Amy and Kevin (names changed to protect identities) had been with each other for five years. But Amy often felt like she was in a box; her relationship was suffocating her and she did not know what to do about it. Was this normal, she wondered. Does everyone feel this way? And what are the main reasons for feeling trapped in a relationship?
She loved Kevin, they were happy with each other too. Unable to pinpoint the reason behind her feelings, Amy continued to suffer in silence and confusion. Gradually, this took a toll on her relationship. The tension in the room was palpable when she and Kevin sat down to dinner.
When things became unbearable, Amy reached out to a relationship counselor. A few sessions later, Amy realized that her reasons for feeling trapped in a relationship were twofold. Firstly, she needed to work on building her self-esteem. And secondly, the relationship looked like it was going nowhere. It was time to take a break (if not a breakup) and do some recalibrating. Does Amy’s story resonate with you? Like her, so many others have experienced similar feelings at some point in their relationship or marriage. But even after realizing what you’re feeling, taking decisive action can be challenging.
To help you along the way, here is a guide of 6 steps to take if you’re going through the same thing and are stuck in a relationship in consultation with counselor Kranti Momin (M.A. Clinical Psychology), who is an experienced CBT practitioner and specializes in various domains of relationship counseling. She’s here to guide you through the rocky landscape of feeling trapped in a relationship. It’s time to hash it out once and for all – what does feeling trapped in a relationship mean?
What does it mean to feel trapped in a relationship?
Tell me if being in this relationship with your partner puts you through a similar experience – you get this constant feeling that you are chained or duct taped to a pole and you can’t run away or there is a heavy stone placed on your chest and you are fighting for breath. Such suffocating feelings are among sure-fire signs that you are feeling stuck in a relationship.
Now let’s make it very clear from the get-go that feeling stuck in a toxic relationship doesn’t necessarily point to your fear of commitment (although it could be one of the reasons). Neither does it mean that the inevitable end is near. Even if there are some major or minor glitches in your relationship, these can be worked out if both partners are committed to putting in the necessary work to revive their bond and restore it to its original health.
But first, it’s important to address the white elephant in the room. What does it mean when you’re feeling trapped in a relationship and what makes you feel this way? You end up feeling stuck in a relationship when you are aware that something is not right but you have no choice than to put up with your circumstances. Now if you ask why would someone stay in a relationship which makes them miserable?
Well, there can be many reasons why a person chooses to stay in an unfulfilling relationship even at the risk of feeling trapped, ranging from lack of financial independence to codependent tendencies, and an insecure attachment style. As a result, you may find yourself thinking, “I am stuck in a relationship I don’t want to be in. But my whole world revolves around my partner. How will I survive without him/her?”
Sometimes, a relationship might get stagnant if the partners happen to grow apart. In such a situation, they may find peace and joy in someone or something new, and the prospect of not seeing a future with each other may leave them feeling stuck in a relationship. Just remember, ultimately it’s you who decide when to fight for a relationship and when to give up irrespective of the reason holding you back in a dead-end relationship.
How Do You Know If You Are Trapped In A Relationship?
There are so many different kinds of signs – signs of sickness, signs from the universe, signs on the road – and they all fulfill the same purpose; giving us a heads-up. These indicators listed below are signs of feeling trapped in a relationship. Can you spot them in your life?
Kranti and I are going to give you a clear idea of what constitutes feeling trapped. Maybe you are having trouble putting a finger on what’s happening because you don’t know the A to Z’s of it. (Or perhaps you’re in denial.) Worry no more – we’ve put everything down for you in this thought-provoking read. Here are the signs you are feeling stuck in a toxic relationship:
1. What does feeling trapped in a relationship really mean? The conundrum of happiness
A healthy relationship is a constant source of comfort, happiness, and security in our lives. Our partners bring us joy with their presence and actions. While it is inevitable for boredom to creep into the relationship at some point, feeling unhappy or frustrated is a cause for concern. You need to address two main questions:
First – “Am I happy when I am away from my partner?” When you are away for work or with friends, do you heave a sigh of relief? Or are you actively seeking getaways? Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting a little space…heck, I’ll even call it healthy. But the reasons behind wanting that space are what matter. You are feeling trapped in a relationship if escaping from your partner makes you happy.
Second – “Am I unhappy with my partner?” This question pertains to the general satisfaction in your relationship. If you are sensing irreconcilable differences between you both, then this looming incompatibility may be suffocating you. You could be unhappy with your partner for a number of reasons: they are impeding your growth, they have different values, their vision for the relationship is different from yours, etc.
The answers to these two questions should give you a fair idea of whether you’re truly feeling trapped in a relationship or it’s just a passing rough patch you’re navigating. Kranti explains, “If you don’t enjoy being with your partner, then you’re in the wrong relationship. If all you can think about is a happier life without them, then you’re clearly dissatisfied and need to leave.”
