Feeling Alone in a Relationship
Many memories of my first marriage have faded over time. But there are some that are still as sharp and pointed as the day they occurred. This is one of those.
We sat in the 4th row in the left section of the movie theater. I was in the aisle seat and he was next to me. Prior to the movie, we had gone out to dinner at our version of “Cheers,” and like usual for us, had a great time without any discord or tension.
About twenty minutes into the movie, I looked over at his profile, the light from the film alternately revealing and highlighting the curve of his face. And even though he was inches away, even though we had not fought in any way, and even though he had hugged me while we waited in line to purchase the tickets, I felt like there was an impassable distance between us.
I looked around the theater and could sense the connections between the other patrons, like a web of string mapping out the relationships and bonds. And no string mapped to me. I wondered if it was noticeable to those around me. Could they sense the disconnection?
I felt alone.
Silent tears starting welling up in my eyes as I kept stealing glances at my husband. The man who had been my everything for fourteen years at that point. The man I knew better than anyone at that point. And the man that seemed like a stranger sitting uncomfortable close to me that night.
As I silently wept and continued to forgo the movie to try to puzzle through my emotions, he never looked over at me. This on its own was unusual, as he normally was quite affectionate. With the benefit of hindsight, I think he had an idea what I was sensing that night and he was actively working to pretend that it didn’t exist.
And so for an endless two hours, I sat alone with my husband. Feeling invisible.
Once the credits rolled, he smiled at me, squeezed my hand, and made a comment about the movie. He was back to pretending and I was back to believing.
Isn’t it wild how you can sit on a sofa by yourself and feel content, yet feel completely and utterly alone even when your partner occupies the adjacent seat?
That’s because feeling alone has little to do with the person physically by your side and everything to do with trusting that a person will stay by your side.
Sometimes the disconnection is overt, a partner resorting to the silent treatment or actively working to turn away. It’s a rejection. And you’re able to point to the source of the pain.
Other times, it’s more subtle. A feeling like even though you share a home, you’re living two different lives and looking out through two different windows. You’re going through the motions of doing this together, yet instead of feeling like a team, you feel like you only have yourself to count on.
And sometimes it’s situational. For example, grief is a highly personal experience. If the couple has experienced loss, it’s common for them both to feel alone because their partner is not grieving in the same way.
All relationships go through times of connection and times of disconnection. It’s normal to sometimes look at your partner and wonder, “Who even are you?” In healthy marriages, both partners acknowledge the distance and look for roads back to each other. One person can say, “I feel alone,” and the other will respond with, “What can I do to show you that you’re not.”
Feeling alone becomes a problem when it’s chronic, when it’s ignored or when the distance is created and maintained intentionally by one or both parties. And feeling alone can have some huge repercussions as it erodes your self-worth and leaves you with a low-level hum of constant rejection. Your body becomes more prone to illness as your brain begins to attack itself in an attempt to make sense of the emotional isolation.
If you’re feeling alone in your relationship, it’s time to look closer –
– Is your partner pulling away? Are their energies focused elsewhere?
-Are you the one creating distance? Maybe you want connection but you also fear getting too close and becoming vulnerable.
-Has there been a situation that only one of you is facing and the other has little experience with? Or, has there been a loss and you’re grieving in your ways?
– Have you brought up how you’re feeling? If so, what was the reaction? Has there been any action (not just words) towards rebuilding connection?
-Are you putting all of your needs on your partner? Are you asking your partner to be something they’re not?
-Do you feel less alone when you’re away from your partner than when you’re with them? If so, that’s a very telling sign.
It’s kinda funny isn’t it? How we stay in a relationship past its expiration date because we’re afraid of being alone, yet we tolerate feeling alone while in a relationship? And what’s even crazier that being alone by yourself (once you get over the fear of it) is SO much better than feeling alone while you have a ring on your finger.