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What If You're 'All Alone In Love'...In Your Marriage?

Lonely in your marriage? It happens. This can help you through it.

Marriage

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with some folks about songs that should've been official singles yet never were. One of the ones that I shared was Mariah Carey's "All Alone in Love" (a song that she wrote when she was only 15, by the way). To me, it's a perfect way to intro this piece because I have had enough personal experiences and counseled enough people to know that it is very possible to be in a relationship with someone — and still feel quite alone in it. Not because your partner doesn't love you. Not because they're up to some totally f'ed up shenanigans. It's just…even though you signed up for a true and lasting partnership, somehow you now feel some of the very words that define what being alone can feel like: unattended, detached, unassisted, semi-compassionless and perhaps even abandoned on some levels.


As you can already tell, this isn't the kind of article that is for the masses. However, if you are married and this has already resonated with you on some level, before you consider an affair, separation or straight up filing for divorce, please ponder the following seven questions until you get the answers that you need. Then run them by your husband. And a reputable therapist/counselor/life coach if necessary to get back to what you signed up for — which definitely wasn't being alone…while you're married.

1.What’s Changed from When You Were Dating to Now?

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When a lot of people reflect on the best times in their relationship, it's not uncommon for them to talk about when they were dating their significant other. That was back when things were fresh, new and exciting. It's also when both people tend to be far more proactive and intentional about their words and actions. That's why I personally recommend that if you're currently feeling alone in your relationship, pull out a journal and really think about what things were like back before you and yours even got engaged. What was he doing differently? Shoot, while you're at it, what were you doing differently?

The reason why both questions are pretty relevant is because, while a lot of wives have told me that her husband no longer "woos her" like he used to, if I then look at the husband, he will oftentimes say that he no longer feels inspired to because he feels totally taken for granted (check out "This Is How To Avoid Taking Your Spouse For Granted"). Yeah, that's the thing about marriage. Oftentimes, both people are feeling the same way at the same time about certain things, they just have a different perspective about it. I'll tap more into that in just a bit.

2.How Much Does Quality Time Matter to You?

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You know something that is interesting to me about love languages? The top two that I have (words of affirmation and physical touch), they totally make sense to me. The other three — acts of service, quality time and gifts — I oftentimes have to mentally and emotionally extend myself to meet those needs in others; especially when it comes to quality time. The last boyfriend that I had was a quality time person. So is one of my closest girlfriends. And I'll be honest, sometimes I have to refrain from feeling like that "language" is a little on the needy side because you've gotta make time to honor quality time. While you can pick up a Hallmark card from the store and/or hug me, when it comes to my quality time folks, I've literally got to set time aside to pay attention to them — and only them. And, depending on what my time is looking like, that can be a bit of a challenge.

I'm single and I feel this way. I can only imagine how married folks (especially ones with small children) must feel; especially if they are a quality time kind of individual or they happen to be married to one. I do think this is a relative point to bring up, though, because if you happen to be a quality time type of person and your partner isn't and they aren't very sensitive about you being this way, that could be where the lines are getting crossed. They're not ignoring you; they simply don't need quality time to feel loved in the way that you do.

So yes, this is another relevant point to think about. If you currently feel alone in your marriage, could it be that your love language isn't being spoken very fluently? And if that is indeed the case, do you have some suggestions on how your partner can be more "vocal" in this way? Something that my ex needed was total eye contact with no distractions (including electronic ones like my phone notifications going off). My girlfriend likes to talk on the phone for at least an hour. Other examples of quality time include going out on dates and vacations, playing board and card games together, cooking as a couple, going for a walk, enjoying a bubble bath together — things that the two of you can do together and alone.

