Sadly, more and more people are feeling unloved in marriage.
If you’re feeling unloved in marriage, you’re not alone, though you likely feel entirely alone, and the pain is unspeakable.
This post discusses the achingly lonely feeling of feeling unloved in marriage, what to do with it, and some alternative explanations of what may really going on in your relationship.
Few things are worse than feeling unloved in marriage.
Feeling like the one who was once your dream come true no longer wants you, adores you, or cherishes you.
Ouch, it physically hurts.
It’s hard to admit and might often feel like you’re just frustrated all the time with your partner, but when you dig deep and really look at how you’re feeling:
It feels like you’re unloved.
Jill feels unloved daily underneath the surface of her seemingly fine life.
And this feeling of being unloved by her husband is eating away at her soul on a deep level.
All the other parents at the PTA, her customers, her family and her friends see her life as being nearly perfect.
She’s beautiful, incredibly smart, has great skin, a bubbly and outgoing personality, a fine home, and is the first to help a neighbor when they’re in need.
They see her 3 happy and healthy kids, her impressive career owning and running her own floral business (she is the best around), and what looks like a fine relationship with her husband.
Underneath that picture perfect surface, she’s feeling unloved in marriage.
Unloved by the one who is supposed to love her the most.
She attempts to connect with her husband and is met with a blank stare on what feels like a regular basis.
Charles is a successful accountant, and a great dad who cares about his son and daughters.
“He brings a lot of good to the table,” she’ll be the first to say.
He drives them around and even does the laundry, unlike many of her friends’ husbands.
“But he barely even looks at me.”
And when he does, it’s like he looks through her, confirming the gnawing feeling of being unloved in her marriage.
It’s hard to admit that you feel unloved.
It’s a lot easier to be angry all the time.
When you actually touch on that feeling of being unloved in marriage, however, it really hurts.
It brings up all kinds of stuff.
If the person with whom you’re supposedly most intimate with in life doesn’t love you, what does that say about you?
It can take a toll on your self-esteem, sense of self worth, and can throw you down an abysmal downward spiral of shame.
Jill doesn’t want to admit she feels unloved in her marriage.
She wants Charles to want her.
On a recent Saturday night they actually hired a sitter so the two of them could go out.
Of course, Jill arranged the date. She feels like she does everything.
She slipped into a tight fitting dark green dress that matched her emerald eyes, with a darlingly long slit up the back.
Her Pilates game is strong and paying off – she knew she looked hot.
Normally a more modest dresser, Jill was taking a bit of a risk.
Despite countless times feeling unloved in her marriage, she was clearly putting herself out there to make it easy for Charles to give her some attention.
She went to kiss her kids goodbye and gazed up at Charles to see his reaction to her sexy attire, and it’s like he didn’t know what to do with her.
She felt the all too familiar feeling sweep over her like a flood:
Unnoticed, unwanted, unloved.
In reality, he was a bit taken aback.
In reality, he found his wife stunning.
Though he opened his eyes a bit wider with some surprise, he kept his mouth shut, didn’t say anything, and followed her out the door after saying goodbye to the kids.
Jill felt deflated.
She went out of her way and left her comfort zone to step it up a notch with her sexy green dress with the slit up the back and felt she got nothing from him.
She felt like a clown.
“Why am I even bothering?” she asked herself.
Feeling unloved in her marriage cut her like a knife.
She felt silly and ashamed for even trying.
They made it through dinner with surface conversation where she felt miles apart from her husband.
When they got home, Charles turned on the TV to catch what was left of the Dodger’s game, and she went straight to bed, feeling that an entire universe had erupted between them.
She quietly cried herself to sleep, feeling even more unloved, and woke up the next day to the normal hustle and bustle of her busy family life, a bit further from Charles, a bit more hopeless about their marriage, and more alone than ever.
“Being alone is scary, but not as scary as feeling alone in a relationship,” – Amelia Earhart
Dr. Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (the gold standard for couples therapy that helps 9 out of 10 couples make improvement in their relationships according to the research, by helping them bridge such gaps that Jill and Charles were facing) has described this feeling of being alone and unloved in your relationship as if you are starving, yet in a room with a giant feast, separated by it with a pane of glass.
Fewer things are more painful than feeling unloved in your relationship.
