Are you LONELIER in a couple? Why loneliness is so dangerous and how to beat it
If you are in a relationship but still feel lonely you are not alone. Find out why couples are lonelier than single people, and how to beat loneliness.
New research by retirement living provider Audley Group reveals a shocking truth: couples in long-term relationships are more likely to be lonely than single people.
In fact, if you are in a couple you are 47% more likely to experience loneliness. The study discovered that 77% of people in their 20s, and 65% of people in their 30s have experienced loneliness in the last year.
Across all age groups, 49% of UK adults have experienced feelings of loneliness. Of those who have experienced loneliness, 55% of 20–29-year-olds will do anything to avoid it in the future, as will 54% of people aged 30-39, and 42% of over 55s.
Loneliness is horrible, and it can have a devastating effect on our health. For 24% of UK adults, loneliness is impacting their physical wellbeing, and 44% say loneliness is just a part of their life they need to get used to.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this article we’ll explore what might be causing this loneliness and what you can do to beat it.
Why are couples lonely?
There’s an old fashioned misconception that your partner should be ‘everything’ to you. Your soul mate, your friend, your lover, your confidante.
But the truth is no one person can be everything to you. It’s both unfair and and dangerous to put so much pressure on one person, and rely so heavily emotionally and practically on them. What if they get sick, leave you, or worse – die? What will you do then with no support group to fall back on?
It’s much more healthy to fulfil your emotional and social needs from a broader group of people. Have a friend or family member who is wise and sympathetic if you need counsel. Have someone who is fun and always up for a night out. Have an organiser who loves to plan days out.
We also find that different people bring out different sides to our personality. With some friends you may find you are funny and loud. With others you might be more quiet and thoughtful. You are authentically yourself with both groups, they just bring our those different parts of you. And you enjoy equally being able to express those varying sides of your character.
Collectively, by having a wide circle of very different friends you are a whole person. All aspects of your character are expressed, and you feel seen, heard and liked.
Couples have less motivation to socialise
Relying on your partner for all you emotional and social needs isn’t the only reason why people in couples may be more lonely. It could just be that there is less motivation to make the effort to meet people.
It’s easy to see why single people have busier social lives. If you are always coming back to an empty home, you are more motivated to go out and meet people. If you are happily coupled up though, it’s more tempting to stay in and cuddle up together watching TV – especially after a long day at work, or on cold winter nights.
But if you do, you could just be sleepwalking your way to loneliness. As lovely as it may be spending time at home with your partner, it’s important not to neglect your other relationships, and make time for a diverse social life.
You are allowed to have friends!
There’s also one important point I want to make: it is normal and healthy to have friends and a thriving social life when you are in a relationship.
If your partner makes it difficult for you to meet up with people, or punishes you for it, it could be a warning sign that you are in an abusive relationship.
Abusers seek to isolate their partners by discouraging (or outright banning) relationships with friends, family and acquaintances. If you worry this might be happening with you, I recommend reading this article for signs of an abusive relationship.
But even if your partner is not abusive, if they are used to having you home and are lonely themselves, they may feel left out if you suddenly start socialising more. In this circumstance, you can reassure them that you still love them, and plan something nice to do together when you aren’t out with your friends.
You may even want to encourage them to get out and meet people and take up new interests, or even join in with yours, so you both have a more enjoyable, richer social life.
Why loneliness is so dangerous
So what’s wrong with being lonely? Most people would agree it can feel pretty miserable, but you may be surprised to learn that it’s also potentially dangerous to your health. Research has linked loneliness and social isolation to increased risks of several physical and mental conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Weaker immunity
- Anxiety, depression
- Alzheimer’s disease
Studies also show that people who enjoy meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, feel more upbeat, have a greater sense of purpose and have improved cognitive function.
Loneliness can weaken our immune system
According to Steve Cole, PhD, director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, losing a sense of connection and community actually changes our perception of the world. When we are chronically lonely, we feel threatened and mistrustful of others, which activates a biological defense mechanism.
It also has a physical impact on our body. Loneliness apparently alters the tendency of cells in our immune system to promote inflammation. And inflammation that lasts too long increases our risk of chronic diseases.
