QUESTION

We got married last December and were in a relationship for about two years before that. Before the wedding, everything seemed fine and we did certain things together.

We lived apart, but we spent a lot of time in each other's company. Now, things are so bad that we hardly have heart-to-hearts and meaningful conversations anymore.

We don’t go out and we aren't intimate – we are living and growing apart as we have separate interests. How common is it for partners to feel lonely in their marriages? Is there anything I can do to improve the situation before it escalates to divorce? - CONCERNED PARTNER

ANSWER

Marriage and loneliness are strange bedfellows and speak volumes about the complexities of a relationship.

By its very definition, marriage is the joining of two separate lives into one unified family. Over a period of time, the two are soul-tied into one – spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. God designed it that way.

WHAT LONELINESS LOOKS LIKE IN MARRIAGE

Loneliness in marriage often happens slowly, as the disconnection you feel from your spouse gradually increases over time.

It happens when you are both in the same place, but fail to connect with each other. In fact, you may even feel awkward when you're alone with each other. In simple words, you are a couple to the world out there but are privately living separate lives.

Your interaction with each other often becomes hostile and argumentative, and you start assuming things. Intimate conversations about mutual interests, happenings around you, your personal dreams and even where the marriage is going cease altogether.

You stop sharing your feelings because you know your spouse will most likely be critical or not be empathetic. You become less dependable, forget special days and you try filling the void through work, studies or keeping toxic friendships. Sexual and emotional intimacy disappears.

Conversations become purely transactional – “We need milk”, “Your mother called”, or “The kids have school soccer on Friday”.

Or even worse, you give excessive attention to the children. Couples also tend to fall into daily routines that foster emotional distance – one partner watches television in the evening and the other is on the computer, or one goes to bed at 9pm and wakes at 5am and the other goes to bed at midnight and wakes at 8am.

In short, you lose the love and the affection but stay in the marriage. Ironically, often out of a fear of being lonely. But by doing so, you potentially doom yourselves to the very loneliness you’re trying to avoid.

HOW TO ADDRESS THE ISSUES

- Initiate conversations

If you’re lonely in your marriage, it means there's been a breakdown in communication. It may feel awkward initially, but you need to begin talking again.

Start by taking an interest in each other’s day, and be deliberate about listening. Avoid unnecessarily criticising your spouse, and rather show empathy in your conversations. This will encourage them to trust you with their feelings and emotions a lot more.

Gradually, your communication will grow to laughing together and talking about your hopes, fears and dreams. Develop a culture of “bed conversations” in the evening before you sleep, and in the morning before you start your day.

You need to reconnect, and conversation is the bridge that will get you there.

- Develop a family prayer life

Couples develop a great deal of intimacy in prayer. Building your faith as a couple affords you an opportunity to look beyond your spouse for security, happiness and self-worth.

Praying together also allows you the platform to be vulnerable, and gives you an opportunity to eavesdrop on your spouse’s intimate thoughts.

Your first prayer may be just asking God to help you get out of this lonely time in your marriage, and then you can add to your prayer list together.

- Do small favours for each other

Is he struggling with his tie? Help him do it. Is she a foodie? Prepare a delicious breakfast for her.

This will make your partner look up to you, and they'll know they can come to you for help with any problem. You'll be their first destination in distress.

- Let your spouse know how much they mean to you

When you allow one another to flourish in your differences without seeking to change each other, you’re emphasising how important both individuals are.

When you call or text your spouse during the day for no reason other than to say, “I love you”, you’re letting your spouse know how much they mean to you. Vocalise your appreciation of your spouse, and their importance in the relationship.