Open your morning newspaper and you'll find columns of personal ads expressing sentiments such as these: Lose loneliness with lavish Latin lover. DPF, 30ish, petite, brunette, seeks SPM, 30s-40s, for laughter and a lifetime of love. No smokers, no drugs. Everything else is OK.
Others placing ads seek everything from a bowling partner to a sex partner, but they all risk rejection and pain in pursuit of the same goal: eliminating loneliness. The prospect of going through life alone is so unappealing that the search for companionship becomes a driving force. Ask anyone why they got married and, once they get past "because we were in love" (which I'm not knocking), they will talk about marriage as the antidote to loneliness.
Even if they didn't read that in the Bible first, they're onto something. God proclaimed that it was "not good" for Adam to be alone (Gen. 2:18), and it's not good for us either. Most of us expect marriage to banish loneliness by providing lifelong companionship. But look around and you'll find large numbers of couples who are married and still lonely. How does the one stated goal of marriage, God's desire to alleviate a person's aloneness, fail to come true for so many husbands and wives?
the loneliness lie
Couples feel lonely for various reasons, but the primary cause is our belief that marriage by itself will put an end to loneliness. It's a little like the man whose greatest desire in life was to enjoy barbecue hot off the backyard grill. His longing for barbecue was so intense that he felt incomplete without it.
This man saved enough money to purchase a beautiful gas grill—the one he had wanted for years. He took it out of the box, assembled it, hooked up the propane tank and rolled the grill out onto the deck. Then he went back inside to wait for his barbecue.
This was cause for celebration. He finally had the grill of his dreams. But soon he began to wonder: "Why am I still so hungry for barbecue? That grill might look classy, but it's not helping at all."
In a few weeks he noticed the grill was being used for other things. His wife used it as a plant stand; his kids found it to be a handy diving platform for their action men. The man concluded that he must have brought home the wrong grill, otherwise he wouldn't still be so hungry for barbecue.
Ludicrous? Of course. After rolling a new grill out onto the deck, there is still a lot of work involved in creating a barbecued feast. If you don't make the effort to use the grill as it was designed to work, you'll spend the rest of your life hungry for barbecue.
Likewise, the act of getting married won't put an end to your loneliness. To achieve that goal, you have to follow your initial commitment with appropriate action. When couples come to me for counseling, we often discuss the need for a "married mindset." It sounds obvious, but the truth is married couples often continue to think like single people. They agree to be places and do things without considering their partner's schedule—or even his or her preferences. They are married, but their actions don't reflect it. That's what leads to loneliness.
I have yet to meet the couple who say, "You know, we think about each other constantly. We never commit to a weekend or evening activity until we discuss it. We're always calling each other during the day to touch base. But you know what? I just wish this loneliness would end."
When couples are guided by a married mindset they don't struggle with loneliness. Considering one another's needs, wants and preferences shows that they are committed to loving each other, to nurturing and caring for one another, to treating each other with respect. They solve their own loneliness by working to obliterate their mate's loneliness. Sounds odd, maybe, but that's how it works.
Spouses become lonely because one or both partners focus most of their energy on something other than their mate. Their communication dwindles to "what's for supper?" "where's the mail?" and "here's what I'm doing this weekend." Without communication, there can be no emotional connection. And without a strong emotional connection, there can be no relationship.
Being married but feeling alone is no way to live, so what should you do?
First, admit that you're lonely. It does no good to deny that you feel emotionally disconnected. But you also need to realize that any apparent quick cure—from playing golf to working longer hours to having an affair—will only lead to more pain. So once you admit that you're lonely, decide to take positive steps to change things.
Next, take stock of what is missing in your relationship. How would your marriage need to change to restore emotional closeness? Do you long to share relaxed time together like you did when you were dating? Do you wish you could still take walks at night to look at the stars? Has the "business" of keeping your family running smoothly crowded out the tenderness that used to come so naturally? What are the specific patterns that need to change?
Third, ask yourself an even tougher question: what are you doing (or neglecting) that makes your spouse feel lonely? Just as it takes two to get married, it nearly always takes two to let a marriage drift. So identify your own contributions to the problem. Is your schedule so crowded with outside commitments that you're seldom home? Have you neglected hobbies or other activities that used to draw you and your mate closer? Have you started taking your spouse for granted— failing to express thanks, neglecting to extend common courtesies? Are you too preoccupied with work, the kids or family finances to listen to your spouse? After asking yourself the hard questions, commit to making the personal changes necessary to reverse the emotional drift.
Finally, after much prayer, reflection and planning, talk to your mate. Tell him or her what you believe is missing, and confess the ways your own actions have contributed to the problem. Without accusing or condemning, communicate how much you want to feel close to your spouse and describe the changes you're willing to make. When your spouse sees your willingness to change, chances are good that he or she will gladly join you on the journey from loneliness back to the closeness you both desire.
Dr. Tim A. Gardner is author of Sacred Sex (WaterBrook) and a speaker and coach living in Indiana.
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