Why You Are Feeling Trapped in a Relationship And What to Do About It

Relationship Rules
28 Sep 2023
13 min read
Feeling Trapped in a Relationship: What Can You Do With That?

You want to end things with your boyfriend or girlfriend, but feel stuck, unable to change. You haven’t yet thought about leaving, but every day makes you feel more and more constrained. It’s starting to take a toll on your mental health. The fighting or silent treatment never seems to end. Despite this, you keep putting off having an honest conversation about your future together. Have you recognized yourself in these words? If so, these are all examples of feeling trapped in a relationship.

Why does this happen? People leave unhappy relationships all of the time, or they decide to fix them. If you’re feeling stuck in a relationship, something is happening to prevent you from doing that. Let’s see what it can be – and what you can do about that.

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Top 7 Reasons Why You’re Feeling Trapped in a Relationship

Here are some reasons why you might have that trapped feeling, and what you can do about feeling suffocated and unable to move forward.

1. You Have Low Self Esteem

Low self-esteem is a primary cause of feeling trapped in a relationship. You don’t think you deserve better, so you don’t leave. You don’t even set healthy boundaries.

There are so many reasons why this is the case. You may come into a relationship feeling bad about yourself. Past trauma can do that. Also, months or years of being in toxic relationships can also damage your self-esteem. Whatever the reason, the first step is to recognize what makes your self-esteem so low – and work on that.

Related reading: Boundaries in Relationships – Keeping Them Healthy

2. Too Many Rules and Limitations

Sometimes feeling trapped in a relationship is part of feeling constricted by the rules and limitations that your partner places on you.

Your partner may expect you to give up a beloved hobby because they believe it’s too dangerous or expensive. Sometimes, people will restrict who their partner can socialize with.

You may also feel as though you are trapped if your partner constantly checks up on you. Imagine going out with your friends and receiving constant calls and texts while you are trying to relax and have fun. Eventually, you may decide that it isn’t worth the headache. So, you stay home feeling trapped rather than deal with that, or the arguing that inevitably follows.

There are so many things that can lead to this situation:

  • Your partner may be domineering and controlling,
  • A lack of trust may impact your relationship,
  • Your partner’s anxiety may also be a contributing factor etc.

In any case, you end up feeling trapped because you have to limit your behavior or ask permission.

If you feel trapped in a relationship because you are not free to do what you want, you may have to self-reflect on your true feelings. Ask yourself if this is about a true lack of autonomy, or if you need more time to be ready for the normal restrictions of being part of a committed relationship. If your partner is more committed to the relationship and wants more exclusivity than you do, their expectations may feel like unfair rules and regulations.

Physical or emotional abuse can be the reason why you're feeling trapped

3. Physical or Emotional Abuse

You will certainly feel trapped if you are subjected to domestic abuse. Emotional and physical abuse can leave you fearful of expressing your needs, setting healthy boundaries, or even having the smallest amount of autonomy.

Keep in mind that domestic violence comes in many forms. It isn’t just hitting. It’s a range of behaviors used to instill fear and establish control. Here are just a few examples:

  • Draining your bank account or taking your debit card
  • You are verbally threatened even if they don’t follow through
  • Threatening to hurt themselves if you leave
  • Reading your phone messages and deleting contacts they disapprove of
  • Not allowing you to have a job or sabotaging your job
  • Tampering with your car to make it undrivable
  • Forcing you to unfriend people on social media
  • Hiding your keys
  • Following you when you leave your home
  • Starting long, violent arguments or accusing you of cheating when you go out

If you are feeling trapped in a relationship and recognize these common signs of abuse, please create a safety plan for domestic violence. You matter too much to stay in a bad situation.

4. Fear of Being Alone

You feel trapped but also wrestle with some conflicting emotions. Is it better to stay in an unhappy relationship or risk being alone? If the latter terrifies you, it’s no wonder that you would stay in the relationship, even to the detriment of your own mental health.

Some people can’t function alone, at least they think they can’t. Until they can get over that feeling and see the light, they will often remain trapped in a relationship that makes them miserable. Worse, your partner may feel the same way. Both of you are unhappy but are afraid to have the open and honest conversation you need to end things amicably and move on.

