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What should I do if I feel lonely even though I am in a relationship?

Dr. Stan Tatkin, MFT, PsyD
Marriage & Family Therapy Specialist

If you feel lonely even though you are in a relationship, examine your relationship. If you are doing a lot of parallel play, that is, with your partner but not sharing activities together, that will lead to loneliness. Couples that do to much parallel play and not enough joint attention play (using a third object for play between the two of you such as a puppy, a baby, or television show) begin to drift. At least one partner will feel lonely. In a secure functioning relationship, partners should be spending at least some time in each other's eyes and sharing some activity together. 

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

The ability to admit when you feel lonely can help you become a relationship repair genius. Many times people believe that when they feel lonely in a relationship it means there is something wrong with the relationship. But no matter how many social connections you have and no matter how intimate your romantic relationship, you will at times be left feeling lonely. No person can ever understand where you are coming from and connect with you all day every day. Some research has shown that even highly attuned mothers of newborns providing the optimal level of care, are only responsive 30% of the time. We can hardly expect that level of attunement in a romantic relationship. Therefore there will be many times—even in optimal conditions—when we will feel lonely in relationships.

The best way for handling this feeling is to give yourself permission to express it without blame. If you can simply tell your partner that you feel lonely and why you feel lonely you have increased your intimacy in your relationship and likely decreased anger and miscommunications. There is also great benefit to increasing your capacity to tolerate loneliness. If you can feel lonely and not have it turn to anger you are giving a great gift to your partner. Of course he or she needs to learn this basic skill of being lonely without lashing out too.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.