Do you feel lonely and invisible in your marriage or other relationships? If so, you know how painful this can be.
We all expect to feel connected, understood, and appreciated by our spouse or partner and when this doesn’t happen we’re left feeling hurt, angry, and confused.
This is a common experience among those of us who struggle with codependency because we have a hard time being vulnerable, asking our partners for what we need, and practicing self-care. Often, we internalize feeling lonely or invisible as rejection and shame — blaming ourselves and feeling unlovable. In order to regain our self-worth and create more satisfying relationships, I asked psychotherapist and relationship expert Robyn D’Angelo to help us out with some strategies to cope with feeling lonely and invisible in our relationships.
Let me just start by saying, marriage is hard + I suck at being married sometimes. Feeling lonely + invisible is something I have absolutely felt in my relationship and I’m certain I will feel it again at some point.
It’s taken me some time to get to a place where I can confidently say that when those feelings return (because I can guarantee they will) I am prepared. I feel ready. So let’s talk about how I got here, so you can too.
We have unrealistic expectations of marriage
I knew that marriage was not designed to provide only fulfillment, joy, and a sense of purpose but I needed proof. So, being the #LoveGeek I am, I went searching for research to help me get a realistic view of marriage.
I found a current trend identified by The Pew Research Center, that concluded that we as a society are actually divided when it comes to the VALUE of marriage. When society is divided on ANYTHING, it can feel impossible to create a sense of satisfaction.
Survey respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views:
1) Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, or
2) Society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.
46% of adults chose the first statement, while 50% chose the second!
The scary thing to me, as a couples therapist who has spent 10+ years geeking out on the neuroscience of love + relationships and learning all I can about what truly makes EPIC relationships, it highlights this one fact: The collective idea of what’s required to have a fulfilling marriage is way, WAY off.
We are bombarded with theatrical images of what marriage + relationships should look, feel, and sound like. For the sake of argument, I will share typical gender-stereotyped assumptions:
We’re taught that to be a good partner, women should …
- Be patient and lower their expectations because men aren’t as emotionally evolved as they are.
- Learn to ask for what they want so their man has the opportunity to step up and meet their needs.
- Not expect their man to be their everything: spouse, friend, therapist, lover, etc.
- And NEVER tolerate cheating, lying, or any emotional/physical betrayal if they want to be respected.
We’re taught that to be a good partner, men should …
- Be romantic, because that’s what every woman wants.
- Be stoic, assertive, confident and ready to protect, provide + procreate.
- Know how to be epic lovers naturally, without education outside of pornography.
- And NEVER show weakness, vulnerability, or heaven forbid…fear.
Unrealistic expectations leave us feeling lonely and unfulfilled
While I don’t disagree with all of these “shoulds,” I will say that with all these messages, how can we NOT feel lonely and invisible in our relationships now and then?
Over the years I’ve figured out some strategies for coping with loneliness and invisibility that may be helpful to you and your partner as you master the messiness of couplehood, together.
1. Make time to reflect. How are YOU doing? Are you in a funk? Maybe hungry? Have you been more stressed than usual? Have you been experiencing poor sleep? Check in with YOU. What’s happening in YOUR individual life outside of your relationship? And what is one small way you can take physical, emotional, nutritional, mental or spiritual care of yourself, that doesn’t involve your partner? (ie: go for a run, get a massage, take a day off, sleep in, take a bath, meditate, go dancing, take a painting class, etc.)
2. Be honest. There’s nothing more connecting than getting vulnerable with someone who loves you. Can you tell your partner how you’re feeling, free of criticism or blame? What if you said, “I’m feeling super lonely lately + I miss you. Can we make time for us this weekend? Let’s talk about what it would take to make that happen.” (ie: get a babysitter, reschedule meetings, plan an adventure, sleep in together.) Your partner doesn’t know how you feel or what you need unless you tell him/her.
3. Connect to your tribe. Back in the day we literally had tribes. All around us, at all times, just so we could function. Too often I hear couples who want their partners to be their EVERYTHING: their co-parent, cycling buddy, confidant, lover + primary source of intellectual stimulation. And this leads to disappointment. Reach out to your tribe. Your friends, family, and even therapist feel valued when they can say YES to a request to chat, hang out, or support a struggle. And if you don’t have a tribe, it’s time to create one.
4. Give yourself (and your partner) a break. In relationships, we all suck sometimes. Which means at times you’re not going to get your needs met. And neither will your partner. Knowing that this is the nature of being an imperfect human, with faults, irritations, and limitations in a relationship with another imperfect human enables a little more empathy + kindness. Take a breath, and return to #1. Check in with you.
Yes, it’s awful to feel lonely + invisible in your relationship, but sometimes it’s going to happen and having the tools to cope will greatly reduce the pain associated with your experience.
Remember, you’re just two imperfect humans trying your best to not suck at being together.
Robyn D’Angelo is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of The Happy Couple Expert private practice in Orange County, California. Robyn helps frustrated and disconnected couples and singles learn to LOVE + BE LOVED, better. She walks them through how to connect deeply while creating space for fun. Robyn helps couples master the messiness of couplehood together and create their very own Epic relationships that last. Her unique blend of traditional psychotherapy, neuroscience and educating lends to her #LoveGeek meets #BrainGeek title. She believes in the power of kindness, science + good old-fashioned romance. Robyn’s clinical work and/or writing has been featured on: PsychCentral.com, MSN.com, DINKSInternational.com, HuffingtonPost, and she has been a guest on The Big Change of Heart Podcast, Coaching Through Chaos Podcast, and The Couples Expert Podcast and more. You can connect with Robyn on Facebook and Instagram.