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3 Ways to Help Heal a Lonely Marriage

07/17/2014 04:08 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2014
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By Katie Parsons for GalTime.com

One of the greatest perks of getting married is the whole "till death do us part" clause. Having someone who's always got your back, a partner who's there to listen, and a friend and lover who will cherish you through sickness and in health -- or so you had hoped.

Unfortunately, marriage isn't that simple, and according to a recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that was published in the Journal of Psychophysiology, marriage can be one of the largest sources of social stress. When expectations are not met within the union, it can lead to depression, resentment and loneliness.

The study found that feelings of isolation can even creep into marriages where the couples spend a lot of time together. But why?

How Marriages Become Lonely

"Sometimes marriages fall into an autopilot pattern," explains Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of The 30-Day Love Detox. "Partners no longer court each other or exchange the care that they did in the early days and they become more concerned with selfish interests."

Other times, one partner in the marriage may be unhappy but unable to communicate that effectively, which can lead to feelings of loneliness too, she said. Spouses who are also parents face an even greater risk of feelings of isolation or abandonment, especially when one parent is playing a role (worker or caregiver) that makes him or her unhappy.

"When children arrive, sometimes couples fall into traditional gender roles or battle about gender roles for the first time," says Dr. Walsh. "One may feel a need to work more outside the home to provide for the family, another may feel a need to nurture more. This is definitely a time when the battle lines can be drawn. Children put a lot of stress onto a marriage."

Tips to Address Feelings of Isolation In Your Marriage

For whatever reason you're experiencing loneliness in your marriage, Dr. Walsh offers these 3 tips to help you start repairing your relationship.

1. Find the source.

Instead of automatically blaming the marriage, or bottling up any negative feelings, take some time to figure out why you feel the way you do. Perhaps the real reason for the feelings of isolation stem from something internal that needs to be addressed.

Ask yourself whether it's about something that's actually happening in the marriage, recommends Dr. Walsh. "Are you being abandoned or are you perceiving that you're being abandoned?"

2. Avoid blaming your partner (or yourself).

Wallowing in your own sadness or allowing it to morph into anger won't solve anything -- and it could actually make you feel worse. If your spouse is acting in a way that bothers you, confront him or her with a positive tone and try to express that. Blaming a spouse for working too much, or not paying enough attention to you, or doing anything else that you perceive as "wrong" will only cause him or her to be walled off from you. Approach issues in a constructive, open way.

"It's never anyone's fault," says Dr. Walsh. "It's better to ask someone to help you process your feelings than to blame them for your feelings."

3. Don't rely on your spouse for everything -- spread your wings.

If you expect your spouse to fill all the roles of best friend, emotional confident, lover, domestic partner, co-parent and your primary intellectual stimulant, you might always feel a little disappointed. Instead of relying on your spouse to fulfill all these needs to the fullest, divide those tasks among a few platonic friends. "This is a way to take some of the pressure off of the marriage and improve self-confidence too," says Dr. Walsh.

If you can start by identifying why you're experiencing loneliness, you can move forward to the actions needed to feel better about yourself and your marriage.