

Signs of Being Married but Lonely

Living with another person isn’t a cure for loneliness. It is your feelings of being connected to your spouse that keep you from feeling isolated and alone in your relationship. Some of the signs that you might be feeling lonely in your marriage include:

  • You feel lonely, even when you're together. It feels like there is a separation between you that you don't know how to fix.
  • You don't talk to each other. Perhaps you feel like your spouse isn't interested in what you say. Or maybe you just don't feel like telling them about the ins and outs of your day. In either case, you're not communicating and it’s leading to feelings of isolation and disappointment.
  • You find reasons to avoid your spouse. This might involve staying at work late, finding things to stay busy away from your partner, or simply scrolling social media to avoid interacting with them.
  • You rarely or never have sex. Not only is your relationship lacking emotional intimacy, but you're also lacking physical intimacy.

All of these factors can contribute to feelings of loneliness in your marriage. Sometimes this might only affect one person in the relationship, but in many cases, both partners may be left feeling isolated and cut off from their partner.

Being Alone vs. Being Lonely

Remember that solitude isn’t the same thing as loneliness. You can be alone, but not lonely. You can also spend time with your spouse and still feel isolated or emotionally abandoned. Having time to yourself can be good for your mental health, but it is important to know what you can do if you are feeling lonely.

Why Are People Married but Lonely?

Research suggests that loneliness has been on the rise in recent years. A 2018 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that people who were unhappy with their family life were more likely to report feeling lonely.

There are many factors that can contribute to loneliness in your marriage:

  • Work and family: One of the most common reasons why married couples feel as if they are drifting apart is due to the pressures from family and work. When you are both struggling with busy schedules filled with caring for children, working, and juggling other responsibilities, you may feel like two ships passing in the night. Because you rarely have time together as a couple, you might find yourself feeling more and more that you are growing apart from your partner.
  • Stressful events: Sometimes the challenges that couples face together can create rifts in a relationship. A stressful or traumatic event can put a strain on even the strongest of relationships, but it can feel even more difficult if it magnifies or exposes weaknesses in your marriage. Losing your job is something that can become more difficult if you feel like your spouse isn’t being supportive or sympathetic. In these cases, you may find yourself feeling abandoned and lonely even after the stressful event is resolved.
  • Unrealistic expectations: In some cases, your feelings of loneliness might have less to do with your spouse and more to do with other needs that aren’t being met. Poor interpersonal relationships outside of your marriage, for example, might cause you to expect your spouse to meet all of your social needs. Because you are looking to your spouse to fulfill a need that they cannot be reasonably expected to fill, it’s little wonder that you end up feeling dissatisfied. 
  • Lack of vulnerability: Not being vulnerable with your partner can also lead to feelings of isolation. This means that the person you are closest to doesn’t know the personal, intimate details of your life. If you’re not talking about your deeper emotions, including your dreams and fears, it’s much more difficult to feel understood and connected to your spouse. 
  • Social media comparisons: Making unrealistic comparisons to relationships you see portrayed on social media can also contribute to feelings of loneliness. One 2017 study found that people who spent more time on social media sites also reported experiencing higher levels of loneliness.

This increase in loneliness has likely been further worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because many people's social circles became much more limited over the last two years, this has created a great deal of pressure for many married couples.

Where people used to have other relationships to help fulfill some of their social needs, the pandemic often forced people to rely on their spouses to fulfill all of these roles. So when your partner simply can't meet all of these demands, you might find yourself feeling like you don't have the support you need.

Loneliness in a marriage can be caused by a number of different things. Family, work, and stress often play a role, but internal factors such as your own unrealistic expectations and fear of vulnerability can also make it hard to connect with your spouse.

Effects of Being Married but Lonely

Loneliness is an emotionally painful experience. It's also one that many people don't talk about. Unfortunately, research also suggests that these feelings can have a negative impact on both your physical and emotional health. Some ways loneliness might affect you include:

  • Increase alcohol and substance use
  • Increased risk for depression
  • Worsened immunity
  • Poor overall well-being
  • Greater risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke

Feelings of loneliness can also affect your well-being in other ways. When you are feeling lonely in your marriage, you might be less likely to engage in health-promoting behaviors like exercising or eating healthy. It might also impact your sleep or cause feelings of stress and negative thinking that can also be detrimental to your health.

What to Do If You’re Married but Lonely

If you are feeling a sense of loneliness or isolation in your marriage, there are steps you can take to feel more connected. Figuring out the possible cause of the problem, talking to your spouse, and spending more quality time together are great places to start.

Talk to Your Spouse

The first step is to talk to your partner about what you are feeling and see if they are experiencing the same thing. If you are both feeling lonely, then it’s likely something you can work on together to reconnect and build a deeper sense of connection. 

If this sense of loneliness is one-sided, it might be more difficult to address. If your partner is being emotionally supportive but you still feel lonely, it might be something else within yourself that you need to work on. 

Avoid Blaming

As you work on overcoming loneliness in your relationship, it’s important to avoid placing blame. This can cause your partner to feel attacked and become defensive.

Instead of framing these conversations around what your spouse isn’t doing (“You never ask me questions about my day!”), focus on talking about your own feelings and needs (“I’ve been feeling alone and it would help me if you asked me about my experiences and feelings.”)

Spend More Time Together

Getting more quality time with your spouse is another important step. The demands of daily life, including family and work, can make it hard to focus on your relationship. Doing things like carving out time for a date night, going to bed at the same time, and talking about your days are just a few things that can help you feel more connected to your spouse.

Limiting your social media use may also be helpful. As the research suggests, heavy social media use may contribute to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. It can also contribute to unrealistic expectations about your own relationship. When you see filtered highlights of other people's lives and relationships, it may make you feel less positive about your own. 

Creating limits around your social media use can also have other benefits, including more time to spend with your partner. If you’ve found yourself scrolling through your newsfeed instead of talking to your partner, consider creating a time and space where you put down your phone and focus on each other instead.

Get Professional Help

If loneliness is still causing problems, you should consider talking to a therapist about why you are married but lonely. Couples therapy can be highly effective and can address problems with trust, intimacy, empathy, and communication. A therapist can help you learn more about how to connect with each other, develop stronger communication skills, and work on any underlying issues that might be interfering with your marriage.

Recap

If you are feeling lonely in your marriage, you can take steps to fix the problem. Talking to your spouse is an essential first step. Spending more time together can also help you feel more connected. Couples therapy can also be effective for improving different aspects of your relationship.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to remember that every marriage is different. And every relationship will have a natural ebb and flow, which may include periods of feeling less connected. 

If you are feeling lonely in your marriage, it's important to figure out what might be causing it and take steps to address the problem. Getting to the bottom of the issue now can help you work toward building a healthier relationship.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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