A couple of months ago, I published “New to Vancouver and lonely? 10 steps you need to take right now”, and a lot of newcomers resonated with the topic. While I focused specifically on the challenging situation of being new to Vancouver and trying to find connections in a city known for being lonely and “flakey,” I would like to take it one step further now and discuss feelings of loneliness in existing relationships.
Loneliness can show up in all different kinds of ways:
You don’t feel seen and heard by your partner/ friends/ family
You feel that you care more about the people in your life than they care about you
You are asking yourself who knows the “real” you
You feel like you are holding back in your relationships, like you can’t be yourself
You are scared of sharing your emotions
You feel like others don’t care about your interests, thoughts and opinions
You feel invisible like it doesn’t make a difference if you’re here or not
If one or more of the above statements sound familiar to you, there is a chance that you are feeling lonely in your relationships. The following ideas for more emotional connection might be helpful for you.
1) Acknowledge how you feel
If you feel lonely in your partnership, friendships, family, or workplace, you might think something is wrong with you or blame yourself. First of all, I want you to know that loneliness in relationships is widespread, but often we don’t talk about it. It’s a taboo topic because relationships are not the first thing that pops into our minds when we think about loneliness. We feel that a person in a partnership, with friends or a family around them, is not alone - ergo, they can’t feel lonely.
“When I was still with my husband and told someone I was lonely they responded with “but you’re married.” I have learned the difference between being alone and lonely. In a crowd, at work, even in a family setting, I always feel lonely.” Loneliness. John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick
Feeling lonely doesn’t necessarily mean “being alone,” but it shows a lack of emotional connection to the people around us.
2) Choose wisely
Start by asking yourself who the people are you want to connect more deeply with. Who gives you good energy? With whom do you feel most like yourself and appreciated? Who around you seems like a very interesting person and you would like to know more about them? Who do you want in your life?
On the contrary it’s also good to know who takes all your energy, and who makes you feel insecure and bad about yourself. Who are the people you don’t really want in your life anymore?
“Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you grow into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.” Karen Salmansohn
3) Prioritize the relationship
Whether you want to find more closeness to your friend, family member or partner, you need to decide to do so consciously. Sometimes we take the people in our lives for granted, and we don’t put a lot of effort into existing relationships. What are you doing right now to show your partner/ friends/ family that you care about them, that you’re interested in their lives, and want them to know what’s going on with you? Instead of waiting for them to take the first step, be active yourself, reach out, show your interest, be creative and make suggestions.
Come up with new habits and make a schedule for date nights/ coffee chats/ sports meet-ups/ trivia nights/ family Sundays… etc. Surprise your friends and call them just to ask how their day has been. Plan a romantic evening for your partner on a Tuesday night. Invite your co-workers for an after-work drink. Plan a sibling/ mother-daughter/ cousins - afternoon together.
There are countless ways to signal interest to the people around you. Creating an emotional connection takes trust, and trust needs time and effort to build up.
Are you looking for more ways to find balance in your life or create meaningful and emotional connections? I am here for you. In my private practice as a Registered Social Worker I offer counselling for women in BC and ON. Visit my website for more information and to book a free 15-min consultation call. Let's chat :-)
4) Connect to yourself
The deeper you are connected to yourself, your emotions, thoughts, dreams, and fears, the deeper your relationships can be. So take some time to reflect on yourself: How happy are you with your life right now? How satisfied are you with your relationships? What are your goals in life? What is important to you? How are you behaving towards yourself? What makes you happy?
Knowing who you are helps you identify what you need in order to create the life you want. It allows you to positively focus on yourself, prevents you from getting too caught up in others’ lives, and keeps you grounded and balanced. Blog article Psychology Today
I’m sure you’ve heard about “being a good friend to yourself,” and an essential step towards that is showing self-compassion and kindness to yourself. If you’re dealing with a challenging situation, tap yourself on the shoulder and tell yourself, “I am proud of you.” Acknowledge when you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed instead of putting yourself down. If you feel that your critical inner voice is getting too loud, ask yourself, “What would I tell a good friend in the same situation?” Take time for self-care every day, and do things that make you feel good about yourself, if it's taking a bath, going for a walk, enjoying a glass of wine, meditating, doing sports, calling a friend or something else.
5) Be vulnerable
It can be a scary thought to be open and vulnerable with the people around us.
“We do not want to be misjudged or misunderstood, stepped on, disliked by others, and so we may present a false self (e.g. arrogant “expert”, comedian, etc.), withdraw, or simply stiffen/freeze and present a cardboard version of ourselves.” Leaving Loneliness. David S. Narang, Ph.D.
If you show others only what’s happening on the surface in your life, the relationship will stay on that surface level. While this might be fine for some of your relationships, it’s important to know with whom you would like to go deeper. In the end, it’s about being true to yourself and being brave enough to show who you really are.
If you are having difficulty opening up to others, choose the person you feel most comfortable with to practice with them. You might feel some anxiety coming up shortly before you want to share your thoughts and emotions, which is normal. Just breathe through it and acknowledge that this is challenging for you. Be also mindful of the other person. Maybe they are not ready to open up themselves. Perhaps they had a bad day and are just focused on themselves and their problems. You don’t have to start by telling your life story, but, e.g., “Today at work I was really embarrassed because….”, or “I had a hard day with my kids today. Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed and scared that I’m a bad mum.”
What is a small step you could take today towards more vulnerability and openness in your relationships?
6) Give and take
Healthy relationships are all about the right balance of giving and taking. Ideally, all individuals in a relationship have more or less the same speaking and listening time, a similar level of openness and vulnerability, and receive the same amount of emotional support. But, of course, some people are quieter or have a harder time opening up than others. If your friend is suffering through a breakup, she will need more speaking time and emotional support. That’s fine if you know that she will be there for you when you need her. The most important thing is that it has to feel like the right balance for you.
Now think about the relationships in your life. Does it feel like you have a good give-and-take balance? Where does it feel like you are giving more than you are taking, and how does that make you feel? In which relationships are you more on the receiving end? If you think that your relationships are not in a good balance, be brave and let your partner/ friend/ family member/ co-worker know how you feel:
“I feel like lately, I am putting more effort into our relationship than you do, and it makes me feel insecure and sad. How do you see that?”
Sometimes people are not even aware that there is an imbalance in the relationship. By being vulnerable and honest and talking about it, there is a good chance that you will find a better balance in the relationship and a deeper connection to each other.
I hope you found value in my article and that my ideas can help you create a deeper connection in your relationships. Take good care by being a great friend to yourself and the people in your life.
All the best,
John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick: Loneliness. Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection
David S. Narang, Ph.D.: Leaving Loneliness: A Workbook.