Feeling trapped in a relationship is exasperating and terrifying for men.
It feels like sprinting on a treadmill that can’t stop: you’re exhausted and shattered beyond belief, but you’re afraid to find out what happens if you stop running.
If this sounds like you, it’s time to sort things out. A connected, healthy relationship relies on both parties feeling freedom in every aspect.
You should feel listened to rather than just heard when you speak to your partner. Your thoughts and opinions should be valued and play an instrumental role in determining the relationship’s future. And most importantly, you should feel safe and understood in your actions, beliefs, and evolution as a man.
If your relationship lacks any of these components and you feel you are slowly sinking in a mire of negative feelings, unrealistic expectations, and low self-esteem, you need to resolve things or bring them to an end so your mental health doesn’t continue to suffer.
Fearing an uncertain future, emotional abuse from their partner, or the opinions of outsiders, too many men stand idly by while their unhappy relationship tears them to shreds from the inside out. They tremble in fear on the sidelines and watch their emotions and mental health be tossed recklessly about by the tempest of a toxic relationship.
Throughout my ten-plus years as a men’s coach, I’ve learned that the only way you’ll escape the ceaseless motion of this soul-sucking treadmill is by taking intentional control of your life and finding (or making) a path forward.
It’s time to get unstuck.
6 Reasons You Feel Trapped in Your Relationship
Men can feel trapped in relationships for a handful of reasons, some more serious and potentially damaging than others.
You may be caught in a toxic relationship with an abusive partner, or you may just be caught up in the snare of your low self-esteem and fear of separation.
Figuring out why you are feeling stuck is the only way to move forward and overcome the issue. Different issues require different remedies.
Putting a full-body cast on a cancer patient won’t do much.
If you feel trapped in a relationship, here are six likely reasons.
1. There’s no trust
Trust is a non-negotiable component of a healthy relationship.
You will feel trapped if you can’t trust your partner in everything. You will feel trapped if your partner doesn’t trust you in everything.
It takes only a cursory glance at the world around us to realize that freedom is essential for healthy human existence. Someone’s freedom and autonomous “pursuit of happiness” gives them a sense of individualism and self-worth critical to flourishing.
There are many possible indications of distrust in a relationship, but most revolve around an infringement on basic freedoms.
A good example of this is too many rules.
While healthy boundaries and reasonable understandings are paramount to a relationship’s success, excessive rules and laws set for either partner are a sure sign of suffocating distrust.
If your partner sets rules for you on the following, you have good reason to feel trapped:
- Your attire: what you can wear when and where
- Your hours away: when you can and can’t be out of the house
- Your time with friends: how much time do you spend with people aside from them
- Your hobbies: what you can and can’t do with your time
Does this mean there shouldn’t be any disagreements in your relationship? No! It just means that these things should be discussed, and a compromise should be reached.
Maybe your wife thinks you should spend less time at the gym and more time with the kids. Does this opinion mean that she is stifling your freedom and trapping you? No! She may be right, and you guys need to have a conversation and come to an agreement.
2. There’s no open and honest conversation
When a couple isn’t willing to speak openly about every aspect of their lives, they allow room for distrust and eventual resentment.
An inability to communicate with or impact the actions of another in a close relationship will leave any man feeling stuck.
One of the three fundamentals of human happiness is dependence (see the other two here). Dependence knows that the world would be different without us–that we impact the people around us, whether in mind or action.
A large part of this dependence happens in conversation. If you feel you aren’t listened to, able to change the mind of your partner, or able to communicate your wishes to a caring audience, you’ll feel trapped.
3. Physical or emotional abuse
Physical and/or mental abuse is the most common reason men feel stuck in a relationship.
Physical abuse will result in a literal unwillingness to leave the relationship for fear of what may happen. Mental abuse or manipulation includes much more complex, underhanded tactics of influencing someone’s mind so they believe lies or mistakenly attribute fault to themselves.
Though physical and actual domestic violence leave the most visible scars, mental abuse often leaves the deepest scars.
Remember that physical abuse is rarely unaccompanied by mental abuse, so it’s unlikely that you’re “only” suffering physical abuse.
Regardless of what sort of unhappy situation you find yourself caught up in, feeling trapped in a relationship of this sort is not something to write off as the growing pains of a developing relationship.
If you are tempted to accept your struggles and pain as a necessary or normal part of “growing together”, you’re undoubtedly caught up in the mind games of a cunning manipulator.
4. You’ve outgrown the relationship
If you are working on yourself as a man–building your character, developing confidence, finding ways to improve each day, etc.–you’ll constantly be evolving.
You’ll start to see yourself, your partner, and the relationship you guys share in a different light with each day that passes.
If you feel trapped in a relationship during this maturing process, you will likely have outgrown the relationship or are ready to leave more childish ways behind.
When a once-sweet relationship slowly leaves a sour taste in your mouth, you wonder if you’re crazy. You feel trapped, but why? The relationship hasn’t changed, yet you suddenly feel unhappy. Your partner seems like the same person they’ve been all along. What’s wrong?
If this is the case, you have probably matured and feel suffocated by the negative aspects of an unhappy relationship you’ve just opened your eyes to.
5. You fear separation
Regardless of necessity, separation is painful and difficult for many reasons that can leave men feeling trapped in a relationship.
It is never easy, even in relationships where separation is imminent and should be welcomed with an eager embrace.
As in the case of anything involving human emotions and the cutting of ties forever, the heart begins to weigh in, and you can begin to second-guess.
Eventually, you’re left with this unshakeable feeling of being trapped: you know you need to call it quits, but you hesitate (or refuse) to take that step into the painful unknown. It’s the endless treadmill.
