A partner's guide

When your partner is lonely

Being in a relationship is not a guarantee against loneliness. Here’s how to help your partner if they're lonely.

4 min

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What is loneliness and how common is it?

Loneliness is a negative feeling we experience when our social relationships aren’t meeting our needs. It’s a personal feeling of social isolation that tells us we need to make meaningful connections with others.

Loneliness is about the quality, not the quantity, of our social connections. Some people can have lots of social contact but still feel lonely, while others can have very little social contact but not feel lonely at all. That’s because everybody’s need for social connection is specific to them.

Most people feel lonely at some point in their lives. For about 1 in 4 Australian adults, loneliness is a significant problem.

The health effects of loneliness

Loneliness doesn’t just feel distressing, it can impact your health. If you’re lonely and dealing with a disease, your outcomes are likely to be worse than normal. You’re also at higher than usual risk of early death.

It might not come as a surprise that lonely people are more likely than normal to have depression and anxiety, but they’re also more like to have cardiovascular disease (including stroke, heart failure, heart attack)and metabolic disease (e.g. diabetes, high cholesterol).

What causes loneliness?

Loneliness is caused by different things for different people.

Some things that make young people more likely than normal to feel lonely include conflict (e.g. bullying, family arguments), poor health, life changes (e.g. moving schools, starting work), difficulty making friends and grief.

In older people, loneliness is more likely than usual if they’re single, divorced or separated, if they’re living alone or in aged care, if they’re retired, not driving anymore, have a low income or if they have poor access to public transport or the internet.

What you might be feeling if your partner is lonely

Being in a relationship is not a guarantee against loneliness. There may be times when one partner is out of sync with the other, and they may feel lonely as a consequence. If your partner seems distant, isolated or withdrawn, they may be lonely. Remember that loneliness is a personal feeling, and the reason for their loneliness is specific to them; it does not necessarily reflect on the quality of your relationship or on you.

You may feel hurt, insulted or offended if your partner tells you they feel lonely. Talking about why they feel how they do, and how you might feel differently or the same, can help you understand each other and work towards helping them (and perhaps you) to feel better.

Women tend to have wider social networks than men, and to be the ‘managers’ of relationships with friends and family. Women also tend to have more friends and social support than men. These gender differences can mean that men are more vulnerable to loneliness if their social situation changes.

What you can do if your partner is lonely

If your partner feels lonely, providing support can help.

It might be helpful to organise get-togethers with friends and family, but check with your partner first. You might not realise they feel anxious or stressed in social situations. If this is the case, encouraging them to talk with a mental health professional may be helpful.

Overcoming loneliness isn’t as simple as spending more time with other people. The quality of relationships is what matters. Encouraging your partner to get in touch with old friends, or to find a group, club or organisation that interests them, can help them to connect with others through mutual interest.

If your partner’s health is affected by their loneliness, you should encourage them to make an appointment with their general practitioner.

Learn more about loneliness on our health topic page

When your partner is lonely

Did you find this page helpful?

Information provided on this website is not a substitute for medical advice

Call 000 for emergency services

If you or someone you know needs urgent medical attention.

Call MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 for 24/7 support

MensLine Australia is a telephone and online counselling service for men with emotional health and relationship concerns.

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