woman who feels trapped in her marriage

What to Do When You Feel Trapped or Hopeless in Your Marriage WITHOUT Divorcing

When your partner won’t cooperate in improving your relationship you may feel trapped and hopeless. As a relationship coach who helps people with this situation every day, I can tell you there is hope. Mult-step plans that are under your control can re-create a happy relationship. 

sad to feel trapped in marriage
You can become happy again without leaving your spouse. Multi-step plans are the key.

When people have these two beliefs at the same time–“I should stay,” and “It is risky to leave”, it can really cement them in the relationship even though they do nothing to improve it. This creates a “stable, negative relationship” that can last for years, creating a legacy of regrets and lost time that can never be regained. To be happy, we need to avoid future regrets. And, we can do that without leaving our marriage or relationships.

How I help people to save their relationships when they feel hopeless

People tend to think that there are only two choices when they are in an unhappy relationship. To leave the relationship or to just be stuck and hopeless. The reason they come to that place is because they have tried everything they know to make their relationship better. They try this, and they try that. With all the conflicting information around, it is not surprising.

Just because you don’t know how to make your relationship better, doesn’t mean that it can’t be. Most of the people I work with have no idea how to make their relationships better. But, by the end of their first session, we have a plan. Like building a house, building (or rebuilding) a relationship requires multi-step plans.

Example one step plan:

I asked my spouse to spend time with me. He won’t. So, that’s it.

Example multi-step plan:

  1. Stop any behaviors critical of your spouse.
  2. Develop similar interests to those of your spouse.
  3. Become a more attractive person.
  4. Use good connection skills with your spouse.
  5. Use boundaries for any remaining damaging behaviors your spouse is doing.

This is a typical set of steps for many damaged marriages. None of the steps require the participation of your spouse. They all require skills. This is why if marriage counseling is not a good choice (focus on talking), relationship coaching (focus on skills) is. Notice that this plan starts with your behaviors, but ends by dealing with your spouse’s behaviors. Make sure if you work with a coach or buy a program, they don’t just focus on getting you to submit and be nice. That will create some short term results, but leave you more hopeless in the end. Loving and good relationships have always required more than just being nice.

Internal conflict and not out partners, keep us trapped

The three motivational centers we have for any action are  reasoning, emotions, and beliefs. When all three of these line up, it is easier to take action.  When one of them does not match the others, it causes procrastination and internal conflict.  Reasoning is that part of us that tries to figure out what is the most effective thing to do. You may reason, for example, that the best thing to do is to talk to your spouse about how you are not happy in your relationship. However, you  may feel afraid to do that (emotions) because of the way your spouse has reacted before.  Or, you may not believe that it will do any good, based on your past experience. The net result is that you may try to create a compromise between your reasoning, emotions, and beliefs and only complain to to your spouse a little. Or, it may simply result in more procrastination.  More feeling trapped.

Resolving internal conflict

Learning skills for improving your situation can help you to get your reasoning, emotions, and beliefs to line up. When that happens, you will no longer feel trapped in your marriage.  I have helped many people with their beliefs by helping them to understand how having good boundaries is actually a loving thing to do, since it improve the relationship for both them and their spouses.  I have helped them to have the skills to know how to communicate their concerns, and how to manage their spouse’s anger or withdrawal, so that it no longer intimidates them.  And, I have helped them to get their emotions in line by helping them to imagine how they will feel if they don’t take action–if they simply continue to live as they are.  A good coach or counselor will help you with all three components, resulting in change that you may not have been able to do on your own.

Do you feel trapped because of limited options?

People who don’t see a way out often don’t believe there is a way out.  They have little or no experience resolving the kind of distance they have with their spouse and so see limited possibilities for change.  They have a hopelessness that is based on ignorance–an ignorance of how to change, and an ignorance of the possibilities for change. It is precisely because of this that they don’t try to change and their relationship remains stable.  You may recognize this pattern in yourself and in your partner.  Although you are unhappy and know that something has to be done, you just can’t bring yourself to take action.  Maybe you had parents in this situation and you are just following a family pattern that you learned when you were young.  Maybe you fear that the only solution would be to divorce.  But, the simple truth is that every day thousands of couples are restoring life and vitality to their relationships by learning new skills for interacting with one another.  Getting active prevents divorce; procrastination and the wait and hope method simply delay divorce.

How this relationship pattern typically ends

What normally gets people to leave a stable, negative pattern is crisis.  Crises demand action.  As much as someone might enjoy watching their favorite TV program, they will get up immediately if they know their house is on fire.  When the danger of not taking action far outweighs the danger of taking action, that is the change point.  This often comes in a relationship when a partner has an affair or says they want a divorce.  Another common crisis is financial ruin that forces people to change their life style. Terminal illness is another kind of crisis that has the power to break people out of their stable, negative patterns.  Many a crisis have actually saved marriages by forcing people to make changes.  I know because I have helped people to survive many.  But what these people always tell me is that they wish they knew how to connect with their partners before the crisis happened.

Threatening to divorce your spouse is not a good way to change things

What is it about a crisis that motivates people to take action after years of inaction?  Fear.  Intense fear. Fear is the emotion that stops us from taking action, but when our inaction is what we fear (“If I don’t do something right now, my life or relationship will be over”), the result is action.  This is why many spouses suddenly become willing to go to counseling after their partners have told them they are ending the marriage. Before that point, no matter how much their husband or wife wanted to go to counseling, the relationship had not been perceived to be in danger of ending and so they were not motivated to action.  Be this as it may, I do not recommend men or women use the threat of divorce as a tactic to get their partner to go to counseling.  This is because, if the relationship is already distant, instead of being scared into counseling, your partner may reject you or soon abandon you for someone else.

A safer way to not feel trapped in your marriage

You can get your emotions, reasoning, and beliefs all on the same page if your realistically assess your future.  Start by answering this question, “What do you see happening if you continue the way you are now, without changing?”  Write down your answer, but don’t share it with your spouse.  Following this, write down any details about what you imagine.  If you imagine divorce, how far away is it?  If you imagine wasting your life, what will it feel like when they see that your youth is gone and they can’t get it back?  What will you wish you had done instead?  When people clearly have that picture in their mind, they more easily choose to take action.  It is not negative thinking when it leads to positive action.  Anticipating future problems and preventing them are keys to being successful.  The old head-in-the-sand approach is not to be confused with being a positive thinker.  Positive thinkers have a plan.

Avoid regrets by getting to work on your relationship today

Here, I have presented two ways to get you out of a stable, negative relationship so you no longer need to feel trapped in your relationship.  One is to wait for a crisis such as your partner leaving you or having an affair.  Another is to mentally borrow a crisis  from the future by making a very good prediction of what will happen if you don’t take action.  Bringing a future crisis into the present will line up your emotions, reasoning, and beliefs.  You can then learn some of the most important skills for reconnecting with your spouse.

When will your spouse or significant other change?

Your partner will not change until you do. Until then, you are both likely to feel trapped. Remember, there is no crisis for him or her.  Trying to convince your partner of the need to work on your relationship will just lead to your giving up on working on your relationship.  Work on yourself first by seeing what will most certainly happen if you don’t.  Most of the people who work with me do so after agonizing for years with a struggling marriage.  They then experience significant marriage improvement within three months.  Their biggest regret is not getting help with their relationship sooner.  Will you be like most people and struggle for years before learning how to make your relationship better. Or would you like to get started today?  I have five free relationship lessons you access for women here that will give you five specific, helpful things to do to start reviving your relationship with your husband.  And for men, your free help is here.

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