When they go right, relationships are a big part of what makes life worth living.
When they go wrong, a bad relationship can leave you feeling like you’re trapped in a lower circle of hell.
None of us get through life without racking up a few emotional scars, and we’ve all had relationships that started out with so much promise suddenly turn into something draining, leaving you feeling stuck and unhappy.
Every situation is different, and every relationship has its own ebb and flow.
But if you find that the magic seems to have drained away, leaving you feeling trapped in an unfulfilling relationship, it’s worth taking a look at the reasons why.
1) You expected too much
Unfortunately, we sometimes doom relationships even before they begin.
You see, there is such a thing as wanting something too much – especially when it comes to relationships.
Romance and passion can bring real joy to our lives, but if you go into relationships hoping that somebody else will complete you, you are doing it wrong.
You see, everybody is their own unique individual, with their own pattern of strengths and weaknesses, their own flaws and issues. It might sound cold, but the only person in this world who can complete you is yourself.
That doesn’t mean other people can’t enhance your life and make you a better version of yourself. They absolutely can.
But if you go leaping into relationships expecting that love will wipe away all your problems, you’ve set yourself up for failure.
2) Your partner is controlling
The feeling of being trapped in a relationship often comes when you have too many rules to follow.
For example, your partner may have a problem with you going out at night without them, or resent you spending time with your friends.
Even worse, they may feel like they can tell you what to wear, what you should do for a living, and other decisions that should be yours alone to make.
Clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior writes that controlling people often act that way out of a sense of vulnerability and emotional fragility. And controlling behavior can take many forms, from berating and belittling you to more subtle tactics such as always keeping score of who has done what for who in the relationship.
3) You are putting in most of the work
You shouldn’t keep score in a relationship. As I mentioned, that can often be a sign of controlling behavior.
On the other hand, relationships require give and take.
Things like the household chores, making money, raising the kids, and other tasks need to be split between you so that everyone feels satisfied.
They don’t have to be split 50-50. For example, my wife does virtually all of the grocery shopping and cooking, while I do the dishes, the vacuuming, and all the DIY around the house. This arrangement plays to our individual strengths and tastes and makes sure that everyone is pulling their weight.
If you feel like you’re putting in far more work than your partner, however, it’s easy to start to feel stuck in an unhappy situation.
And it’s not just household chores, either. There is such a thing as emotional labor, and as psychotherapist Imi Lo points out, having an under-functioning partner can result in you having to do most of the emotional labor in your relationship.
Not only can this make you feel trapped, but it can also make your partner start to feel inadequate and as though you are controlling them.
4) You are afraid of being alone
If you want to have healthy relationships, you need to get comfortable with being alone.
That might sound like a contradiction. But in fact, being comfortable by yourself is one of the most important relationship skills you can build.
If you’re happy being alone, you won’t rush into a relationship just to avoid feeling lonely. Instead, you will take the time to get to know people better and make sure that they genuinely bring something to your life.
Plus, being comfortable with your own company is a useful skill to have even once you’ve found a relationship.
No one can spend 24 hours a day with their partner, and it’s not healthy to even try. But if you get anxious and lonely when your partner’s out of your sight, it’s a bad sign.
Plus, the fear of being alone can keep you trapped in a bad relationship because you are afraid to leave when you should.
In other words, work on yourself and get comfortable with your own company. It’s one of the best ways to avoid getting stuck in an unhappy relationship.
5) You are not communicating
Communication is everything when it comes to a relationship.
Here’s the thing: there is no happily-ever-after in real life. Real relationships require constant work and maintenance.
A good relationship shouldn’t feel like you have another job. But from time to time, you will need to make your partner feel valued, loved, trusted, and respected.
And they need to do the same for you.
That’s why healthy communication is absolutely key to a fulfilling relationship.
Marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein recommends:
- Paying attention when your partner speaks
- Actively listening instead of just waiting for your turn to talk
- Validating your partner’s feelings by repeating back some of what they have said
- Asking questions to clarify what your partner is saying
- Trying to understand, even when your partner has views different from your own
Really, talking is almost the only way to fix any problem your relationship may encounter. So if you’re feeling stuck and unhappy, maybe it’s because you are not communicating your needs effectively to your partner.
