“I don’t feel like I love her anymore.” “At home I don’t feel like he is my husband. It feels like he is just a roommate.”
These are just two samples of what I hear from people I have counseled with. They are married but feeling lonely.
One of them even quoted the Bible and said, “Didn’t God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18)? Is that not a promise that marriage was God’s solution to loneliness? I know some people who really believe that it is in getting married that will solve their loneliness as singles.”
Yet for most of us who are married, we know that marriage isn’t an automatic solution to loneliness. Many had expectations of intimate companionship that did not come true. Several even say that their marriage have left them more lonely than before.
Well, here is the truth. All marriages go through rough times and difficult challenges. With our jobs, children, education, social activities, community service and the hundred-and-one other demands on us, our relationship with our spouse is stretched to its limit.
But here is another truth, if we understand that these stressful times are temporary, and then they needn’t cause major marital problems. It’s when the occasional moments of loneliness become the standard that we worry. What I have learned as a counselor and a married man for the past 30 years is that loneliness often begins with small decisions. “He will understand if I stay late at work again.” “She doesn’t mind if I go out with the guys.”
We tell ourselves that we still love each other, but other priorities take up more and more of our time. And so we end up seeing each other at home only between all the responsibilities we have.
Too often, we share our house; our expenses, our children and our church, but we aren’t sharing our goals, our feelings, our dreams and our life. Rather than husband and wife, many feel like they are just roommates. We may live in a house but it doesn’t look like a home. Some may not realized this but men feel loneliness as often as women. Many men will not describe the unhappiness or discontent that they feel as loneliness, but that’s what it is.
One husband put in plain words: “I have a stressful job. Sometimes the pressures are so enormous that I can’t help but want to bring the frustrations with me when I come home. However, I don’t feel comfortable telling my wife about work. She just wants to talk how difficult her job is and how challenging the kids are. But I truly miss all the discussions we used to have about our plans and our love. There was a time when all we wanted to do was be together. Oh well, I guess we have hit real life.”
Other women identify loneliness rapidly and may react emotionally. A young wife describes it: “Here is what happens when we are home together, he finds the newspaper, sits in front of the television or computer and waits for me to call for dinner. When we do eat together, it is in front of the television set. Or if not, he is in a hurry to finish eating to play computer games. After we finish, I clear the dishes and straighten the kitchen. Then we settle in for an evening of more television. I don’t want to change my husband — much. I don’t think it is too much to ask him to talk to me. But when I bring up spending more time together talking, he thinks I’m emotional and overreacting.”
Does this sound familiar? Here are signs to know when you are heading toward loneliness in marriage. It is when you need to turn to others for support, when you want to be with your friends more than your wife or husband. You slide down into a routine of separate hobbies, separate schedules, separate plans and separate lives. In other words, you become separate.
I don’t think married people intentionally neglect their marriage. Yet, family counselor Dennis Rainey, in Staying Close, warns: “Unless you lovingly and energetically nurture and maintain your marriage, you will begin to drift away from your mate. You’ll live together, but you will live alone.” Marriage is an active and dynamic relationship. In Dr. Rainey’s opinion, all marriages are moving toward either intimacy or isolation.
Here is the important question we need to ask. What can we do if our marriage is moving toward isolation?
My first recommendation is to discuss your feelings of loneliness with your spouse. Pick and choose a good time when you won’t be interrupted, and talk with your mate about your needs and apprehensions. Avoid accusing your spouse or overdramatizing your feelings. Simply explain how you feel about the problem. In most cases, you may even find out that your spouse has also felt the growing coldness in your relationship, and that he or she also wants to better the relationship.
Even if you have told your spouse that you love her in your early years of marriage, don’t stop reassuring your mate that you do love him or her. A change for the better will take effort from both of you, so both of you should commit yourselves to improving your marriage with love and patience. Here is a good idea. Why not pray together? The old saying, “The family that prays together stays together,” is very true.
Although this may be a difficult area to share, here are some practical tips. Begin small: before meals, in preparation for special activities, before a trip. Realize that it may take time, but praying together can be the springboard for an improved God-centered relationship.
• Put your marriage second only to your relationship with God. If you are extremely busy with separate activities, then plan time when you can be together.
• You develop communication and intimacy by spending both quantity and quality time together. If your schedules are overbooked, you may need to evaluate your priorities and forgo some activities.
• Listen to what your spouse doesn’t say. What does this tell you about his or her needs?
• Discuss what you need. Don’t assume that he should know, or she won’t understand. Be honest.
• Discuss specific areas that both can improve to support each other.
• Try to become receptive to ways to improve yourself for your spouse. What can you do to improve the level of communication? How can you make your mate happier when you are together?
• Learn to understand the differences between you and your spouse. Then be tolerant.
• Recognize and accept the limitations in your relationship. Your mate cannot provide 100 percent of your emotional needs and should not feel pressured to do so.
• And most importantly, you and your spouse need help from another person. And that person is our Savior and Lord, Jesus. The Bible talks about Jesus being in the center of the marriage relationship. Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV) tells us, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Jesus is the third person in marriage. When the husband and wife draw close to Him, they eventually draw close to each other. Just as what the Bible says, a three-strand cord is much stronger than just two.
Understand also that there are many people who care about you. Seek counsel from Christian friends or your church pastor. He may even recommend a professional Christian counselor that will be best suited to help you.
Marriage is not a promise that we will never be lonely. The joy is in learning to love, give, share, sacrifice and grow alongside the imperfect man or woman you love. You don’t get married to be happy. You get married because you have this tremendous love for each other. Our happiness come from the love we have for our spouse and in knowing that we have a loving God who cares for our relationships and us. Marriage is more about giving than getting. It is about a relationship that is based on love. — If you find this article helpful, please feel free to share it to others who may need it. (For comments and questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)