The reason why I provided some suggestions is because, when you're a quality time type of individual, it's pretty easy to feel alone in your relationship, even if you've got a pretty healthy relationship, including a sexual one (check out "Married Folks: Ever Wonder If Your Sex Life Is 'Normal'?"). The reason why I bring up sex is because, while your husband may be all good with physical intimacy being seen as quality time, since quality time is your love language, you probably need a lot more attention than that. And so, if he's not a quality time person, you may need to provide examples of how he can spend time with you — time that is outside of the bedroom (check out "15 Date Ideas Based On Your Love Language" and "Are You Ready To Apply Your Love Language To Your Sex Life?").

3.Are Your Expectations Realistic?

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Not too long ago, I read a quote that has remained yelling in my head ever since I saw it. I don't know who to credit it to yet the quote simply says, "Relationships fail because people take their own insecurities and try and twist them into their partner's flaws." Pass the plate. Pass the freakin' plate. Yeah, a part of the reason why a lot of marriages struggle, if not flat-out fail, is because people go into them with super unrealistic expectations and sometimes they are based on their own insecurities.

For instance, I know a husband who's been miserable, pretty much for most of his marriage (and it's been well over 20 years at this point). One reason is because his wife is insecure. Another reason is because she doesn't really respect what he does for a living. While she enjoys the financial benefits that come from it, she didn't process what being married to someone in the music business requires — long hours, travel, engaging people of the opposite sex, weird working schedules, etc. So, when she decided to quit her own job (which suddenly freed up all kinds of time), she started "pulling on her husband" to make more time for her. Meanwhile, although he supported her decision to not work anymore, he was like, "You quit your job, I didn't. I've still got to focus on my other priorities."

Now she's constantly calling him, has a billion questions about where he's at and is talking about how lonely she feels when…is that really the case? Is she lonely or is she now bored and putting the pressure on her husband to compensate for the choices that she made and the insecurities that she has? And if it's the latter, how realistic is it for him to do so? Not just realistic but fair. Lawd, I can't tell y'all how many couples I've worked with where the quote that I shared at the top of this point rings loud and clear. While no one should feel abandoned or neglected in their marriage (more on what that truly means in a bit), it's also not a spouse's job to do for you what you should be doing for yourself. That wife needs to find a hobby, do some community work, get into some personal counseling — something. Because her husband isn't causing her to feel lonely; her own insecurities, combined with the fallout from her own decisions and then not choosing to replace what she lost with something else are her triggers. BIG DIFFERENCE.

4.Have Your Needs Been Articulated?

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It was about a year ago when I wrote an article for this platform entitled, "So, Experts Have Something To Say About Your Intuition's Accuracy". Yeah, while I know that a lot of us — and by "us", I mean, women — think that our intuition is 100 percent accurate, research (and I) disagree. Yes, oftentimes, that "gut feeling" can be spot-on. At the same time, it can also be connected to what we wish was the case or worse, our own projections.

Where am I going with this? Since a lot of women think that their gut instinct never fails, this means that they oftentimes also think they know everything that their partner is thinking. Yet again, it's wise to remain in a state of humility and to ask questions in order to gain clarity because sometimes what you may think you know could be what you wish was going on in his head or what you are projecting from yourself and your own imagination onto him. And because it's really easy to get into this kind of headspace, it can also be easy to expect him to know what you are thinking too.

Listen, women claim to be mind-readers far more than men do (I hear it all of the time). It's important to keep all of this in mind as well because, if you already feeling lonely and then you assume that your man should know this, you're only going to make matters worse — especially for yourself. That said, a good man shouldn't be defined as someone who can constantly stay two steps ahead of you and your thoughts, wants and needs at all times (that too is pretty unrealistic).

No, a good man is someone who listens to his partner (check out "How You And Your Partner Can Listen To Each Other Better") and, once her needs are clearly articulated and expressed, he does what he can to accommodate them. If you're feeling alone in your marriage right now, have you told your husband? Or are you simply waiting for him to…catch on?

5.Does Your Husband Feel the Same Way?

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Unless you're married to someone who is super selfish and/or disconnected within the dynamic (which does happen to some people and is another article for another time), chances are, if you're feeling somewhat alone, your man is too — even if he's simply noticing how your emotional state has shifted the dynamic of the relationship on some level.

