I know I am so blessed to have raised six wonderful children — four daughters and two sons. They are married, doing well, all living within the tristate area, and they are all good kids. I feel that I am close to each of them, to varying degrees, and I am very proud of them. I have no complaints.
My husband is a good guy. He’s always treated me well, he is kind and respectful, and I also feel blessed to be married to him. Basically, I have no complaints in that area either.
So why do I feel so lonely at my core? With all of these wonderful relationships in my life, I don’t feel as though anyone can really fill a certain void that exists inside of me. There is an emptiness that I can’t explain. Though my husband is wonderful to me, honestly, I don’t think he understands me. I don’t think he knows what really makes me tick, or the underlying reasons for why I do things or act in certain ways. He gives me the freedom to do what I want, but I don’t think he ever stops to try and understand why I do the things I do and where it comes from. And I don’t think it occurs to him that this might be a bit odd.
Though my children are terrific, as I’ve said, I would never burden them with my worries, insecurities, or fears. I felt it was important that I present a happy, “together” mother, someone they can lean on and come to when they need advice or comfort. That’s the way our roles have always been, and I have no regrets about the way I’ve raised them and continue to relate to them. But sometimes, lately more often, I find myself wondering whether any of them knows the true me and what’s in my heart. I doubt that any of them have any awareness that I am sometimes sad or even slightly depressed. I shield them from anything negative.
I guess when I was so busy raising my family, I didn’t really have time to think about such things. My days were so full, and all my thinking was geared toward getting through the day, making sure everyone was taken care of, and that our home was running smoothly. But now that my duties have significantly dwindled, I find myself thinking a lot. And it seems to be leading to this overwhelming feeling of loneliness and isolation and feeling separate from others in ways that are meaningful.
Am I wrong to not allow my children a glimpse into my personal feelings? Regarding my husband, I feel it’s kind of useless to even try to get him to understand me better. I don’t think it’s something he can do; he just doesn’t go too deep with anyone or anything and I doubt he even has the tools to be that person. So how do I fill this void? Am I just going through some existential crisis that people my age go through? Is this part of being human — and maybe everyone ultimately feels the way that I’m feeling now?
You’re getting into some pretty heavy stuff here, referring to your thoughts about going through an “existential crisis.” Frankly, there is much to be said on the subject. This seems to be more of a philosophical conflict, one that man has struggled with since forever. That is not my area of expertise and certainly not the purpose of this column. But on a more fundamental level, I do have what to say.
First off, I agree with your parenting style in terms of shielding your children from your deepest, darkest thoughts. It is not their job to “save you” from the type of loneliness you describe. Though it sounds as though you are very close to them, you are aware of the need for boundaries and the need to keep your relationship healthy, honoring the parent–child dynamic.
The situation with your husband is another story. Ideally, most of us crave to experience the type of closeness with our spouses that allows us to feel seen, heard, and fully understood. When your spouse is your best friend, someone who thoroughly gets you, can almost read your mind, finish your sentences, fully empathize with your pain, and deeply immerse in your joy, you are truly blessed in that area. Do all couples experience this—even happily married couples? Absolutely not. Not everyone is capable of this level of connection and vulnerability, nor does everyone want to engage in such a deep relationship.
The first question you need to answer for yourself is regarding what might be holding your husband back from the emotional intimacy you crave. Clearly, he presently doesn’t have the skills. I wonder whether this is something he might be open to learning in couples therapy, or whether he is just not wired in that way and it would be equivalent to the impractical endeavor of shoving a square peg into a round hole. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for you to have an honest conversation with him regarding what you feel is missing from your relationship (while reassuring him that he is a wonderful husband whom you fully love), and if he would be willing to give therapy a shot to explore whether change is possible.
Let’s not forget, however, the power of friends. Yes, most of us truly crave the feeling of being seen fully for who we are deep within. And for many individuals, that’s what friends are for. Our children are not supposed to be our friends — they are our children. But finding good friends, real friends, friends with whom you can truly connect on a soul level, is just what you need to be putting your energy into right now. You didn’t mention friendships at all in your question, so I don’t know whether that means you have friends but they are not particularly fulfilling to you, or whether you haven’t had the time to cultivate these relationships in the past. There is no reason for you to feel so alone right now. You’ve done a great job raising your family, and now it’s time to raise yourself out of your isolation and into a world of attachments. The world is your oyster; get going!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.