2. “It’s getting hot in here” – Main reasons for feeling trapped in a relationship
A major reason behind feeling restricted in a relationship is that you really are being restricted. Having a controlling partner or spouse can make all the (terrible) difference in the world. Being censored/critiqued for your speech, attire, habits, and so on, can be very corrosive to one’s self-esteem. Your feelings might be stemming from being told that you aren’t enough.
Kranti directs our attention toward the importance of appreciation, “One of the key contributing factors of feeling confined in a relationship could be a lack of appreciation. If you don’t feel valued or your partner takes you for granted, it’s a symptom that the relationship is lacking in respect. Of course, you don’t expect your partner to sing your praises all the time but respect and appreciation are a must.”
Another possibility is that your boundaries are being breached. You can feel your relationship encroaching on your personal space or individuality. In this situation, it’s natural to want to fortify yourself. As situations or incidents build up on each other, the intensity is felt over time. So ask yourself, “Am I being held back in my relationship?”
The crux of this question is figuring out if you think you want something better. If you are convinced that you deserve a better environment and want to move on to better things, then these are definite signs of feeling trapped in a relationship. But you can’t and shouldn’t let the fear of feeling trapped in a relationship come in your way of having a liberating and happy future, be it with another partner or yourself.
Related Reading: 17 Signs A Guy Is Unhappy In His Relationship
3. Red flags are red, stop looking for a clue
Your relationship is toxic and your partner is too. Abusive or toxic relationships are a huge reason behind feeling suffocated by your partner. There are different kinds of toxic settings and behaviors. Physical abuse involves hitting, shoving, threatening, and even sexual violence. Emotional abuse in a relationship comprises verbal attacks, gaslighting, manipulation, disrespect, etc.
Kranti puts forth the other forms of abuse, “Besides physical and emotional abuse, you have psychological, sexual, spiritual, and economic abuse. One (or all) of these can make you feel caged. These behavior patterns are used by one partner to maintain power and control over the other partner.”
You might think there’s no way out of the situation and you might even be in love with your abusive partner. Women keep going back to abusive partners, and victims often say, “I feel trapped in my relationship but I love him.” If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, please seek help. We have listed down what you can do if you want to stop feeling trapped in a relationship, but if you are in an unsafe environment, please extract yourself immediately.
A toxic partner rarely changes, and their anger issues/insecurities cause immense harm to you. If you have been harmed emotionally or physically, you aren’t feeling trapped in a relationship, you ARE trapped in one. These signs of feeling trapped in a relationship have hopefully cleared your confusion about where you stand. Since we have located your position, shall we try and understand what to do about it? Here comes the difficult part – the steps to take if you feel restricted in a relationship.
Feeling Trapped In A Relationship – 6 Steps You Can Take
A children’s book by Renee Russel taught me a very valuable lesson in middle school; you always have two options in life – be a chicken or a champion. And neither is permanent since most people have been both at some point in time or the other. The way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with being a chicken as long as your sense of self isn’t being compromised. If at any point you see your self-respect at stake, it’s time to switch teams, champ.
Welcome to the champion section of this piece where we talk about the steps you can take if you feel restricted in a relationship. Seeing them through till the end will be a tough job, no doubt. But once you are through, you will be able to take charge of your life and decide when to fight for a relationship and when to give up. Now is the time you do something about your situation. It’s just what Steve Harvey said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going. Why would you stop in hell?”
Related Reading: 10 Signs To Know Your Relationship Is Over
1. Stuck in a relationship? Have ‘the talk’ with yourself
Conversations with your own self are the most important ones you’ll have. When you’re feeling trapped in a relationship, the first thing to do is to sit and reflect. There are two mental maps you need to follow. The first is inward; by looking into your own behavior, needs, desires, and emotions. The second is outward; by thinking about the relationship.
There is a possibility that you are feeling confined because of low self-esteem. Dissatisfaction with yourself can, by extension, make you feel unhappy about the relationship. Carla from Newark wrote, “I felt trapped in my relationship when I was in a bad space in my life. I had just lost my job and was feeling like a good-for-nothing. But it took me a while to realize that the source of my discontent was me. And the self is the last place you look, so I kept pegging it on my relationship.”
Once you have finished reflecting on the self, proceed to examine the relationship objectively. Is it exhibiting any signs of toxicity or abuse? Is your partner not a good match for you? Or is it a right-person-wrong-time situation? Try and pinpoint the main reasons for feeling trapped in a relationship, and where they are stemming from. Only you can diagnose the problem.
Kranti says, “If you’re feeling trapped in a relationship, you have to consider the possibility that you’ve grown apart. Not only does a relationship change as time passes, but so do you. In addition, your perspective on the relationship and life shifts. Your partner might not be pleased with the person you become or vice versa.”
2. Put in the hard work if you want to stop feeling trapped in a relationship
After you’ve figured out the origin of your emotions, put in the efforts toward rectifying it. If you realize that the problem lies with you, build your self-esteem step by step. Enrich your life by socializing with friends and family, taking up a new hobby, exercising and eating healthy, and working diligently. Fix your sleep schedule and cut back on the screen time. Lead a good lifestyle and you’ll notice the difference it makes.