Related reading: 9 Things You Can Do When You Are Feeling Lonely in a Relationship

5. Financial Constraints

The whole notion of feeling trapped in a relationship takes an entirely new turn when there’s money involved. In that case, you aren’t just feeling stuck emotionally, you are also in a financial trap. It can be extremely difficult to extricate yourself from an unhappy relationship when there are money entanglements too.

For example, how do you leave when you are:

  • Financially dependent on the other person or they are dependent on you,
  • Sharing a lease on a house or apartment,
  • Co-signor on a loan that you think they won’t repay,
  • Unable to come up with the money for moving expenses if you live together,
  • Have only shared accounts.

Moving forward is challenging when you are bound to someone because of money. This is why thinking long and hard before combining finances in any relationship is so important. When you are ready to combine finances, do so thoughtfully. You should both sit down and discuss what you both expect, financial goals and responsibilities and have a plan for maintaining some financial independence too.

Related reading: Moving Forward: Your Guide on How to Stop Loving Someone

6. Poor Communication

They need to understand what you need, or maybe you need to get them. It’s hard to tell. All you know is that you feel trapped. Every attempt at open and honest communication seems to end in a fight. Even when it doesn’t, nothing seems to change. How can you have a healthy relationship, when neither of you can get something as basic as communication right? Relationships thrive on good communication.

Feeling trapped in a relationship because of poor communication is frustrating because you and your partner are both blocked from any resolution. You can’t communicate about your negative feelings, what you want to be changed, or what to do next. So, you both retreat back to your personal space, where you feel resentful and exhausted.

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7. Fear of Change

You’re not happy in your current relationship, but you aren’t doing anything about it despite feeling suffocated. Instead, you both maintain the same patterns. Why would you do that, even though you feel unhappy? You could be afraid of change, and your partner is too.

Even though you are feeling stuck, the miserable thing you know can seem like a safer place than the unknown you face if you leave. Even if you stay, making changes to your relationship can feel scary. It takes hard work and vulnerability to identify what is wrong in your relationship, express your needs, and truly listen to your partner’s concerns. Then, you both have to break every repetitive routine that is harming your relationship. Worse, you may take all that risk only to realize it just wasn’t meant to be a long-term relationship.

The other aspect to consider is how your current partner might feel knowing you are just staying with them because you are afraid of change.

“You don’t really love me, or you never would have treated me like you did. You were just afraid of letting me go. There’s a difference, and no one knows that better than I do. We were both afraid of moving on, me of what I really wanted. It brought us together, it bound us, but no longer. I am done with making decisions based on fear. [Nicholas to Grace]”

Emily Colin, The Memory Thief

8 Things to Do When You Feel Trapped

Now you know the possible reasons for feeling trapped in a relationship. You may have recognized some of your own emotions and experiences. Now what? Do you have to continue feeling unhappy in your relationship? Of course not! You deserve a better future. These tips will help you take control of your life and take the first step towards resolving things with the other person or moving forward.

1. Don’t Demonize Your Partner

Unless there is abuse, manipulation, or narcissism at play, it isn’t helpful to focus on assigning blame. The idea is to find a solution so you no longer feel trapped. Maybe your partner ends up happier too. Even if you feel resentful towards them, blaming them will only contribute to your feeling trapped.

Remember to see the human in them even if your focus is on your own well-being.

Most relationships end. It’s usually because the other person isn’t that one partner who is meant for you. There’s rarely a true saint or a true villain in real life.

Related reading: Recognizing and Dealing With Narcissists in Relationships

2. Get Professional Help

Just about anyone with relationship issues can benefit from an unbiased opinion. You can do this through in-person or online therapy. A qualified therapist can help you identify the key issues that have you feeling trapped. For example, you might realize that trauma from past partners makes it difficult for you to advocate for yourself.

If you decide to speak to a counselor about feeling trapped in a relationship, you will have to decide if you want to pursue therapy on your own, with your partner, or both. That depends on your specific situation, your goals, and whether your partner is willing to engage in the process.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Therapy with an abusive partner is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst
  • Spending time in couple’s therapy may be a waste if you’ve already decided to leave
  • Even with therapy you and your partner may never reach a place of understanding

Finally, keep in mind that your therapist isn’t there to tell you what to do. Instead, they are there to help you create strategies you need to communicate and advocate for yourself. This is the first step, it’s still up to you to do the hard work so you no longer feel trapped in a relationship.

