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Lonely or Alone? Understand the Difference and How to Cope

There are times in your life when you may feel lonely or alone. Maybe you’re single and miss having someone around to keep you company, or perhaps you’re feeling alone in your relationship even though your partner is sitting right next to you. 

While we often use the words alone and lonely interchangeably, there are actually some major differences between the two. In our guide on alone vs. lonely, we’ll unpack the differences between these words and provide you with some tips on coping with them to help improve your mental health

So, what’s being alone vs. being lonely? 

Let’s start with being alone, which refers to the physical state of being without anyone else around. For example, you’re alone if you’re standing in a room all by yourself—not with other people.

It’s important to note that being alone is not an emotion. It doesn’t carry any specific characteristics or feelings as it simply applies to a neutral state. There actually is no such thing as feeling alone because you are simply by yourself or with other people—it’s one or the other. That said, you can feel as if you are alone, implying that it seems like you’re all by yourself, even if you are in the company of others. In this case, maybe you’re feeling invisible or forgotten about. 

What does being lonely imply, then? If we look at what it means to be lonely, this is something that refers to an emotional state. You might feel disconnected from others, isolated, or sad. You might also feel like you’re not feeling fulfilled by your current relationships or craving a stronger connection with those around you. You might even start feeling alone or lonely, even though your partner is in the same room as you. 

Now that we covered being alone vs. being lonely, you might realize you’re experiencing a sense of loneliness in your current relationship. For instance, perhaps you’re noticing that your relationship lacks intimacy or strong communication. Or maybe you’re feeling emotionally or physically distant from your partner, particularly if you’re in a long-distance relationship.

To help those feeling lonely or alone in their relationships, we’ve outlined some advice on how to overcome it.  

Reflect on What’s Triggering These Feelings

Now that you’re more familiar with being alone vs. lonely, it’s time to start unpacking what’s causing those feelings in your relationship. For example, do these feelings start to stir up when your partner travels for business? Do they tend to bubble up when your partner bails on date night to hang out with his buddies? Or do you start feeling sad or isolated when you go to sleep without so much as sharing a kiss goodnight? 

Loneliness can present itself in a lot of different ways, but it helps to try to pinpoint the source of it so that you can begin addressing it with your partner.

Express Your Feelings with Your Partner

While you might think your partner is the one making you feel lonely, there’s a chance they didn’t realize they were causing you such grief. That’s why an important part of coping with loneliness in your relationship is to address it with your partner. Avoid pointing fingers or exerting blame, and instead, think about what is triggering these emotions and what your partner can do to help support you. 

Being vulnerable and discussing how you feel in your relationship can bring about big positive changes, helping you better understand each other. 

Plan a Special Date Together

Part of your loneliness could stem from feeling like your relationship is in a rut. When was the last time you both made an effort to spend time together? If it’s been ages since you planned a date night, pull out your calendars and find an evening that works for you both. Or better yet, plan a little weekend getaway where you can enjoy a change of scenery and reconnect. 

Spending one-on-one time together, where you’re both committed to listening to each other and enjoying the other’s company, can help diminish feelings of loneliness. 

Seek Out Similar Hobbies or Interests

We’ve covered being alone vs. being lonely, but if you and your partner aren’t physically around each other very often, you could very well be experiencing both! For example, maybe your partner plays pickleball every Tuesday and Thursday night, while your art class is on Monday and Wednesday evenings, meaning you’re not crossing paths very often during the week. 

If this is the case for you, look for new hobbies or interests that you and your partner can share together, like joining a pick-up soccer league, attending trivia night, or volunteering at the local animal shelter. Not only will partaking in something together make you feel less alone, but it will also give you something to connect about and discuss. 

Put Your Phones Aside

Our phones can be a major source of distraction. After all, it’s so easy to get sucked into a video clip or a group text thread with your friends. Even if you’re sharing the same couch with your partner, it can feel like there are miles between you when you’re both engrossed in your phones. 

Because of this, we recommend setting aside some phone-free time to spend with your partner, whether that’s enjoying a glass of wine, playing a board game, or even just cooking dinner together. When you’re not looking at your phones, you can focus more on each other. 

Connect with Your Friends and Family

While your partner should certainly be your rock and support system, you can’t expect them to be everything you want and need at all times. Therefore, it’s okay to seek platonic connections outside of your relationship. If you’re feeling a wave of loneliness coming on, meet your best friend for coffee or give your sister a call. Sparking connections with those you love can help lessen feelings of loneliness and make you feel whole again. 

Consider Therapy 

While feelings of loneliness may come and go, there shouldn’t be an ongoing sense of loneliness in your relationship. If you and your partner are still struggling with these feelings, then you both might benefit from professional guidance. Certified therapists are trained to help couples see eye to eye and find a middle ground in their relationships. 

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