Once you hit that wall of feeling unloved, it can be hard to break through.
Jill tried in her not-so-subtle way, but the message didn’t get through, which to her, only confirmed her feeling of being unloved by her husband.
If we were to peel away the layers between Jill and Charles, however, we’d see a different picture.
The truth is, despite her feeling unloved and unwanted, Charles loves Jill very much.
Most of the time, he is extremely attracted to her, green dress or not, but she has no idea.
He loves her more than anything.
Yet she feels unloved and unwanted by him.
What stops him from connecting?
What prevents him from reaching for her when she puts all effort out to make it as easy as possible?
And perhaps more importantly, what’s really going on in your relationship if you’re feeling unloved in marriage?
Let me first tell you what was happening with Jill and Charles.
The truth is, though she was feeling unloved, this was not Charles’ experience of his wife.
They had a dynamic in which Jill sort of ruled the house.
She had high standards for herself and everyone else around her, including Charles.
She didn’t hesitate to let him know how he disappointed her at times or got certain things “wrong.”
Because she often felt so invisible, misunderstood and even unloved, she tried to assert herself and make herself seen and heard.
Sometimes she’d get loud.
A bit critical, too.
She expressed herself easily, was articulate, processed emotions fast, and when they got into an argument, she could cut him down like the best attorney on a courtroom floor.
They found themselves in an all too common pattern that couples get caught in that Sue Johnson refers to as “The Protest Polka” in her best selling (and game changing) book for couples, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.
Charles, on the other hand, simply froze in these moments.
She felt he was emotionally void, but the truth was that he was emotionally paralyzed.
So much happened to him in these moments that without realizing, he shut down.
She got the feeling of being unloved.
In reality, however, it wasn’t that he didn’t care.
Charles was more like in survival mode.
To Jill, Charles seemed to be stonewalling her, Charles felt like no matter what he could do, it would never satisfy her, so he stopped bothering.
He felt helpless and disappointing.
So he disappeared on her emotionally, and she felt unloved.
Dr. John Gottman, psychologist and relationship researcher of over 40 years, lists stonewalling as one of the elements in his classic cluster of warning signs in a relationship in trouble, which he calls “The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse” in his book The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.
Stonewalling is when one partner seems to be completely emotionally disconnected.
Jill, for example, felt her husband didn’t care.
While stonewalling and this pattern of disconnect that Jill and Charles were caught in are not good signs in a relationship, they do not signify that one partner doesn’t care.
In fact, even if you feel unloved, it could mean that your partner cares more than you realize.
Here’s a reason why:
Gottman and his colleagues have physiologically measured stonewalling partners who don’t let on that they’re feeling anything, and consistently found that despite appearing like they have no cares in the world, these partners have elevated blood pressure and pulses.
On the outside, they look unloving, unmoved, untouched.
On the inside, they are freaking out.
This is exactly what happens for Charles.
The problem is that it feels too painful, too impossible, to difficult for Jill to bridge that gap.
“And why should it be my responsibility?” She wonders.
“I feel like I’m the only one responsible for taking care of our relationship.”
She keeps trying, failing, and feeling even more deflated and unloved.
Once you get to that painful, awful realization that you’re unloved, it becomes really hard to go anywhere from there.
So you scour posts on the internet and rely on “what’s out there” instead of digging deeper into what’s in there because it hurts too much.
You can’t bear the pain of reaching for your partner and being met with distance, yet again.
I’m really glad you found your way here because I want to offer up some alternative explanations as to what may be going on in your marriage.
Clearly I can’t tell you for sure your partner loves you.
I can, however, share from my experience of having worked with countless partners who have felt unloved in marriage that more often than not, there is great love for you.
It just comes with a lot of misunderstanding.
Here are a few other things that may be happening for your partner if you’re feeling unloved (and can identify at all with Jill’s story, above):
1. They see you as angry with them more often than feeling lonely, sad, scared and unloved by them.
It can feel a lot safer to experience anger than to truly feel scared or show sadness.
Your partner may have no idea what is happening for you internally, that you even want them to want you, and so they just do what they can to try to keep you from being angry with them, which can result in a lot of shutting down, unintentionally giving you the message that they don’t care and you are unloved.
2. They are trying to protect the relationship.
When they are not responsive, it’s because they know you will “win” the argument.
