There’s one silent killer in a marriage and that’s how drifting too far apart makes it difficult to restore the feelings between a couple again.
How can you start off fully in love, passionate, engaged, raise a healthy family together and yet, feel so alone from your partner in the marriage?
Janet can tell you the precise moment. According to Janet, her life seemed normal. It was 7:00pm on a Saturday evening. For the first time in four months, Janet and Joe decided to pencil in a date night. She smiled uncomfortably since she was excited, yet she felt guilty that she could not remember the last time that Joe and herself had spent quality alone time together.
She pretends that all her needs are met in the marriage. Joe is a good husband and a very good provider. He was up at 5:00am every day and would come back home at 6:00pm. There was an hour commute via train to his day job. He spent the evenings saying very few words. Joe was always a man of few words; a strong silent type. She loved that when they first married. Oh, how secure she felt at her parent’s 40th anniversary. Her brother Tom, an alcoholic, could not control his liquor or mouth for that matter. He made a scene, he got louder and scarier. Joe was the hero. Joe stood up, looking dead between the eyes, without saying a word. It was tense, but it worked. Tom knew something was different. He shut up and silently drank himself into a drunken stupor, eventually passing out on a chair.
That was Joe, the strong silent type. But after six years of marriage, the silence did not feel that protective anymore.
Janet and Joe were finally sitting in a fancy steak restaurant. They ordered their meal and were waiting in anticipation. The conversation centered around what to eat. Joe ordered a rare sirloin with fries. Janet decided for the fillet. They ordered a bottle of their favorite red wine to complement the meal. There was also a little back and forth between their meal. The kids and the usual stuff couples talk about. Then after about two minutes, they retreated to the safety of their cell phone. Five minutes into dinner, they were aimlessly searching for more stories to read about on Facebook. The server arrived to top off their glass and Janet just lifted her head up for a moment. At the corner of her eye, she saw a couple, not much older than Joe and her. In an instant, she could notice that they were glued to their phones. A thought flashed through her head. Oh, how sad. They’re not even talking to one another, how lonely they look.
As she turned to look at her phone, a new thought flashed through her mind (wait a minute, do I feel sad for that couple, I don’t know them. Or am I really feeling sad for myself).
She looked at Joe. His eyes were now fixed to his cell phone with his head down.
She tried to speak, but could not find the right words. She did not know what to say or to tell him — I did not feel safe to tell him what she thought. It was not comfortable for her. A few months later, the sadness became more apparent. At first, Janet tried to deny it, but angry with herself, confronted Joe who also denied it. But now reached a state of acceptance. How could she be alone. This was the silent strong man of her dreams, they had kids together. They lived together, they kissed each other every morning and had occasional sex. But now, she still feels alone. How is that possible. And so what does it really mean to be alone. There’s nothing to fear, right? It’s one of those things we would accept as couples. Do all couples go through this?
Janet realized her brother was alone. His drinking, without help, pushed everyone away from him. People started avoiding him, they were scared. People including her avoided him, she was scared of leaving her five year old son and three year old daughter with her brother. What did drinking cost him. In Janet’s mind, it costed him isolation. How would he ever feel love. The love of a partner physically kissing him, being intimate with him. The love of children making him a better person. The love of family and siblings to make life better. To be able to share the innermost thoughts and feelings. There was no connection with her brother. And Janet sensed her connection with Joe slipping away.
Joe does not really know her secrets and desires and thoughts as of now, no. She goes to a friend for that. She wants love, Joe is busy, so she goes to her kids to feel loved. Who is Joe? Her greatest fear is about to come true. Joe is officially a roommate. If he travels for the weekend, no big deal. She will talk to him but she won’t really miss him. If the kids are sick, she will call her dad first to get some help. Janet’s situation has led her into the one thing she tried to avoid and that is the depths of loneliness.
How do you get lonely anyway? If you ask different psychologists or therapists, there could be different points of view. For example:
1. Lack of empathy for a partner.
2. Taking each other for granted.
3. Lack of honest communication or kindness.
4. The cliche that men don’t like to talk.
5. Lack of daily interactions in the long-term.
All of these could be true, depending on your specific situation. The simple reason why one gets lonely is the lack of habits that prevent them from being engaged with each other on a daily basis. Their responsibilities to their children, family, jobs, and to each other gives them so little time for one another, they’re almost two strangers passing each other in the night in front of the television. They don’t make it a habit to be attuned to one another. That is one end of the spectrum.
The far right end of the spectrum could be a personality or attachment experience. If your partner never truly learned how to attach or how to connect, it’s very difficult to now give that to a spouse in a marriage. It’s one thing knowing how to connect with your partner and hoping that they don’t feel alone, but it’s another thing having the attachment experience to create the connection and to build connection with your spouse. Time to attach in a marriage only exposes these challenges. The good news is that Janice was able to get Joe to create experiences to connect because he really wants to do that. Joe was able to open himself up to creating new experiences and understanding that he has \been too neglectful over her for the last couple of months, and Janice was able to own up to her role in the relationship.