For instance, one couple that I work with, they have been dealing with both of them feeling alone in their marriage. The wife feels like the husband doesn't set aside time to really listen to her on a daily basis which has caused her to build a bit of an emotional wall while they husband feels like the wife is shunning physical affection like kisses at the end of the day or cuddling at night. Until they shared all of this in a session with me, the wife thought her husband just didn't care about how she was feeling while he didn't feel like she would take his feelings about everything to heart either.

Y'all, in order to be together, both people have to be involved. Along these same lines, if one person feels alone in their marriage, it's not far-fetched to believe that the other partner is feeling like something is off, not right and/or missing too. My point here is, instead of pulling back even more from your husband, talking to everyone else but him about what's going on (or not going on) and/or finding yourself becoming more aloof by the day, how about simply telling your man that you miss him? Then explain why and hear him out after you finish. I've been doing this counseling thing for a hot minute now. And again, it's been rare when one spouse has felt distant or out of sync — pardon the pun — alone.

6.What’s Your Idea of “Togetherness”?

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Togetherness isn't a word that comes up in everyday conversation. I still dig it, though, because it means "warm fellowship". In the context of this message, when something is warm, it's enthusiastic about something or one. Also, some synonyms for the word include benevolent, gentle, kind, doting and tender. Fellowship is all about companionship.

When two people decide to enter into a "until death parts us" type of union, a part of what they are signing up for is committing to a lifelong journey of togetherness. And yes, that requires effort — on both people's part. I mean, deciding to take an enthusiastic approach to your partner and your relationship requires you not getting so comfortable in the relationship that you become lazy. Then when you add onto that just how important it is to be gentle, doting and tender…yeah, marriage ain't for the nonchalant. Not. At. All.

This is why, something that I will sometimes do, is recommend that a couple put together an annual mission statement for their marriage — you know, something that can help both of them get clear and then remain focused on the vision for the union and the direction that they both would like for it to take. The reason why I think doing this annually is so important is because, well, think of where your mind was at this time last year and where you are now. A wise person once said, "People change and forget to tell each other." This is definitely the case in a lot of marriages.

Anyway, as you and yours are putting a mission statement together (no more than a paragraph or two is fine, by the way), make some space for togetherness. There is a bigger chance that you won't find yourself feeling alone in your relationship if you both make it a mission for that not to happen — to either one of you.

7.True Love Doesn’t Ignore Loneliness

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The reason why I thought it was important to unpack this topic as much as possible (at least, as much as I could in just one article) is because, feeling alone in a marriage is oftentimes not a clear-cut problem with an immediate or oversimplified solution. You've got to factor in so many things in order to get down to the root. That said, as I bring this to a close, it's important that you hear me when I say that when you signed up to be married, lonely should not be a word to describe how you feel in your relationship.

And so, if you know that a lot of what you're going through is more about what you've got going on internally (because, as a man by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company."), still run it by your partner and then be open to seeing a therapist, counselor or life coach. Some of us have been battling with loneliness for a long time, thinking that marriage would "fix" it and yet, a wise person once said that marriage only magnifies what already exists, and they are right. On the other hand, if you know that it isn't about an internal void so much as a relational need, bring it to your partner, give him time (more than a week, please) to make some adjustments. If after a couple of months nothing has changed, encourage the both of you to see a professional. If he truly loves you, he's going to want to do all that he can to make you feel like he's really "in this" with you. If he's too self-consumed to meet your needs, well, counseling will reveal that too.

In the meantime, please hear me when I say that if you currently feel alone in your marriage 1) you aren't alone; many people have been or are where you are; 2) internalizing it only makes matters worse, and 3) more times than not, it's a season that will pass. Talk to your partner. Work together to come up with a way for you to feel more comforted and supported. Rinse and repeat. Commit to getting, even through this, together.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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