Are You Feeling Lonely in Your Relationship?

5 min read
Source: bmiller/Unsplash

Source: bmiller/Unsplash

There is a difference between being alone, which is the act of being by oneself, versus feeling lonely.

The two words are used interchangeably, but they are not synonymous. A person can be alone and by themselves and feel completely content, or a person may be surrounded by others and still feel deep loneliness. Feelings of loneliness do not only affect people who are single but can affect a person in a long-term romantic relationship who finds themselves struggling with feeling seen, heard, valued, or understood by their partner.

Most people have experienced feeling lonely at one time or another in their lives. Anyone may experience changes in their lives that can affect their ability to adjust, which can increase their risk of feeling lonely. For example, relocating to a new city, starting a new job, or ending a romantic relationship may put a person at risk for feeling lonely as a result of these lifestyle changes.

However, chronic feelings of loneliness may be a red flag of deeper issues and should not be ignored. For example, a recent Harvard study suggests that as many as 36% of American adults reported feeling lonely post-pandemic, and as many as 16% of adults in a committed relationship report feeling chronic loneliness.

Because feelings of loneliness affect millions of people, it is important to recognize some of the more common reasons associated with feeling lonely, which include the following.

Fear of Being Alone

A fear of being alone often stems from childhood abandonment or rejection. A person who struggles with an inability to be alone may make impulsive and poor choices in a partner such as immediately replacing one relationship for another, they may overstay in an unfulfilling relationship to prevent being alone, or they may romanticize a casual relationship or fling as being more intimate than it is. Similarly, they may dismiss, minimize, or deny the red flags of incompatibility, lack of shared goals or values, or differences in intelligence or career aspirations. These relationship patterns are often associated with a more anxious attachment style.

For example, an article by Julian et al. (2023) discusses how fears of being alone are fueled in anxiously attached individuals, especially at the end of a romantic relationship because of abandonment wounds being triggered. Many with an anxious attachment style have high levels of dissatisfaction, distrust, and dependence while in a romantic relationship, yet also struggle being without a partner. This can become a juggling act in trying to minimize their fears of abandonment and rejection while simultaneously pushing away their feelings of dissatisfaction, which can lead to feeling depressed and lonely.

Attachment Insecurities

Insecurely attached individuals are at an increased risk of experiencing chronic feelings of loneliness, even when in a relationship. These core wounds often stem from childhood attachment trauma where their need for consistency, predictability, and reliability from their caregivers went unmet.

For example, people with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style are at an increased risk of using other-directedness schemas within their relationships which hinges on them following the lead of others’ wishes or desires to gain that person’s approval and acceptance. In other words, a more anxiously attached person may struggle with people-pleasing tendencies while sacrificing their own needs in order to secure a relationship and prevent being alone.

On the flip side, a more avoidantly attached person may develop similar disconnection-rejection schemas surrounding romantic relationships. However, because of a fear of intimacy, they may push away relationships as too engulfing which often reinforces their feelings of loneliness (Julian, et al., 2023).

Confusing Chemistry With Connection

Insecurely attached people may confuse sexual chemistry with authentic connection, or may seek out sexual relationships in lieu of more intimate ones. For example, a more anxiously attached person may ignore or downplay the red flags of incompatibility because of the rush of sexual chemistry with someone. They may begin fantasizing the relationship “potential” instead of examining things from a more realistic perspective. Contrarily, those who are more avoidantly attached may choose casual physical relationships as more comfortable than exploring emotional intimacy with someone.

Loneliness Essential Reads

Red flags that this may be happening include using one relationship to get over another, or the focus of the relationship being based on sex. However, a deeper dive often reveals feelings of emptiness and loneliness within the relationship because of a lack of intimate conversation, no emotional connection, and feelings of boredom around the person. Perhaps the biggest sign of confusing sexual chemistry with connection is that many people report feeling lonelier in the relationship than they did before it.

How to Overcome Feeling Lonely

First, it is important to be real with yourself and your motivations surrounding romantic relationships, any unresolved attachment insecurities, and where you are in your own healing journey. Hence, it is important to address any unresolved trauma with a psychologist that may be influencing your relationship choices or patterns.

Loneliness in a relationship typically stems from a lack of meaningful connection with your partner. Building connection is more than just spending your free time with that person, or being sexually compatible. It’s based on quality time, in building healthy, intimate, and deep communication, and establishing shared experiences together. It is also based on learning where your unmet emotional needs are, and in engaging in healthy conflict resolution. These all require becoming more comfortable with being vulnerable both with yourself and your partner.

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