A major benefit to being in a committed partnership is knowing you have someone who genuinely wants to hear about your day when you get home from work; a reliable plus-one to accompany you at every (usually boring) networking event you attend, and someone to cuddle with under your comfy duvet. What more could a person want, right? Well this is exactly why it can feel so unnerving to lay in bed next to your special someone, wide awake, wondering, why am I feeling lonely in a relationship?
While it’s definitely a question worth exploring, rest assured that it isn’t unusual to feel this way, says clinical psychologist and relationship expert Jennifer Taitz, PsyD. In her book, How To Be Single And Happy, she points out that just like it doesn’t mean you’re lonely when you’re single (we all know that Kelly Clarkson song), being in a relationship doesn’t automatically mean you always feel content, connected, or emotionally satisfied. It also doesn’t automatically mean there’s something wrong with your relationship. (Annnd, exhale.)
Check out 5 reasons people experience feeling lonely in a relationship, as well as ways to overcome it.
1. You expect your partner to fulfill all your needs
“I think a lot of people get into this headspace that their partner is their everything,” Dr. Taitz says. “Just because you’re in a romantic relationship doesn’t mean you don’t need meaningful platonic relationships. A romantic relationship is going to actually be a lot healthier when two people come together having full, rich lives.”
“Just because you’re in a romantic relationship doesn’t mean you don’t need meaningful platonic relationships.” —Jennifer Taitz, PsyD
No one can be everything. Your partner may be the best listener ever, but they might not make as great of a shopping companion as your sister or one of your friends. They might not get why you’re so frustrated about your boss the way your work wife does. They might not best the best person for supporting you in a number of facets of your life. “I have a friend who was going through a health crisis and she has an incredible partner, but she feels lonely in her relationship because she’s sick and her partner isn’t,” Dr. Taitz says. A support system of other women who can relate directly to what Dr. Taitz’s friend is going through could potentially fill that loneliness void better than her partner, who may have a tougher time empathizing and supporting her in the way she needs.
The relationship Rx: Instead of expecting your partner to fulfill all your needs, expand your support network so you can go to different people for different things.
2. That new-relationship shininess has worn off
Another reason Dr. Taitz says many feel lonely in their relationship is because the all-consuming passion from the early days has worn off, and they suddenly realize they haven’t been making time for their friends. “Starting a new romantic relationship can be really exciting, and you can be more prone to cancel on friends,” she says. Then once the intensity dies down, you look around and think, where is everyone? In this situation, the reason you’re lonely really just comes down to missing your friends.
The relationship Rx: It’s fine to prioritize your romantic relationship—and sometimes it may well require your full attention—but Dr. Taitz says to think before you cancel on someone about how they contribute to your overall well being. If you can identify a particular person in your life you miss, pick up the phone and text them. Apologize for how wrapped up you’ve been, and reiterate how important they are to you.
3. You aren’t communicating what you need to your partner
Have you ever been in a situation where you just need to vent about something, but instead of just listening to you, your partner goes into problem-solving mode, trying to fix everything? Or maybe you’ve had a bad day, and all your want to do is cuddle, but your partner keeps asking you questions, assuming you want to talk about it. According to Dr. Taitz, not communicating your needs to your partner can lead to feeling lonely in a relationship.
“It would be great if people could be mind readers and know exactly how we want them to respond, but they don’t, so we have to tell them,” she says.
The relationship Rx: Instead of expecting your partner to anticipate your needs, speak up. For instance, you could say, “I appreciate you asking if I wanted to relax and watch a movie when I told you I had a bad day, but I really wanted to talk about it with you. Would it be okay if we spoke about it for a bit? I think it will make me feel a lot closer to you.” See? That’s not so bad.
4. Your mind-set is making you feel lonely
“Your thoughts and situation can create more loneliness than how many people you’re with,” Dr. Taitz says. She explains that internalizing ideas such as “they just don’t get me,” or “we’re so different” can make you feel lonely. Shifting your mind-set to “I need to communicate what I want more” or “I don’t know this person that well yet” can change how you feel.
This isn’t meant to cover up any real issues you could be having in the relationship. Instead, Dr. Taitz says it’s a chance to practice self-reflection. “Maybe you’re casually seeing someone and since it’s casual, they didn’t make plans for Valentine’s Day, and that made you feel lonely. That’s an opportunity for you to ask yourself if you want it to be a more exclusive relationship, or if you just need to change your mind-set and realize that you do want to keep things casual, so not having Valentine’s Day plans isn’t really a big deal.”
Reflect on whether you’re getting what you want out of your relationship, and either make changes so that you are, or shift your mind-set.
The relationship Rx: Reflect on whether you’re getting what you want out of your relationship, and either make changes so that you are, or shift your mind-set.
5. You’re in need of a little self-compassion
Dr. Taitz says sometimes, you just need to be easier on yourself. “Self-compassion is a really powerful remedy for loneliness,” she says. “Not only do we need other people, but we need it for ourselves.” If you’re beating yourself up, telling yourself you aren’t good enough or not worthy of someone’s love, that can affect your relationship and how you feel in it.
The relationship Rx: Try doing a short loving kindness meditation on a regular basis if you feel like you’re in need of a little self-love and confidence. “During this type of meditation, you offer yourself love and also other people love,” Dr. Taitz says. “It’s important to be a good friend to yourself.”
There are so many different factors that can cause feeling lonely in a relationship—whether you’re in a relationship or not. But an unexpected positive effect of these feelings bubbling up is they allow for they opportunity to evaluate if your wants and needs are being met—both inside your relationship and in other areas of your life.
Originally published October 26, 2018. Updated January 2, 2020.
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