It is a fact that feeling trapped in a relationship is simply a state of mind. No one needs consent to leave an unhealthy relationship. Most people remain in unhappy relationships for many reasons. However, the feeling of suffocation or of having no choice often starts from the unconscious fear.
There are many explanations about why people stay in bad relationships. It could range from caring for children to caring for a sick partner. Money is also a binding factor, especially in a bad economy. Women fear the idea of becoming self-supporting or single moms while men dread paying for support and seeing their assets divided. Often, spouses fear feeling shamed for failing the marriage.
Despite the plenty of reasons, many of which are realistic, there are deeper, unconscious ones that keep people trapped – usually fears of parting and solitude. In longer relationships, spouses often don’t develop individual activities or support networks.
Women tend to have girlfriends in whom they confide and are usually closer with their parents. Men, however, focus on work and disregard their emotional needs and rely exclusively on their wife for support. Yet, both men and women often ignore developing individual interests. Some women give up their friends, hobbies, and activities and adopt those of their partners. The combined effect of this adds to fears of loneliness and isolation people picture from being on their own.
Some people have never lived alone. They left home or for marriage or romantic partner. The relationship helped them leave home, but they’ve never completed the stage of becoming an independent adult. They are as tied to their partners as they once were to their parents.
Going through divorce or separation brings with it all the unfinished work of becoming an independent “adult.” Fears about leaving their spouse and children may be reiterations of the fears and guilt that they would have had upon separating from their parents, which were avoided by quickly getting into a relationship or marriage.
Lack of Autonomy
Autonomy means being emotionally secure and independent. The lack of autonomy not only makes separation not easy, it also makes people more dependent upon their partner. The consequence is that people feel trapped. On one hand, they crave freedom and independence; however, they want the security of a relationship – even a bad one. Autonomy doesn’t mean you don’t need others in your life. In fact, it allows you to experience healthy dependence on others without the fear of suffocation.
Some examples of psychological autonomy are:
- You don’t feel lost and empty when you’re alone.
- You don’t feel responsible for others’ feelings and actions.
- You can make decisions on your own.
- You have your own opinions and values and aren’t easily suggestible.
- You can initiate and do things on your own.
- You can say “no” and ask for space.
Often, it’s the lack of autonomy that makes people unhappy in relationships or unable to commit. Because they can’t leave, they fear getting close. They’re afraid of even more dependence – of losing themselves completely in the process. They sacrifice their needs, interests, and friends, and then build resentments toward their partner.
The way out may not require leaving the relationship. Freedom is an inside job. Develop a support system and become more independent and assertive. Take responsibility for your happiness by developing your passions instead of focusing on the relationship.
Savannah Ellis has coached thousands of couples and individuals from Sydney, Australia to Las Vegas, USA to help them achieve their relationship and personal goals. She conducted an infidelity coaching training program in different locations in the US, Australia and Canada.