You might think that being in a relationship means you’ll never feel lonely. In fact, feeling alone in a relationship is not uncommon — whether a couple is in a long-distance relationship or has been living together for years.
Loneliness is a state of feeling isolated or disconnected from others, and it’s possible to feel that way toward your romantic partner. But is it normal to feel alone in a relationship, or does it mean things are no longer working out?
We asked an expert how to spot loneliness, why it happens in relationships, and what to do about it.
Most people assume you have to be alone to feel lonely, but that’s not always the case. It’s common to feel lonely in a relationship.
“It’s quite common to mix up loneliness and solitude,” says Sarah Calvert, a UKCP and COSRT-accredited psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist.
“They can both occur when being alone. However, loneliness is unwanted, and solitude can be a desired isolation. Loneliness is often categorized as feeling a lack of connection and a desire for more connection than one has.”
Research has found that even couples in long-term relationships feel lonely. But although you might not be alone in feeling lonely, it’s not something you should ignore.
“Feeling lonely is a negative state that needs addressing whether this is due to feeling lonely in a relationship or feeling lonely more generally,” explains Calvert.
“Loneliness can feel even more acute when we are in a relationship but feel disconnected. If one or both parties are feeling lonely within the relationship it is a sign that there is a feeling of lack of connection, which is usually accompanied by a feeling of dissatisfaction within the relationship. Such issues do not resolve themselves without change. My experience is that if issues are left unexplored or unresolved the feeling of disconnection can become more entrenched.”
“There are lots of reasons why a person may feel lonely in a relationship,” says Calvert. “It may be due to underlying relationship issues such as problems with communication, a lack of emotional intimacy, or resentments that have built up over time, which have caused one or both to withdraw,” she explains.
Loneliness can happen when you and your partner have started to drift apart and feel estranged from each other. You might be going through a rough patch, or the responsibilities of day-to-day life have taken over and you’re not prioritizing emotional intimacy.
“If you’re feeling lonely in a close relationship, ask yourself what’s causing these feelings. What’s changed? What’s missing from the relationship that’s making your feel that way? Is it a lack of intimacy, for example?”
“A desire for more connection is a common indication that there may be loneliness in the relationship, along with a lack of emotional intimacy,” says Calvert.
“One or both parties may feel unable to express their thoughts and feelings within the relationship. This may be accompanied by a feeling of not being heard.”
Loneliness can feel differently from person to person and from couple to couple, but some common signs of loneliness in a relationship are:
Feeling unheard by your partner.
Having unmet needs.
Feeling like you're not important to your partner.
Having poor communication, or feeling like you can’t talk to your partner.
Lacking intimacy in the relationship, whether physical or emotional.
Feeling like either you or your partner have pulled back from the relationship.
Feeling unsatisfied with the relationship.
If you're feeling alone in your relationship, there are ways to improve your relationship with your partner and feel more connected.
It’s easier said than done, but Calvert says coming clean about how you’re feeling is the first step in feeling less lonely. “The key factor in maintaining and improving your relationship with your partner is communication. Good communication is the key to supporting each other, and without this, we can start to feel disconnected or lonely,” she explains.
You might be feeling alone because you and your partner don’t communicate your needs and expectations with one another.
“We all have different expectations and beliefs about emotional intimacy, many of which are formed during our childhood and through experiences we have had in relationships throughout our lives,” says Calvert. “It’s important for both people to consider how they might be contributing to this situation and learn to communicate their needs to one another.”
You might find that your partner had no idea you felt alone, or maybe they also feel lonely. By being vulnerable and putting all your cards on the table, you can work together to feel closer. Remember: your partner can’t read your mind, so it’s up to you to communicate how you feel.
“Connection is the antidote to loneliness,” explains Calvert, who recommends making more time for a deeper connection with your partner. “Share thoughts and feelings rather than just functional communication. Do things together, have a break together for a coffee, cook together.”
If you want to feel more connected to your partner, downloading the Paired app is a good place to start!
“Feeling truly listened to is extremely powerful. Listen fully, giving your partner 100% of your attention, rather than half listening whilst also being distracted by the TV, your phone, or social media,” recommends Calvert.
“Listen without an agenda, with curiosity instead of defensiveness. Curiosity helps to open up conversations and increases feelings of connectedness. Judgment and defensiveness shut down communication.”
Finally, you might want to speak to a therapist to understand if these feelings of loneliness are caused by a relationship problem or whether they stem from issues that predate the relationship.
“Therapy provides a safe space to reflect and explore the underlying issues with a professional,” says Calvert. “Couples therapy can help to reduce the distance between you by identifying these obstacles and working to address them. If you’re feeling lonely and are unsure of where this stems from or how to address the lack of connection that you feel, therapy can help.”