Loneliness cropped 2

Attached and lonely – tips for women in relationships but lonely

This week, the BBC is revealing the results of their survey and research into loneliness.

Helped by people such as Professor Pamela Qualter

The BBC surveyed over 55,000 people and shone a light on a rarely discussed subject. Just some of the worrying results are:

  • People in the 16 to 24 age group are most likely to experience loneliness despite being constantly linked by social media and technology.
  • People in our age group – 45 plus – have 30% reporting they are lonely ‘often’ or ‘very often’.
  • People in ‘independent cultures such as Northern Europe and the USA are less likely to admit they feel lonely.

The BBC project, led by Claudia Hammond has provided reasonable advice for overcoming loneliness. The nine steps are:

  1. Find distracting hobbies
  2. Join a social club
  3. Change your thinking
  4. Start a conversation with anyone
  5. Talk to friends and family
  6. Look for good in everyone
  7. Reflect on why you feel lonely
  8. Carry on and wait for the feeling to pass
  9. Invite people to do things without fearing rejection

The project is powerful and punches us with some hard facts. However it struck me that it was focusing on our standard perception of loneliness and lonely people – the disabled, the old and the socially anxious. They point to hard hitting blogs such as that of Michelle, a disarmingly honest welsh woman who has felt so alone she cut herself

But there is another group of lonely people – those people who are in relationships, apparently have continual companionship, who are surrounded by spouses, partners, kids even pets and yet feel desperately alone. Logically they are not alone – but they feel loneliness.

Loneliness within a relationship is deeply saddening. Invariably it happens within relationships which have drifted along with an ever widening gap. One day you wake up and realise there is a just a pit of resigned silence instead of the chatting, laughing, sharing snippets and bickering which once bound you together. Many couples don’t notice it happening until one day they look across the table and wonder ‘who are you?’ and realise that they talk more to the cat than to each other – or about the cat than about themselves. The kids are gone, the house is quiet and there are two lonely people who have forgotten how to be friends.

At the more extreme end of relationship loneliness is busy isolation. A few years ago I met a woman who orchestrated a frenetic household. She had a partner who was less than keen on domestic sharing and even less enthusiastic about full time work, a son and daughter who wanted to be ferried to various events and socials, a father who needed support as he grieved the Sassista’s mother, clients who demanded attention; various clubs who pulled on her for her skills. She never stopped and it was never enough. Worse than this, any step away from what they wanted was met with a barrage of accusation. In the two weeks before I met her, her decision to take a Saturday afternoon out for shopping with a friend resulted in hysterical accusations of not loving her children; her father berated her for having to work instead of being with him; she was told her sister was more caring when she lived over 200 miles away and was never there on call; her attempts to serve healthy food led to adolescent backchat; a request to the husband to drive their son less than 5 miles resulted in indignant claims that she was stopping him working (hah!); they demanded she got another job in order to up their income; as for the vile sister – don’t start me. In short, she was a bullied but loving provider. As she said ‘I am surrounded by talk but have no-one to talk to and no-one to listen to me.’ Worse for her was the realisation that her daughter was learning that women can be barked at and her son was learning that it is alright to bark at women. Did she try to fight back? Damn right – and they all barked her down.

So either end of the spectrum – lack of interest or lack of respect are deeply lonely. What can you do?

Well, joining a club is unlikely to work. It will create an escape but not a solution to the source of sadness. It is not other people you need but to renegotiate your relationship with the people around you. So I am going to suggest a different nine steps to people in relationship loneliness.

  1. Accept yourself – you are certainly not alone.
  2. Accept you have played your part in the situation. Maybe you have not given enough attention to your partner or you have not protected yourself with assertiveness at the beginning.
  3. Put it in the open – ask your partner if they feel the same. Do not be accusatory, be kind. Though with our second example be very firm.
  4. Decide if there is anything worth fighting for. Yes, there will be feelings of resentment. But these will be jointly held.
  5. If love is still there and the answer is yes – then act. It will take talk, effort change and acceptance of the past. It will mean drawing a line and getting back to being friends. But if you do it with kindness it will be a wonderful journey.
  6. If the answer is no – then you have to be brave and move things on. If that sounds scary – how will it feel to be looking in the mirror in ten years thinking ‘still here, still lonely, still sad.’ Make your plans and prepare to fly.
  7. If you are not sure, consider relationship counselling. If your partner refuses – then you are probably at point 6!
  8. If the decision is to stay for convenience on both sides then accept you now have a housemate and not a partner Get excited about the life you can create. Join those clubs, get those interests, go out and play. Read our article on loneliness and get planning.
  9. Above all do something. Loneliness is bad for your soul and your body. Loneliness affects your heart, your health and your long-term resilience. There is a whole life out there and many people with whom to share it. I recall the kind words of a nun who found me weeping when I did not get grades for Manchester University and thought life was over. 

‘Now, girl. When one door closes another opens. You just have to walk through and step into the gifts of life.’

Thank you sister.


Until next time.... Stay Sassy

Dr G.

"The Online Magazine for strong women"


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