Alternatively, if the relationship is facing problems, work with your partner as a team. The first step would be direct and honest communication. Whether you are feeling stuck in a relationship because of money, security, or because of the constant gaslighting by your partner, be clear in expressing what you want and how you feel.
Voice your concerns and expectations; never operate on assumptions. Spend quality time with your partner, take an active interest in each other’s lives, and spice things up in the bedroom. Set realistic future goals for the relationship and heal from the damage that you may have unknowingly caused.
The emotional baggage of one or both partners takes a toll on the relationship. If you feel the need to reach out to a mental health professional, do so. You can approach any relationship psychotherapist or counselor individually or for couple’s therapy. Sometimes a little professional help can go a long way. Online therapy from Bonobology counselors has helped many people to move on after coming out of a negative relationship. We’re here for you and help is just a click away.
3. A multiple-choice question awaits
At this junction, you need to consider the options you have. The key question when you’re feeling trapped in a relationship is: “What do I want to do now?” Maybe you would like to take a break from the relationship temporarily. Maybe you would like to break up permanently. Perhaps you want to continue seeing your partner but at a slower pace. There are many alternatives you can look into.
Hitting a pause on the relationship for a while might be beneficial to you both. Time apart can knit you closer and you will get the much-needed space to recalibrate for a bit. Without the commitment of a relationship, you can get comfortable with yourself and do things you like. It will be like hitting reboot! After a few months, get back together with your partner and start afresh.
Think over all these pathways and choose one wisely. Don’t be indecisive or hasty. Or even worse – don’t choose one and then switch to another. But getting out of the relationship that is restricting you can be a good option to seriously consider. Much like a breath of fresh air.
Related Reading: First Breakup – 11 Ways To Deal With It
4. No relapses, please
There are certain things you should never do after a breakup or during a break. They include creating drama, slipping into old behavior patterns, starting on-again off-again cycles, and so on. Once you settle on a course of action, stick to it diligently. Resist the temptation to call your ex/partner or stalk them online. Don’t try and maintain a ‘friendship’ right after a breakup. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of the reason you broke up in the first place.
On the other hand, if you have decided to stay in the relationship or marriage and work on it, do it with your heart and soul. Don’t indulge in self-sabotaging behaviors or blame games. Do justice to the decision you have made. Consistency is key when you are trying to stop feeling trapped in a relationship.
5. Move on slowly but steadily
Dwelling in the past has never helped anyone and it won’t help you. Once you’ve come out of a relationship where you were feeling caged, don’t look back. Keep your eyes on the future and move on with your life. Love yourself! Your progress might be minuscule but that’s okay as long as you’re moving forward. It will get easier with time, and you will reach a place of happiness and peace.
Learn from your mistakes and tendencies, and be sure to avoid them henceforth. Self-awareness will prevent history from repeating itself. Be in a good space when you enter your next relationship and maintain a solid distance from people with abusive or toxic traits. Strive toward finding a wholesome connection; a partner that you want to come back to every day.
6. Don’t give up on love
You can never let a bad experience determine your whole outlook on something. Sure, the relationship was an unhealthy one but that does not mean that all of them will be the same. Don’t lose faith in love, romance, the goodness of connections, and the prospect of dating again just because you were stuck in a relationship that didn’t work for you. You don’t have to get back in the game for a while, but please don’t shun it completely.
Kranti says, “Try to recall what you wished for before the realities of life and the quest for human accomplishment crushed your heart. Have faith because there are many things about relationships and love which are beautiful.” And this is a message you should keep close to your heart. Becoming pessimistic toward love is just a loss for yourself.
- Reflect on your own issues and insecurities
- Take good care of yourself and resort to healthy communication to stop feeling stuck in the relationship
- If nothing works out, decide the fate of your relationship
- Stick to your decision if you want to walk out once and for all and move on with your life slowly
- Don’t give up on love because of one failed relationship
You came here wrestling with thoughts like, “I am stuck in a relationship I don’t want to be in. But it’s complete darkness in front of my eyes and I don’t know how to rescue myself from this entangled situation.” Well, I hope we have succeeded in giving you a little bit of direction. While the choices are completely yours, our guidance might make the journey easier. Write to us and let us know how you fared; may you never feel trapped in a relationship again.
It is absolutely normal to feel trapped in a relationship. Even if it’s not anything fatal (something as bad as abuse or manipulation), every relationship goes through a rough patch once in a while. You have to figure out whether this feeling of confinement is due to a temporary issue or it’s majorly terminal and beyond fixing.
First, you can try to solve the problem by staying in the relationship. Self-reflection and clear communication with your partner can help to straighten out the issues that are making you feel trapped. If nothing works out, create a full-proof exit plan eventually and try to move on with your life. Seek professional guidance if required at any point.