When you feel trapped, let them be responsible for their actions

3. Let Your Partner Be Responsible For Themselves

Are you feeling stuck because you are worried about how your partner will handle the breakup? Maybe you are worried about their mental health or their ability to manage their finances without your help. That’s a real problem you can’t have an equitable relationship when there is that kind of dependence. Also, you are infantilizing your partner by doing this. Ultimately, it isn’t good to be in a relationship simply because you can’t allow the other person to take ownership of their life.

Also, do some self-reflection. Are you truly stuck in a relationship out of a sense of obligation, or are you trapped because you don’t want to deal with the guilt and other negative feelings? If you think about it, that’s a pretty selfish reason to stay in a relationship.

Give your partner some credit and yourself permission to move on. You both deserve a life that makes you happy. Sometimes acknowledging this is the wrong relationship is a true gift.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

Ann Landers

4. Take an Inventory of Your Feelings About This Relationship

When you feel stuck, it helps to look inward and truly analyze what you are feeling:

  • Do you love your partner?
  • Do you see a future with them?
  • Are you struggling with anger, fear, or resentment?

You need to be honest with yourself about your feelings before making life-changing decisions. Also, that kind of self-analysis can help you make sense of conflicting emotions you may have been experiencing.

5. Arrange a Conversation When Things Are Positive in Your Relationship

When people feel trapped in a contentious relationship, they often want to hold onto any moment of peace they have. So, they avoid discussing anything difficult when things are going well. This is one of the most common reasons relationships never improve. You have to be willing to talk about what you both want out of life.

Don’t think of it as sabotaging your peace. Relationships have ups and downs, and it truly makes more sense to talk about things when life takes a positive turn. Both of you will be more receptive to listening to one another. You might even come to an agreement about how to spice things up and take some proactive steps to make things better between the two of you.

Related reading: Vulnerability in Relationships: How To Be More Open

6. Listen to Understand How Your Partner Feels About Your Relationship

As you think of the possible reasons why things aren’t going well, remember that your partner also has valid thoughts and points of view. It’s so important to give them space to talk about their feelings and learn what they want. Even if you decide to end things, you can support one another to keep things amicable.

7. Lean on a Support System Outside of Your Relationship

If you have friends and family to be there for you, that will make navigating this so much easier. You just have to reach out. Remember that most people want to help. Additionally, the people who care about you may have gone through similar things with their partners. They can give you some really helpful perspectives on things. If nothing else, they will be there to remind you that you matter, which can be so important when a person is struggling in a relationship.

You want to build a support system of people who you trust, and who remind you that you should feel valued in any relationship. At the same time, they should be able to be direct with you and hold you accountable. Unconditional support doesn’t mean signing off on everything you say or do, especially if it’s unhealthy. Encourage the people you love to tell you when you are the one who is being toxic in your relationship.

Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship

8. Make a Plan For Your Relationship or Your Exit

If you aren’t actively doing something about your relationship, you are accepting the status quo. Assuming you don’t want things to stay the same, you have to make a change. That starts with a plan. The hardest part of that is deciding if you want to work on your relationship or just end things so that both of you can move on. The second most difficult thing is accepting that people change. You may not be the same person you were at the beginning of this relationship and neither is your partner. Can you make things work without expecting the other person to change who they are or losing your own sense of authenticity?

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Frequently Asked Questions About Being Stuck in a Relationship

Here are some commonly asked questions about being trapped in a relationship.

1. Is it normal to feel trapped in a relationship?

It is normal to feel stuck in a relationship from time to time. However, if that feeling is constant and you are truly unhappy, it’s time to take action.

2. When should I end my relationship?

You should end your relationship if you are truly unhappy, and believe things are beyond fixing. It’s also important to walk away from abuse or realize that your partner has lost their desire to fix things as well.

3. How do I tell my partner it’s over?

Emphasize honesty and kindness when you talk to your partner. Accept that they might be hurt and angry, but let them own their emotions. Remember that you aren’t doing them any favors by pretending things are okay.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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