Some of the most common reasons men fear separation are…
- They fear loneliness: Fearing loneliness or afraid that they won’t find love again, many men stay rooted in unhappy relationships by convincing themselves that it isn’t as bad as it is.
- They lack self-esteem: If your relationship is the largest thing in your life, you likely get a lot of your validation from it. Many men fear separation simply because they lack the self-esteem to stand without using their relationship as a crutch.
- They are dependent on the relationship practically: Many men fear separation simply because they depend on their partner for their practical needs. She’s the breadwinner, and you’re entirely financially dependent. She owns the apartment. She gets the kids if the two of you separate, and you don’t want to see that happen.
- They are lazy: Some men are just afraid of reentering the dating world and after a toxic relationship and going through the mental discipline and time of finding love again. They prioritize convenience over their mental health.
6. You’re caught up in the monotony of life
Read this one carefully because it is one of the most important.
Perhaps your trapped feeling has nothing to do with a lack of trust and communication, abuse from your partner, or your fear of separation. Perhaps you blame your relationship for feeling stuck when something else in your life is trapping you.
Before you attribute your feeling stuck to your relationship alone, consider that you may feel trapped IN LIFE.
You may be caught up in the monotony of routine and feel like a caged animal. Maybe all you need is a career change, a long vacation, or some spicing up of your romantic life.
Because it is the most important thing in their life, many discontent men will blame their relationship without considering alternative factors.
How to Overcome Feeling Trapped in a Relationship
By now, you should have a decent idea of why you are feeling trapped in a relationship. Now, it’s time to get to the how.
How are you going to overcome whatever it is that is facing you? Do you and your partner mature enough to fight this monster together, or is this the end of your relationship?
Here are five ways to get off that ceaseless treadmill.
1. Take time to self-reflect and sort your feels
The first thing you should do when you realize you feel trapped is to take some time for self-reflection.
Ask yourself why you feel like you do, and answer honestly.
Are you going through big changes outside of your relationship? Do you feel you’ve changed and the relationship hasn’t moved with you? Do you feel listened to or only heard? Do you feel safe?
If you’re going to get through this, you need to find answers to these questions. These answers will tell you whether you feel stagnant or need relational retuning.
2) Become a grounded man and build confidence and self-esteem
One thing that all grounded men have in common is their capacity to move alone.
This doesn’t mean they move alone (they rarely do), just that they can. They have enough self-esteem, belief in their value, and goals for their future that they can be self-sustaining.
Grounded men don’t need validating words or reassuring pats on the back to put wind in their sails.
Are these things nice? Of course, these men are still human. But they don’t need them.
To get through feeling trapped, you must build the self-esteem and confidence to feel good. You must know that your value as a man has nothing to do with your partner’s view of you.
You feel valued because you know that you are valuable. If your current relationship makes you unhappy, you will leave it for a better future.
3. Communicate openly
Honest communication is the only way forward if you feel trapped. After you have done a bit of self-reflection and made sure that it is indeed the relationship that has you feeling trapped, you need to bring the issue into the light.
Unless your partner is manipulative or uncaring, she’ll respect your feelings and seek a solution.
If she isn’t receptive to your feelings, writes them off as unimportant, or calls you crazy, you must get out of that relationship.
If she is doing something to give you this trapped feeling unintentionally, bringing it up gives her a chance to reflect and hopefully change.
4. Set clear boundaries but don’t neglect compromise
Unless you realize that your suffocated feeling is due to something completely unrelated to the relationship, something needs to change in your relationship.
You need to set healthy boundaries, get the unbiased opinion of professional help, or find another way to move forward and get unstuck.
Shrugging your shoulders and letting your relationship fall into the same repetitive routine will do nothing more than increase the speed on that ceaseless treadmill and tire you out even more.
The longer you wait to make a change and throw the whole situation under the magnifying glass, the more trouble you’ll have in the future.
5. Be willing to say goodbye
If this heading wasn’t an obvious conclusion, I recommend you give the article another read-through.
Feeling trapped in a relationship often indicates that the relationship is toxic. And, well, no matter how painful the conclusion of this relationship may be or how lost you may feel afterward, the end of a toxic relationship is a good one.
For your relationship to keep moving forward, something needs to change. If this change seems impossible, it’s not worth wasting time and destroying your mental and physical health.
Grounded men know when to say goodbye. They may shed a bucketful of tears, but they know when to prioritize themselves and their future.
So, you’re stuck and looking for a way out.
You feel trapped in a relationship, and you’re looking for the next move. First, you should assess the situation and diagnose the problem.
Does your relationship lack trust and open communication? Are you suffering under the hand of a manipulative or physically abusive partner? Have you outgrown the relationship? Maybe you’re blaming the relationship when your trapped feeling is the fault of your stagnant life.
You have to sort this out before moving on to the solution. To escape this stifling atmosphere, you need to ensure you’re properly equipped with the self-esteem and self-confidence to face the world alone. You may not want separation, but you must embrace it if necessary.
If you are looking for guidance or one-on-one help from professionals who are experts at mending “impossible” relationships, we have what you’re looking for.
Here at Knowledge for Men, we have a team of a dozen of the best men’s coaches on the planet willing and eager to help you wade through your relational struggles.
These men have fought through the most trying relationships, made massive mistakes, learned life-changing lessons, and are eager to help you avoid slipping up as they did.
Our programs are for all-in men only. We don’t take toe-dippers or half-hearted attempts at self-improvement. If you’re stuck in a relationship, struggling with self-confidence, or looking for guidance in any area of life, it’s time to move.
It’s time to get unstuck.
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