How to Make Loneliness the Foundation for Connection

Marriage and Loneliness

Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral (Creative Commons)

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: Marriage is for Hopelessly Lonely People

About two years ago, I was walking out of a pub with a friend when he turned to me and said, “It was good to talk to you tonight. I feel a little less alone in the world because of it.”

A little less alone.

It felt just right. No burden to take away all of each other’s loneliness. An acknowledgement that companionship can happen in the midst of a mutual loneliness. Perhaps even because of a mutual loneliness.

I think we often give this kind of grace to our friends. We hope for connection with them, but we don’t expect that connection to resolve all of our lonely feelings.

But I don’t think we give our spouses the same grace. We expect them to take away all of our loneliness. And when they don’t, we blame and criticize and resent.

Our marriages are not intended to erase loneliness. Rather, they are intended to be a place where our loneliness is shared. In marriage, we connect with each other in our loneliness, not to get rid of our loneliness.

When we embrace this, we can disrupt the cycle of blame and foster a mutual vulnerability through the sharing of lonely experiences:

  1. Identify your earliest memory of feeling lonely. With your family, in a classroom, on the playground, on an operating table. Whatever it may be for you.
  2. Identify your most lonely memory (prior to marriage). A time when you felt completely on your own. Perhaps even abandoned, discarded, neglected.
  3. Share these memories with your spouse. Apologize for times you have expected them to take away all of your loneliness.
  4. Ask them if they have any similar memories of loneliness. Listen.

If both partners are willing to engage in this kind of intimacy, they will generally report they feel “a little less alone.” But what they mean is: for the first time I feel understood, and cared for, and appreciated, and close to you.

Comments? I can live with that. How about you?

READING BY FEED OR EMAIL?

SHARE THIS POST BY CLICKING ON THE BUTTONS BELOW:
Add to FaceBookAdd to Twitter

VISIT the website where you can subscribe to posts by email.

LIKE the Facebook page.

FOLLOW on Twitter.

TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Heather

    It’s interesting, how timely this advise comes and how it hits so close to home on many levels. Marriage can be both a fulfiling and lonely institution all at the same time. It’s beautifull however that the gaps our spouse and friend’s can’t fill, can be filled by the grace of God and His perfect love our hearts crave. I like the thought though that our spouses are here to share our loneliness with. It’s unfair to expect completeness where only God can complete.

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      I agree, Heather. It’s devastating to marriage when we expect our spouses to be God for us.

  • jlanewell

    I find it interesting how easily we can be there for our friends. We can sit and talk for hours and not resolve a thing and yet feel better because we have someone who has heard us. However when it comes to our spouses the expectations can be unrealistic. It can be frustrating when you and your spouse share your hearts with each other and you only half listen. The remainder of the time you are thinking of how to solve the problem. I think sometimes we forget that sharing does not mean we have to fix the problem too. The point is we really just want to feel heard.

    I try to specify when we sit down and start talking to let him know I am just sharing not solving today. I think in a way he feels relieved because I was not expecting him to fix my problems. It makes it easier to be there for each other and open up more.

    For us when things have been the hardest we share our hearts with each other and then we take our troubles to the Lord. I believe that God is in the details of our lives. He is there for the happy joyful times and in the deepest darkest storms. I tell my children that even when you feel all alone and lonely, to remember that God is with them in those moments. I tell them it will help if they close their eyes and picture God pulling them into his lap and wrapping his arms around them. It is in those times that Holy Spirit gives you the strength to carry on. I think it is a blessing when you and your spouse are both holding on to each other and being held in the arms of the Lord during a storm.

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      That is a beautiful image, Jennifer.

  • Honestly Speaking

    Why does God punish many of us with Loneliness? Especially when we see so many other men and women that have been Very Blessed by God to find love and happiness together. What about us?