Jill could take Charles down with words any day of the week. So he doesn’t say anything.
They wonder, “why should I bother, it will only hurt the relationship if I start fighting too.”
They’d prefer not to rock the boat, and in some ways, are trying to protect the relationship and the two of you from escalating into conflict. They’d prefer to keep the peace and think it’s better for both of you as a couple.
3. They feel helpless, like a deep disappointment to you, so they don’t bother.
Their only solution is to make themselves smaller and/or more distant.
This renders you completely abandoned, frustrated, sad, and alone.
It clearly doesn’t work, but it may be what’s happening.
4. They have survived their lives by shutting their feelings down and therefore do the same thing with you.
Again, it’s not working in your relationship, but it may be happening.
This is especially often the case for people who have literally had to survive in their careers by shutting down their emotional experience, e.g. veterans, police officers, etc.
It’s also true for people who have grown up in more emotionally cold or distant households where feelings weren’t often expressed or shared.
It’s also especially true for most men in cultures that see masculinity as something separate from emotionality.
In addition to the above possibilities…
There are other possibilities as to why you may be feeling unloved in your relationship, conversations to be had, depths to explore together, bridges to build.
Yet you may be thinking thinking…
“If I’m feeling unloved in marriage, who cares?”
Something’s clearly not working.
Regardless of the explanation, you’re feeling unloved.
And that’s horrible.
Are you doomed?
Is this how it just is, and will always be?
Is there a solution?
You’ve got to get to the truth.
Truth A: Your partner doesn’t love you and will never love you the way you need them to.
Solution: Lower your expectations and settle (no thanks), or end your marriage.
Truth B: There is this misunderstanding. You’re simply on different islands.
Solution: Build a bridge.
Here’s what Jill and Charles did:
They started to peel back the layers of their stories that kept them apart, together.
With the help of a facilitator who understood the roadmap of love and how it goes awry, they were able to enter new terrain, ask each other and themselves different questions, and take risks to share their truths with each other.
For Jill, even letting him know how sad and alone she felt was a huge milestone.
Charles had no idea, as he just felt like no matter what he did, it was a disappointment, since she so much more frequently seemed to live in the space of anger whenever she was around him.
Little did he realize how alone and unloved she felt underneath, little did he realize how powerful of an effect he could have on her simply by being fully present with her.
Little did she realize how all he saw from her was rage and disappointment.
They started to understand the painful cycle that pulled them further and further apart, from themselves and each other.
They began to understand themselves and each others’ experience with more compassion and empathy, and recognized that they were each suffering from the loss of connection, and that they both mattered to each other a great deal, something that each had forgotten.
Are any of the above scenarios that I offered above as possibilities, possible?
Try to see yourself from your partner’s perspective.
Try to show them your more vulnerable side.
Stop speaking in what feels like code to them, which maybe makes perfect sense to you (e.g. Jill’s green dress), but renders them confused and uncertain.
If you’re ready to do the real work, discover the truth and most likely build the bridge, get some help.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy works wonders.
Find a couples therapist who has the ability to help you both see each other’s landscape that much more clearly, so you can build that bridge.
The International Center for Excellence in EFT has a list of therapists near you who may be able to help.
If it’s too difficult for you both to go, get some help for yourself to start seeing things in a different way so you can start showing up in a different way.
Feeling unloved in marriage can be lethal.
More often than not, however, that loveless feeling comes from a disconnect more than anything else.
It’s worth doing the work to restore that connection.
If you can’t get to couples therapy (or in addition to therapy), consider joining us in My Best Relationship Society, where we dive deep on topics such as this one from monthly Masterclasses and monthly group coaching calls to explore underlying truths, deeper ways of relating and the terrain of connection together.
More importantly, open up to your partner about how you’re really feeling.
Not in a fit of rage.
But vulnerably, genuinely, and honestly.
It’s my hope that by showing more of your truth, you’ll see more of theirs in turn.
Here’s to your best relationship,
P.S. Jill and Charles are 100% fictitious characters so if you think you know either of them or are either of them…you’re not. Their situation, however, is similar to one that many couples face, and if it feels like yours, I really hope this post offered a new and hopeful perspective on what might really be going on in your relationship.
Please let me know in the comments what your thoughts are (but only after you please sign up for my mailing list where I’ll share more content with you like this).