After all, they can’t make you happy if you don’t tell them how.
6) You have lost intimacy
This is a big one.
Although figures are hard to come by, some surveys have reported that around 15% of married couples report not having sex in the past six months to a year.
In her book Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, psychotherapist Tina Tessina writes that a lack of sexual intimacy can come from many different things, including one partner feeling rejected too many times, busy schedules, or a communication problem in the relationship.
But remember, intimacy is about more than just sex.
Emotional intimacy is also critical for a relationship. After all, why be in a relationship otherwise?
The trouble is, it’s surprisingly easy to fall out of the habit of being intimate with one another, whether that means sexually, emotionally, or otherwise.
Many couples set aside a regular date night or other scheduled time when they can be intimate with each other to keep that spark alive.
7) You are stuck in a rut
Relationships are an important part of our lives. So when we are unhappy, it’s often the first place we look to figure out what’s bothering us.
But over the course of a long relationship, it’s easy to fall into a routine. And the mundane details of daily life can often be quite boring.
Getting up every morning to go to work, doing household chores, caring for the family, and other tasks are important, but they aren’t always as fulfilling as they might be.
Before you know it, you may find yourself stuck in a rut, doing the same things day after day and feeling as if life is passing you by.
It may be a relationship that is making you feel stuck. Or it may be your life in general. If you find yourself feeling unhappy in the relationship, ask yourself when was the last time you did something unusual or exciting?
Because maybe it’s time to change things up.
8) Promises have not been kept
We all make promises to each other.
Whether it’s the formal vows you make at a wedding or the agreements you reach when you decide what your relationship will look like, we define our romantic attachments to people by the things we agree on and promise to each other.
But when one or both partners break these agreements, resentment and unhappiness soon follow.
Psychologist Forrest Talley writes that when these fundamental agreements are broken, it violates the trust any relationship needs to survive.
No matter what you have promised to each other – to be faithful, to have kids, to live in a particular city – you need to make sure you stick to it. Otherwise, one or both of you will end up feeling stuck.
9) You have grown apart
Change is the law of the universe. And in a relationship, you either grow together or you grow apart.
You see, life changes us all. And the older you get, the less you resemble the person you used to be.
When I think back to who I was 20 years ago, I barely recognize myself.
That’s a good thing. Growth is change, and becoming a better version of yourself is one of the most noble goals you can have in life.
Unfortunately, sometimes growth means leaving other people behind.
Feelings change. Goals change. Over a long enough timeframe, even personalities change. The person you fell in love with may no longer exist, replaced instead by someone you are less in love with.
Or maybe you’re the one who’s changed, and you’ve lost sight of what attracted you to your partner in the first place.
10) You are not supported
No matter what your dreams and goals in life are, it’s difficult to get there without support. And the one person you ought to be able to rely on for that support is your spouse or partner.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.
Psychotherapist Douglas LaBier points out that mutual support is crucial for a healthy relationship. And giving support, as well as getting it, can have profound effects on your physical health too.
But if your partner doesn’t support you, whether it’s through hard times or in pursuit of a goal, it’s easy to feel like you’re stuck in a situation you would rather not be in.
11) You avoid conflict
Most people don’t like conflict – especially with the people they love.
That’s why we often try to avoid it wherever possible.
But although it’s important to be kind to one another and to try to get along, conflict is sometimes necessary in a relationship, as long as everybody fights fair.
Conflict doesn’t mean yelling and screaming at each other. Instead, it means having tough conversations when you need to – even if it makes one or both of you uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s about your finances. Maybe it’s about a lack of intimacy. Maybe you need to hold each other accountable for keeping your promises to each other.
Whatever it is, conflict is sometimes required in a relationship. If you always avoid it, you can easily start to feel trapped.
That sticky feeling
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that relationships don’t always work out the way we hope.
And feeling stuck in an unhappy relationship is one of the most awful feelings most of us will ever know.
If you feel like your relationship is no longer working for you, take a look over this list and see if you can identify where things have gone wrong. Then, you can decide whether you can fix the problem, or whether this is a relationship that simply won’t work out.
Either way, you’ll be able to move on with your life and find happiness.