When Loneliness Threatens Your Marriage

Strategies for finding joy

It's one thing to be lonely when you are single, wondering if and when God will ever bring the right guy. It's another matter for your heart to ache with loneliness when the "right guy" is living in your home and sleeping in your bed. If this is your reality, please know that you are not alone. Behind the façade of busyness and family life, many married women are desperately lonely.

Marriage books are filled with advice on how to bridge the chasm between you and your husband. Working to resolve conflicts, finding common interests, and learning to date your husband are all practical suggestions that can make a difference in your marriage. However, there are some marriages in which no strategies appear to make a difference. It may even seem like you and your husband are destined to merely share space and live as distant roommates.

Loneliness is perhaps the deepest ache our souls can experience. The grief of losing a loved one, the fear of abandonment, and the sting of rejected love all tap into the same bedrock fear: I am all alone.

Feeling lonely in marriage exposes subtle lies we've believed—lies like:

  • If only you find "Prince Charming," you'll never have to be alone.
  • Obey God and he will give you a fulfilling marriage.
  • As long as you're married, you'll never have to feel the rejection you felt growing up.
What will you do with your sadness, disillusionment, and fear? Will you run away from God or run to him?

If you are in this place of marital loneliness, then you are facing a fork in the road. Before you is a choice: What will you do with your sadness, disillusionment, and fear? Will you run away from God or run to him?

Running away from God

Priscilla first married when she was 17 to escape from her troubled family life. That marriage soon ended in the throes of alcohol abuse, conflict about money, and short tempers. Ten years later, Priscilla married Mark. Unlike her first husband, Mark was a good provider and stable leader. On the surface, Priscilla and Mark seemed like a wonderful Christian couple. They had two daughters, attended church together, and opened their home often to entertain friends. But they had little communication and few shared interests. Priscilla often lay in bed, listening to her husband's deep breathing, wondering how she could be inches away from someone who was so distant.

After years of trying to speak his "love language" and convince him to try counseling, Priscilla gave up. She simply accepted that the friendship and love in her marriage were dead. She was angry with God and felt trapped in a dead-end marriage.

Priscilla vowed never again to divorce, especially for the sake of her daughters. However, she often let her mind and heart drift into "what ifs." She wondered, What if I had married someone different? What if Mark divorced me so I didn't have to divorce him? What if I could be with . . . ? She gave herself permission to flirt with guys at work. She indulged in erotic romance novels as a way to channel her sexual longings. She shut her husband out of her heart, deciding not to feel the suffocating loneliness.

Many Christian women choose a similar path in their loneliness. While not overtly rejecting God, they give up the virtues of faithfulness, unconditional love, and longsuffering in marriage. From a worldly perspective, they are justified in doing so. Their friends will likely agree that they "deserve better." But ultimately, their decisions testify, "I tried God's way and it didn't work. So now I'll make the decisions that I think are right for my life."

Running to God

The cliché Christian answer to loneliness is to trust God to meet all of your needs. We say it, but do we really believe that God can minister to us in loneliness? Jesus is called our "Bridegroom," but he has no physical arms to hold you when you are sad. He can't take you on a date or make you laugh. Is it truly possible to find deep companionship and intimacy with the Creator and Savior of the universe?

I once heard Dr. Larry Crabb say something that stuck with me: "I know that God is all I need, but I don't yet know him well enough for him to be all I have." This might be your reality. At church you sing, "God is more than enough for all I need!" but your reality speaks a different story.

Although I've been a Christian most of my life, the concept of intimacy with God never really made sense to me. God was a distant father who I desperately wanted to please. He was the awesome, omnipotent one! But my best friend? My comforter? Only within the past few years have I ventured into a deep-enough relationship with God to understand that he truly is able to meet my most profound emotional needs.

No matter the degree of your loneliness, God does see and care. He will draw near to you if you draw near to him (James 4:8). Here are some suggestions for how you can do exactly that.

  • Learn to love God with your heart. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love him with your heart? With your affections? For me, it means worship. I get on my knees in the morning, put on praise music, and let my heart draw near to God. Sometimes it means pouring out my heart to the Lord with tears or joy. It's not enough to study the Bible or go to church; intimacy requires that the heart nurture love.
  • Be faithful, no matter the cost. The bottom line is this: Sin causes us to be distant from God. Trusting in Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross for forgiveness puts us in the right standing with God. However, our sinful and stubborn choices still interrupt fellowship and intimacy. Proverbs 3:32 says, "For the devious are an abomination to the Lord, but He is intimate with the upright" (NASB). Your choices to be faithful and obedient pave the way for the Lord to be near to you. As with any intimate relationship, keep short accounts. Confess your sin to the Lord and ask him to draw near to you.
  • Find comfort in the body of Christ. The loneliness in your marriage doesn't mean that you have to be lonely. There are times when the presence of God ministers to your heart, but there are other times when God shows you his love through his people. The concept of having your deepest friendship needs met in marriage is more of an American idea than a biblical one. Godly men and women found deep companionship in relationships apart from marriage. Think about David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy, Eli and Samuel. Friendship among Christian women is a dying art. Ask the Lord to bring a spiritual mother, sister, or daughter into your life with whom you can share your heart.
If you are a child of God, loneliness is not your destination!

What I'm suggesting for your loneliness may sound like a bitter pill. After all, it is far easier to run to fantasy, to become numb through busyness, or to stay justified in bitterness. It requires great faith to run to a God you can't see and trust his promise that he will never leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). But "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6, NIV).

Have you ever considered the idea that it may be God's will for you to be lonely right now? When you are satisfied with human company, you are rarely hungry for divine fellowship. If you are a child of God, loneliness is not your destination! God may be allowing it in this season of your marriage as a way of refining your faith. He is asking you a very personal question: Will you run from me . . . or run to me?

Do you want to learn more on the topic of sexual passion in marriage? Explore Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow's new Bible study, Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

Sign up for TCW's free Marriage Partnership e-newsletter for weekly updates and encouragement through the joys, trials, and tribulations of marriage.

Juli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional. She co-founded Authentic Intimacy, and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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