We were still newlyweds, married only a year and a half, yet I found myself feeling more alone than when I had been single. Why, after such a short time, did he not want me anymore? Why did his job, his volunteering, for God’s sake his TV shows, interest him more than me? I wondered what was wrong with me. What was wrong with him. What was wrong with us. And I cried myself to sleep night after night as I listened to the sounds of the TV he loved more than me down the hall. My ex-husband was, I would come to learn, struggling with depression and mental illness.
This loneliness wasn’t like that of planned military deployment, extended family visits, or a season of working away. Those can be lonely, yet, typically there are plans- it’s an expected time away- and you can gain the support of family or friends. But the loneliness of having my husband right down the hall and yet being unable to “reach” him was a relentless, throbbing heartache.
If you are married and yet you feel profound loneliness, I just want to tell you someone understands. Someone knows how much it hurts. And I don't just mean me. Jesus himself had personal knowledge of rejection and loneliness. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem."
Is this normal?
Moments and even seasons of marital loneliness are normal. There are many circumstances that bring about feelings of detachment in marriage. The busy chaos of daily life alone is enough to threaten to separate us and destroy the intimacy we desire with our spouse. Consider situations of extra work stress or projects, a spouse being in school and having assignment deadlines to meet, needs of extended family, or health struggles.
If you’ve ever been where I was, you know the difference between the “normal” season of loneliness and the hopeless one. You know the season that yes, is hard and hurts, has a light at the end of the tunnel- and the one where there is nothing but blackness.
If your spouse is mentally ill, physically ill, depressed, angry, or struggles with addiction- even an addiction to a hobby they use as a coping mechanism rather than to face their broken places… If your spouse grew up in a home where they didn’t learn to communicate, was abused in the past, or has suffered a major loss, and they find it easier to just retreat night after night than to talk about it or get help… If you are a believer and your spouse isn’t, so you can’t connect about the most important thing in your life… you understand the heartache of a lonely marriage.
You know how much it stinks to feel like you are stuck with someone who chose you once but won’t continue to choose you. Who doesn’t love you enough to come out of their dark place, so they’ve chosen instead to condemn you to one of your own. You know these thoughts aren’t the truth, but they are the stabs that come when you’re in the dark.
I would tell you that your spouse can never meet all your needs, but you already know that. I would tell you that you need to run to God with your lonely heart and let him fill it, but you already know that, too. What I can tell you is that if you WILL run to Him, you won’t be sorry.
The times of deepest growth in my relationship with God have not been the trials of illness, miscarriage, or divorce- they have been the times of loneliness. Those were the times I wasn’t drawn to my knees in prayer for a miracle or an answer- I was drawn to my knees seeking His presence, companionship, and affection. I know you want to have your pity party first, and God is an awkward guest at those, but He will let you grieve before He tells you it’s time to move forward.
Action Steps if You're a Lonely Partner
You probably know this, too, but we need to pray for our marriages. Marriage is hard, and it’s always under attack. Pray for your spouse, not just for God to change their heart, but for Him to show you His heart toward them. Pray for His grace and ability to forgive them for the ways they may unintentionally be hurting you. When we feel our needs aren’t being met we naturally tend toward resentment, and the best remedy for that is prayer. If you are in the place emotionally where you just can’t seem to pray for them, pray for you- for what God wants to work in you, your character, your life, in this season.
Ask yourself, “Am I too available to my spouse?”
I knew a lady whose husband was a workaholic and often home late, yet every night, she stayed up and made him a wonderful home-cooked meal, despite having to get up early for work herself, hoping he would notice her and want to spend time with her. What happened instead is that he took her for granted. When she finally started getting out and doing some activities, and he came home a few times to an empty house, he began to appreciate those meals and her company a lot more.
When we’re dating we think about whether or not we should maybe play a little hard to get, but when we’re married, some of us just make ourselves constantly available. To some spouses, this may make us lack mystery, be a little less desirable, or even seem a little pathetic. I’m not saying it’s right- it just is. Sometimes it can reveal our own issues of codependence- neediness or clinginess that isn’t healthy.
Make time for things you enjoy
Taking time for a hobby you enjoy, to meet up with a friend, or join a workout class or church group may not only ease your loneliness and get your mind off the issues at home, but they may also remind your spouse of the person they were attracted to when you met. Allowing myself time in some outside interests helped to restore my joy, and when I came home and my husband saw the joy in me, he took notice.
Invest in Other Healthy Relationships
While you’re out there, be sure to seek out other relationships that don’t add stress to your marriage. Avoid the friend who is going to badmouth your spouse, and most definitely don’t go hang out with a person of the opposite sex. Focus a little more on your kids or your extended family for a while. You aren’t ignoring your spouse or the problem at home, but rather, you're not allowing yourself to be consumed by them while you wait on the work God is doing in your spouse’s heart.
Monitor your emotional strength daily
On a good day, when you’re feeling strong in the Lord, you might give a little extra of yourself, without expecting your partner to be able to reciprocate. On a hard day, you might be a little more distant, not in hard-heartedness, but just because it might take all the emotional energy you have not to snap at your spouse or tell them how miserable they’re making you- slips that make the situation much worse. If keeping your mouth shut is the best you can do, focus on doing that. Proverbs 21:23- “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.”
Be on guard at night
Nighttime is when the enemy comes and brings the anxiety of our biggest worries, intensifying loneliness to even scarier depths. He whispers to us lies about our worth and our identity. He whispers lies about our marriage. Don’t let him do that. If you are feeling strong, pray and replace his lies with God’s truth. If you aren’t, listen to some worship music that calms your heart, or read your Bible. Or if even that is hard, read a good book that distracts you until you can sleep. Then when you’re rested and get up in the morning, you can get back to seeking God’s wisdom for the new day.
A couple of practical asides, reading and music really do help me a lot in lonely times. Don’t do too much TV- we all have our favorite shows, but I think something about sitting in front of the TV watching others whose lives appear to be perfect makes us feel worse, not better. It’s an escape that is tempting, but truly temporary and unfulfilling. Take care of yourself- eat good and sleep good and exercise.
Go to counseling if you need to
This can help if you need to process how to navigate the “root” issue that’s leading to your marital distance, or if you have trouble knowing how to make healthy boundaries without being unloving- a wall is not an appropriate boundary in marriage. You need boundaries that keep you safe and healthy, physically and spiritually but are permeable and allow for God’s work to happen in both of you.
The world around you would tell you that if you are married and you feel lonely, you need to get out. Every marriage story is unique. None of us is perfect, and every marriage has problems because every marriage is made of two broken people. God does have a perfect design for marriage, but when you hold that up and believe that everyone else’s marriage is already there, and yours is the only broken one, you are believing a lie. I don't know what your marriage story holds, but I do know that what God tells you is that He will never leave you or forsake you, nothing can separate you from His love, and that His strength is perfected in you in the times that you are weak. You may feel very much alone right now, but you are not alone.
"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."