You might be spending time with your spouse, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t feel lonely even in their presence
Not Alone but Lonely
Abby Delouya RMFT-CCC, CPTT
Loneliness is a painful feeling. Ironically, we can sometimes feel this way even when we’re surrounded by people. Approximately half of adults feel lonely these days. Social media, which promotes the illusion of relationships, has contributed to this phenomenon, as has Covid, which has led to the rise of remote working and telehealth.
It’s especially painful to feel lonely in one’s marriage. About one in three spouses report that they feel lonely in their marriages, data that reinforces the concept that you don’t need to be alone to feel lonely. Loneliness is a state of mind that has little to do with physical proximity. 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.
What contributes to feelings of loneliness in your marriage?
- Family and work: One of the most common reasons that causes couples to drift apart is familial or professional pressure. When you are both struggling to meet the demands of caring for children, working, and juggling other responsibilities, you may feel like you never have time to spend together.
- 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. If you feel that your spouse is not acting sympathetic or understanding, you may find yourself feeling abandoned and lonely even after the stressful event is resolved.
- Unrealistic expectations: In some cases, feelings of loneliness may have less to do with one’s spouse and more to do with other emotional needs that are not being met. When people don’t take care to nurture their social or emotional needs, they may wind up expecting too much from their spouses and feel disappointed when he or she is not able to give them everything they need.
- Lack of vulnerability: When we share openly and honestly, we can have the opportunity to feel known by our spouses. This means sharing deeper emotions — including dreams and fears — with your spouse. If emotional intimacy is missing, then it’s more difficult to feel connected and understood by your spouse.
- Comparisons with others: Comparing your marriage to what you (think you) see in other marriages also contributes to feelings of loneliness.
- Different emotional IQs: This is a challenging one, because it is possible that one spouse needs more than the other spouse can give. In this instance, it’s important to modify expectations and support oneself in other ways.
- Changes in family rhythm: A house full of kids and one in which the children are all in camp or yeshivah/seminary or building their own homes will each have their own rhythms. The change can sometimes cause loneliness, as can the transition from super busy times of year (think Yom Tov or simchahs) to quieter times. Naming and being aware of the change in dynamic can give some context to these feelings.
What to do?
Talk to your spouse: The first step is to talk to your spouse about what you’re feeling. If they are also experiencing this, it’s likely you can work on it together to reconnect. If the feeling is more one-sided, it may indicate something that should be addressed within yourself or possibly an emotional limitation of yours.
Avoid blaming: If you’re trying to feel more connected, attacking is probably not the direction to go. Instead of framing the discussion around what your spouse isn’t doing (“You never ask me about my day!”), focus on your own feelings and needs (“I’ve been feeling lonely — I would really appreciate if you’d ask more about my feelings.”)
Spend more time together: Sometimes it may be just about creating more space for each other. Carving out even regular ten-minute intervals of connection to schmooze, (not to work through what needs to be done!) could feel connecting.
Consider that loneliness is a feeling that can potentially build on itself as we grow and age through different life transitions and stages. It’s important to try to attend to this feeling so that the experiences don’t pile up to create a large chasm of loneliness that feels really hard to traverse.
Abby Delouya, RMFT-CCC, CPTT is a licensed marriage and individual therapist with a specialty in trauma and addiction.
Dr. Jennie Berkovich
AS summer draws to a close, families shift their attention to school preparations, with uniforms and school supplies taking center stage. For families sending their kids to school for the first time, the start of the school year can cause apprehension. But rather than be overwhelmed by these emotions, it’s essential to recognize that the separation anxiety some children may be experiencing is a natural aspect of their development.
Separation anxiety occurs when children become more aware of their surroundings and relationships. The idea of being away from their home can be overwhelming, leading to clinginess, tears, and reluctance to leave in the morning. Gradual exposure can help. Try to visit the school together with your child before the first day, to meet the teacher and allow your child to explore the classroom. This familiarity can help ease anxiety.
You can also try to create positive associations with school by discussing exciting activities your child will take part in, like playing with new friends or fun learning games. I also love children’s books specifically geared toward kids starting school for the first time.
Consider practicing brief separations, leaving your child with a trusted caregiver for a brief period and gradually extending the time apart. Comfort objects like toys or blankets might be helpful for some kids as well.
I have found consistent routines to be helpful, so kids know what to expect. That means trying to minimize chaos and rushing in the morning, but also avoiding lingering or prolonging a farewell when kids start to get tearful (this one is hard to do!).
In most cases, separation anxiety is a temporary and normal part of development. However, persistent and severe separation anxiety that interferes with a child’s daily life and continues beyond the first few weeks of school may indicate a more significant issue.
Normal behavior includes mild distress during drop-off, which usually subsides once the child engages in school activities. On the other hand, concerning signs may include extreme distress that doesn’t diminish, frequent physical complaints (e.g., stomachaches), nightmares, or withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed. If you observe such behaviors, consider seeking guidance from a pediatrician or child psychologist to evaluate the possibility of long-standing anxiety.
Dr. Jennie Berkovich is a board-certified pediatrician in Chicago and serves as the Director of Education for the Jewish Orthodox Woman's Medical Association (JOWMA)
The term tone-deaf refers to someone who is unable to accurately perceive differences of musical pitch. However, this expression has moved out of the realm of musical ability and into social nuances and interpersonal relationships. Nowadays, the term tone-deaf could refer to someone who is speaking but seems ignorant of others’ situations, not really hearing how their words sound to their listeners.
“It’s so hard to decide which yeshivah to send my son to. He was accepted to all of his choices.”
The speaker seems oblivious that perhaps their listener doesn’t have children yet, or has a child who can’t attend regular yeshivos, or wasn’t accepted to any yeshivah.
We can help our children understand this. Think of a typical high school student saying: “I was crazy successful shopping yesterday. We got tons of things!”
Guide her to consider that perhaps her listener can’t afford to go shopping, or is a really hard fit and struggles to find items, or has no one to take them shopping.
The first rule of public speaking is knowing your audience. That rule should carry over into our individual conversations as well.
Sometimes someone isn’t even bragging, but just talking about a topic that may be triggering for someone else. When speaking casually about your life, remember that not everyone’s life experience is like yours. They may not have a good relationship with or even have parents, a spouse, children, friends, etc. The very thing you take for granted and are speaking about may cause them pain. We aren’t meant to be mind readers, but sensitive people always keep in mind those they are speaking with, and how their words will be heard and received.
Let’s be more thoughtful. With many topics, less is more, especially when we think about who is listening.
Zipora Schuck MA. MS. is a NYS school psychologist and educational consultant for many schools in the NY/NJ area. She works with students, teachers, principals, and parents to help children be successful.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 857)
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