In our society, we place a lot of value on having an intimate relationship — a permanent romantic relationship is considered the holy grail of successful relationships. But, not everyone has a happily ever after. Long term relationships are hard work. What happens when you find yourself feeling isolated and lonely even while in one?

Why Do We Need Relationships?

Humans, by nature, are social creatures. Our very survival depends on a delicate balance of interdependence for both physical and psychological resources. To start, we must have our basic needs met: — water, food and shelter. Once those basic needs are met, we also need the ability to develop intimate relationships with friends and potential partners, all of which help us have a better chance at survival. Sex can also be a wonderful dynamic to add to interpersonal connections.

The extent to which we actually need one another these days is up for debate, especially in an ever-more digital age, where connections change drastically every day. But there still remains the existential interest in connection. Relationships remind us that we’re not alone and reduce the anxiety of facing the challenges of life with no support.

Partnerships are a way to protect from those feelings of isolation. Sharing your life with someone you care for deeply can not only resolve existential angst for connection, but can also bring quite a bit of joy to our lives. Sex can be a fulfilling part of those connections, but what happens when the relationshipdoesn’t turn out the way we desired?

Here are some suggestions for identifying and dealing with loneliness in your relationship.

1. Identify the Loss of Connection

Most relationships start out with an intimate connection. The infatuation stage of love often creates a dynamic that almost feels like it requires you to be in the presence of your partner. For many, that also means a lot of physical and sexual intimacy. Often, raw sexual energy and passion are at a peak in this stage. Naturally, as the relationship develops, the impulse for intense sexual connection waxes and wanes. What was once a steamy love affair can turn into a warm, slowly burning ember — and, for many, this can be hard to adjust to.

Sexual dissatisfaction is one of the main concerns for people in long term relationships, and is a common reason why couples seek counseling or explore separation. Unfulfilled sexual or relational desire that goes ignored can lead to emotional distance, resentment, and even infidelity.

If you’re feeling a growing disinterest in your partner, or feel they’re disinterested in you, it’s important to first acknowledge the truth to yourself, and to one another. This is often very difficult for people, who sometimes feel they have failed at having a successful relationship. But, successful relationships are different for everyone and often changing sexual needs just require more time for communication and negotiation.

2. Acknowledge the Problem

If you’re feeling disconnected from your partner, there is hope for reconciliation. The path towards reconciliation will force you to potentially confront some painful truths, but doing so will allow for incredible progress long term.

The first step is acknowledging the problem to yourself and your partner.

This often first means that you have to have a difficult conversation in which you confront the changes in your relationship. They can, of course, be both emotional and sexual, which can be hard to discuss. Do the best you can to speak from your own experience (e.g. I feel…I’ve noticed…I would like…) and be compassionate in your delivery. This sort of kindness and ease will set the stage to build again, if both parties are interested in moving forward.

3. Look Toward an End Goal

If you and your partner are able to agree about the lack of intimacy and that it’s a problem, then you’ll be able to have an honest conversation about your goals moving forward.

You might try to remain partnered and try certain adjustments to your relationship. This may include exploring new sexual positions, toys or even looking into polyamory or an open relationship.

However, you may also decide that, due to the intimacy problems you’re having, that you’re no longer compatible or willing to compromise on your needs and desires. If that’s the case, then you might consider permanent separation.

4. Create a Plan

If separation seems to be the best choice given the circumstances, you and your partner may discuss the most helpful (and least harmful) ways to terminate the relationship. If necessary you may consider working with a mediator or attorney to iron out the details on your separation.

If you choose to stay together to work on your intimacy concerns, you might choose self-help books or other options to help you work on things. You might also consider working in couples therapy, or even working with a certified sex therapist who can help you both develop the skills necessary to communicate your desires and provide suggestions and tools to work toward compromise and resolution.

Ultimately, every couple’s path with relationship loneliness is different. It is normal for desires and sexual interest to change over the course of a relationship. There are also many other factors to consider that can be the source of disconnection such as childcare or family issues, concerns related to work or your profession, and other health concerns.

The best choice for your path forward lies within you, and if it seems too difficult to handle on your own — or you still feel unsure on how to speak with your partner about your concerns — a therapist can help you take the necessary next steps, with care and compassion.

This article was originally published on Talkspace.

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