I Have a Great Partner—So Why Do I Still Feel Lonely?

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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“It might be something as simple as, you’re both in the kitchen…and you look out the window and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s that bluebird I mentioned yesterday,’” she says. “If your partner looks up and says, ‘Oh, yeah, there it is,’ that’s an example of turning towards you.”

Maybe you’ve heard of the viral “Orange Peel Theory”? It inspired a challenge that was going around on social media late last year: One partner asks the other to peel an orange for them. If they do it, the theory goes, that’s a relationship green flag. Basically, it’s another example of a bid, Negendank says, and if, conversely, the bid goes unanswered, that can be really painful.

“If our partner does it but complains, or asks, ‘Why are you asking me this? You know how to peel an orange,’ that would feel like a rejection and create distance,” she explains. And getting rejected like that, over and over again, can cause hurt feelings to build up over time and lead to loneliness, she adds.

Your loneliness isn’t stemming from your relationship at all.

Your sense of isolation may also have nothing to do with your partner. Other issues, like emotional neglect or bullying in childhood, having few social connections outside your romantic relationship, and experiencing marginalization based on your identity, can also make you feel lonely, whether you’re coupled up or not, Negendank says.

All of those circumstances can serve as “evidence” to your brain that something’s wrong with you, she explains. “We might be thinking things, either consciously or subconsciously, like, ‘I’m unlovable,’ or ‘no one likes me,’ or ‘no one understands me,’” she says. “And when we have these negative thoughts, it can actually pull us back from taking steps in our life to find connection and combat that loneliness.”

What to do if you feel lonely in your relationship

Okay, so you’ve realized you’re lonely and you want to turn things around. Where do you start?

Check in with yourself first.

Before you try to hash things out with your partner, Dr. Douglas recommends considering why you feel lonely—by journaling, recording a voice note, or simply giving it some serious thought. You can use the common reasons we outlined above as a starting point, but the idea is to ask yourself what’s really going on.

“We have to sit with ourselves and figure this out before we assign it to somebody else to fix,” she says. You may know you feel empty or isolated, but getting to the root of the problem (or at least close to it) will help ensure you can be specific with your partner about what you need to feel more connected.

Talk to your partner—but keep the focus on you.

Once you’ve got a clearer sense of what’s making you so lonely, share your self-discoveries with your partner. Just try not to play the blame game. While your first instinct may be to blow up and tell them what they’re doing wrong, like leaving you alone all the time or scrolling through TikTok every night during dinner, you’ll have better luck if you lead with vulnerability and use “I statements” that focus on how you feel, Dr. Douglas says.

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