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Feeling Stuck in the Relationship

Making a shift to a happier you.

Key points

  • A relationship is flawed if it makes one or both partners feel unhappy or worn out.
  • Flawed relationships tend to drain self-confidence out of their “victims.” Rediscovering self-confidence is the key to change.
  • The first step toward changing one's relationship is to identify the goal in specific terms.

Humans are social beings by nature and are wired to seek the company of others, looking for comfort, happiness, and fulfillment. As we interact with the rest of the world, we choose those few people with whom we want to form relationships and share our lives. Sometimes our choices prove fruitful, but other times they fail us since humans are not always wise or reasonable; in fact, we choose more often using our gut than our brain—hence the failure rate.

However, there is more to forming a bond with someone than just making the right initial choice. Oftentimes, those seemingly successful relationships can become turbulent as they progress—these ups and downs are quite commonplace and should be anticipated. But if the phases get longer and don’t seem to pass, and unsettling feelings of discontent and weariness grow stronger, you should ask yourself whether the relationship is the right one for you.

Personal or professional, relationships take two to form. Healthy relationships are an equitable, give-and-take sort of balancing act. If you feel as if you are alone or would rather be alone than in your relationship, obviously, somehow your relationship is flawed. Flaws in relationships manifest themselves in numerous and various ways, depending on the personalities, unique circumstances, and duration of a relationship. You know that your relationship is flawed if:

  • You feel unhappy and worn out by your relationship
  • You feel happier away from your partner
  • You feel like you are talking to a wall
  • You feel controlled or patronized
  • You feel restrained or suffocated by your relationship
  • You spend all your free time worrying about the relationship
  • You have no voice, no opinion, or rights
  • You don’t feel valued or appreciated enough
  • You always end up at fault in every situation
  • You don’t seem to ever have time for your friends, family, or—most importantly!—yourself
  • You feel like a “single parent” rather than a partner in your relationship
  • You have been verbally attacked or put down in public by your partner
  • You have been cheated on, threatened, or abused at least once in your relationship

How can you tell whether your relationship is in danger? Be honest and evaluate your relationship. Are you happy in it, just maintaining the status quo, or, worse, just enduring the relationship? Do you ever feel confined, manipulated, neglected, or misused? Are things beyond repair? Are you ready to move on in search of better opportunities?

When you are miserable in your relationship but can’t seem to let go of it, eventually, you will start to feel stuck in a flawed relationship. Unless there is a binding legal agreement between you and your partner or strict cultural norms that restrict your freedom of choice, you don’t need anyone’s permission to leave. Yet, despite the fact that your self-esteem has long since hit rock bottom and nothing is clearer than the fact that you deserve better, you stay.

Oftentimes we feel that too much has been invested into a relationship to let it fail, so even when things don’t seem to work any longer, we don’t let go. Why? There is no way that we can recover all the time, effort, and resources that were spent on the relationship. Why chain yourself to a sinking ship when you still have a chance to jump?

People can usually find a good dozen questionable reasons as to why they can’t leave. Whatever it is you are trying to convince yourself or others of, in reality, you are just scared. Subconsciously you are afraid of the other life you never had. It’s the fear of change, and the unknown and uncertainty that it brings, that is holding you back: fear of being alone or not being able to cope on your own, fear of losing financial stability or a comfortable lifestyle, fear of conflict or of being judged or shunned by others, fear of not being able to start a new relationship, etc.

In reality, you are probably not as helpless as you have come to think you are. Flawed relationships tend to drain self-confidence out of their “victims.” If you had very little self-confidence to start with, chances are that your sense of self-worth has dangerously diminished to non-existent levels as a result of an unhealthy relationship. This lack of self-confidence and self-esteem is what makes you feel constrained and afraid, hesitant to take action.

Building up your self-confidence is a crucial first step you need to take if you want to change something in your life and stop feeling miserable all the time. In fact, research shows that people with higher self-esteem tend to find more satisfaction in their relationships. You need to find power and strength within yourself in order to be able to change your life for the better. No one besides you can fulfill you and make you happy, so only you have the power to do so.

One critical mistake that everyone seems to make when dealing with change is waiting too long. Don’t sabotage yourself by wasting time needlessly. When you think you are ready, you are ready! In the words of Mark Victor Hansen:

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less-than-perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”

Once you rediscover your confidence, you are ready for change. Change requires the motivation to keep up a sustained effort, and a commitment to getting to the desired place. Think about whatever you are looking to change about your relationship and where you want to be at the end of your transition. Where are you in your process? Using the S.H.I.F.T. Model™, you will be able to map out your road to success.

Specify your desired outcome. What is it that you want to do with your relationship; what’s your ultimate goal? Be specific. “I just want to be happy” is too general a statement. Your end goal has to be clearly defined, otherwise you will not be motivated or committed to continuously forge towards it.

Highlight and categorize the obstacles to change. Who or what is stopping you from getting closer to your goal? Are your obstacles external or internal? Is it within your power to control or at least influence them, or is there nothing you can do about them? For example, a prenuptial agreement, a written document with a great binding power, is an obstacle that you can’t really change or influence, but fear of financial insecurity can be remedied by getting a job or downsizing.

Identify the human factor. This step in the S.H.I.F.T. Model™ is all about understanding how you impact your quest for change. You will certainly affect at least two people: yourself and your partner. However, the human factor is not always going to be limited to two parties that are directly involved in the relationship. In the case of a marriage, there might be children or the couple’s parents who have a stake in the relationship. In a professional relationship, there could be clients, customers, or coworkers who could potentially be affected by your decisions, and therefore, they should be considered an interested party. In some cases, religious or cultural norms are at play, so the community and general public could be classified as a human factor as well. You must identify everyone who has the potential to influence or be influenced by your decisions and actions. You must recognize your obstacles in order to remove them.

Find your alternatives. Do you want to work on your relationship or terminate it? Do you want to change yourself instead? If option one, then how will you do it; if option two, how will you proceed? What are your steps and possible outcomes for each option? You should strive toward the desired outcome, but also always have a “Plan B”! It is generally part of making any effective shift—for both planning and execution—to have alternative routes in place.

Take disciplined action. Using this last step, you can set out knowing that you are aware of what you need to do. With this information, you can also confidently construct a very clear plan to get you where you want to be. After all that preparation you have done in steps one through four, you are definitely ready to make a move toward your desired goal.

Remember that ups and downs will happen along the way, but if you stay positive, confident, and focused on your goal, eventually you will get where you want to be. If your relationship is wearing you out instead of giving you strength, reconsider your goals and priorities, and make positive changes. Life is too short to settle for “not happy!”

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