Is Emotional Isolation Destroying Your Relationship?

By Pegi Burdick for

People often confuse loneliness with isolation. When pressed, most people struggle with the difference and end up asking me to explain. There are three levels of isolation. They are:

1.People are physically separated or have minimal contact with others.

2.People interact on a more personal level i.e. the workplace. There is a familiarity, maybe even some affection, and a common goal they share. This is also experienced in social groups, and community activities.

3.There is real bonding and a connectedness that expresses deep love and commitment. That sense of acceptance is what all of us need as young children in order to feel whole. Most of us, however, missed that critical piece from our parents when we were young children and spend a life time yearning for it without identifying it.

More from YourTango: I Was A Lonely Newlywed…

In families where the parents themselves lack the experience of emotional intimacy, they cannot then model that behavior to teach their own children what true bonding and acceptance feels like. That ‘jelling’ helps confirm to the child that who they are authentically is valued and celebrated. This is the departure point in which very young children make the survival choice: they either feel connected, wanted for who they are, seen for who they are and approved of for the choices they make. Or, when a child’s sense of self is rejected, they drift away, living a life of feeling nothing they do is ever ‘good enough,’ thus whom they are intrinsically never gets defined or confirmed. The child’s life becomes like two tracks; one of authenticity and the other one of adaptation to survive.

Isolation in your relationship is about the detachment of one’s authentic self. An example might be when your partner is cranky for no apparent reasonÖand, they cannot even acknowledge they feel ‘off,’ or explain the WHY to you, only that they feel depressed, edgy, withdrawn, or grumpy and wants to be left alone. Worse, they pick fights with you. They are in retreat mode. Your relationship is not getting the nourishment it needs. You are not getting your needs met, and neither is your partner.

More from YourTango: Loneliness Can Be A Killer. No, Really.

I did not learn what emotional isolation was until I learned what love was and, what it was not. Love, simply put, is the merging in the deepest part of your psyche and soul with someone else that makes one feel safe, accepted in spite of one’s flaws. It is trust taken to the highest order; it’s where emotional connecting is 100%, not room for even a molecule of feeling invisible or the sense of being alone.

We all experience moments of isolation every day, but most of us quickly get distracted and never come back to that moment to uncover the real pain that caused the wedge between the present and the past. Consequently, it will return another day to distract us yet again until we heal the wound that caused it.
In both my marriages, the sense of aloneness was profound. But, I lacked the connection to myself so I could not discuss it with either husband; I was as lost as they were. Gaining self-awareness saved my life. I got ‘permission’ to end my sense of isolation in my marriage. I got divorced.

Tools to help us: always being present is the order of the day. Paying attention to how you feel when the discomfort comes up, being willing to stay with it and figure out where those feelings originate from. Similar to the weather; paying attention to the energy that everyone exhibits gives us clues as to how others feel; is it sunny and warm or are storm clouds approaching?

More from YourTango: Are You Lonely Or Just Addicted To An Unrealistic Romantic Myth?

When we sense it in others, we need to speak up and tell them. Even when our comments get dismissed, we need to be clear, especially if our partner starts to get snarky. Setting boundaries and telling them to go work it through before becoming obnoxious in your verbal exchanges is the way respect gets exhibited and you get to have control over how you are being treated in those moments.

For a free PDF of my book, check out my website, Sign up for my blog/newsletter and send me an e-mail with “TANGO” in the subject line, and we’ll send you back the book.

This article originally appeared on†Is Your Emotional Isolation Destroying Your Relationship?.


Christine J.
Christine J1 years ago

Oddly, the more we are electronically connected, the more we can feel isolated.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa2 years ago

Thank you

John W.
.3 years ago


Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago


Megan Kelly
Megan Kelly3 years ago


Stanley R.
Stanley R3 years ago

Dysfunctional gender roles, misinformation, erroneous education, fear of vulnerability, combative relations, conflicting ideologies, confrontational behaviors, controlling insecurities, opposing directions, all contribute to our self isolation and lack of trust in others.

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Many life lessons here ...

Start at the beginning, the family ... loving, teaching, caring, sharing, oversight involving personal responsibility and accountability along with growth.

To your own self be true ... dive into society in some fashion, do not just conform to what's norm for another or close off the outside, (there are individuals and groups specific to YOUR needs and gifts, and would welcome a sharing of those unique to each).

Interaction should probably be considered mandatory for one's own growth ... defusing fear and isolation by yourself or others, allowing identity validation, worthiness, value system, strengths and weaknesses (which may need some work to conclusion).

Each day has a brand new beginning, a chance to rethink, adjust and strike out again. Much work to do, let's get started. (We don't know what our individual expiration date will be so it's not a good idea to put it on your bucket list for later).

Tim C.
Tim C3 years ago


Steve McCrea
Steve McCrea3 years ago

I believe the structure of our industrial society encourages isolation and discourages true intimacy. Family is hugely important, but even those who were very accepted as children by their families can suffer social isolation as a result of the strange and rigid expectations modern society puts upon us. We live in an increasingly isolating world.

---- Steve

Kath P.
Kath P3 years ago

Very, very good article. Extremely insightful. Thanks so much