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Are you lonely in a relationship?

28.04.2020 klo 11:27 - Written by Written by Osmo Kontula, Research Professor, the Family Federation of Finland , Family Federation of Finland
Loneliness may seem like a strange idea in a relationship. A permanent relationship and common life between two adults would be expected to protect the partners from loneliness. It is generally assumed that a relationship satisfies the needs of people for intimacy and provides them with support even when pressure puts life to a test.

Loneliness is by no means an unknown phenomenon in a relationship. Many carry this burden quietly and secretly in their own lives. Maybe this applies to you, my reader, as well. Nowadays loneliness is visible, for example, in the Internet loneliness forums. They describe how couples have grown apart and how their lives have been focused on work or children instead of the relationship. Mutual time and life have remained modest.

Loneliness is even more distressing in intimate relationships because it conflicts with the high social expectations of those relationships.  Those in a relationship may feel ashamed or even deny the feelings of loneliness when the environment expects that the relationship should protect them from loneliness. In distressing relationships, people may feel even more lonely than single people.

One in four is lonely in a relationship

Approximately one in four of those in a relationship have felt at least a little lonely in my surveys. Approximately five per cent feel rather lonely. This seems like a small number. However, that means that there are approximately 150,000 women and men in Finland who feel rather lonely in their relationship.

Lonely people usually do not perceive their relationship happy and there is little physical intimacy. Lonely people also see their relationships as unfair and their relationships have more different kinds of conflicts or contradictions. The mental and emotional support from the spouse in these relationships is not perceived to be sufficient and the life situation may even have led to a variety of psychological symptoms.

Loneliness in a relationship is more likely to occur in people who have higher expectations of their own relationship or of relationships in general. They are often disappointed with their expectations. Relationship-oriented people feel extremely lonely if they live alone. Single men have experienced loneliness far more often than women, especially after a break up. Majority of men even feel socially helpless after a break up.

If there are more serious problems in the relationship, this has resulted in significantly more loneliness for women than for men. Women have more expectations than men regarding the functioning and quality of their relationship. This includes a stronger desire for mutual time and a greater need for emotional support of women.

The feeling of “us” in a relationship reduces loneliness

Ideas of a break up are a common denominator for spouses that feel lonely. Particularly in women, feelings of loneliness may trigger the process leading to a break up. If the spouse no more receives emotional support, this can lead to a break up.

Surprisingly, living with your own children after the break up may not have alleviated any feeling of loneliness for women compared to women without children. Men’s loneliness has either not been affected a few years after the break up by the fact whether they have children with their ex-spouse or which one has the main custody of the children. Children do not provide the adults with the emotional support they particularly need and often receive from their spouses.

The loneliness of an unsatisfactory relationship could not be greatly alleviated by other social relationships, not even by close cohabitation with their own children. Relationships offer such support and intimacy that cannot be properly replaced by other relationships. At the heart of it is a longing for a sense of “us” between spouses. The development of this feeling is the best remedy for loneliness.

Article originally published in 2014.

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