When we feel lonely we can also have weakened immune cells, which have trouble fighting off viruses, making us more vulnerable to some infectious diseases.
According to Dr Cole, “Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.”
Conversely, having a sense of mission and purpose is linked to having healthier immune cells.
Four ways you can beat loneliness
So how can you overcome a feeling of loneliness – whether you are in a couple or living alone? Here are four suggestions.
According to Dr Cole, helping other people through caregiving or volunteering can be important in helping us to feel less lonely. He says, “Working for a social cause or purpose with others who share your values and are trusted partners puts you in contact with others and helps develop a greater sense of community.”
So are there any local groups you can volunteer for? Maybe something that is aligned with your interests and values? Where you will not only enjoy the work, and feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, but also meet like-minded people?
A friend starting volunteering for a local food bank in lockdown when she was furloughed. She enjoyed the work and the sense of community so much that when she returned to work she negotiated to work a four-day week so she could continue.
If you like the idea of volunteering but stuck for ideas for what you can do, the NVCO has suggestions on how to finding the right volunteering role here.
2) Look for local groups or classes
One of the easiest ways to meet people and stave off loneliness is to join a local group or class. There are many different types of group and varying purposes, so you should be able to find something that fits your interests.
Here are just a few ideas of local groups and classes you could join, depending on your interests:
- Art or writing classes
- School PTA
- Church or other spiritual group
- Sports team or club
- Walking group
- Book club
- Singing group
- Dance classes
- Local political party
These suggestions are based on my experiences or those of friends and family. Through groups and classes like these we have all built mutually rewarding networks and friendship groups that enrich our lives.
It can feel daunting joining a new group or class, and you may not immediately find your people. But with perseverance (and kissing a few group ‘frogs’!) you should start to meet people you have something in common with and want to spend time with.
If you can’t find anything on your own, there’s an app – Meetup – designed to help you meet new people who share your interests. Just add your interest and location and it will show you what’s happening in online and in-person events.
3) Find people online
If you don’t know many people in your area yet, and haven’t found a group or class that appeals to you, you could try finding people in local, online groups or on social media.
I’ve seen people share brave posts in local Facebook groups in my town asking if anyone would like to meet for a coffee, and the reception has always been warm and positive.
When I stopped commuting to London after having my daughter in 2009, I realised I didn’t know many people in my town. So I found a Facebook group set up with the purpose of connecting people, and responded to a message posted by a woman who’d moved to the area from London.
We met up and got on brilliantly. We’re still good friends today and have widened our social circle through both meeting each other’s friends too. So who knows? There could be a future good friend out there just waiting to meet you, if you reach out!
4) Be proactive
And finally, don’t wait for someone to invite you to spend time with them – be proactive by asking first. If there is someone you get on with, or a friend you haven’t met up with recently, ask if they’d like to meet for a coffee or a drink.
Or you can just get talking to people. I met one of my good friends today at a cafe 13 years ago. My husband had started to talk to her when I arrived at the cafe and she and I swapped numbers. Today we even share an office!
Other friends I have met through social media or shared connections. One friend I found via Twitter. She posted something on Twitter a few years ago, and I couldn’t believe someone as stylish as her lived in my town. So I sent her a message and we met for coffee – and have been friends since.
I’m sure you get the theme here! If you are lonely, take the initiative to meet people. You don’t need to be outgoing or loud – by nature I am very quiet and shy. But most people are happy to respond, even if it’s just out of politeness, if you approach them with genuine interest in them,
Sitting at home waiting for an invite to meet someone can just compound your sense of loneliness, especially when the phone doesn’t ring. It’s far better to take the initiative. Even if you do get turned down, don’t let it put you off. Ask when they are free, or if you sense this person doesn’t want to meet, invite someone else.
It won’t take long to find someone who is happy to meet up. And who knows? They could be grateful to you for making the first move.
Don’t let loneliness beat you
If you do feel lonely, I hope you have found this article inspiring and it’s given you some ideas to try. It does take courage and initiative to meet new people and find new friends. But I am sure you agree, it’s more than worth the effort when you have a rich social life with lovely, like-minded people – and a happy relationship to come home to.
Photo by Anthony Tran