When You Feel Stuck in a Relationship – Free Ebook

This is for those among us who are, secretly,
very stuck – that is, who are entirely committed

to staying, wholly tempted to leave – and
entirely unable to resolve their dilemma one

way or the other. We, the stuck ones, alternate
between periods in which we manage to convince

ourselves that it might after all be bearable
and recurring crises when we acknowledge that

we are – by remaining – well on the way
to ruining the one life we will ever be granted.

Torn between intense shame and untenable claustrophobia,
weak in the face of our conundrum, we may

start to fantasise that someone or something
else – a parent, the government, a war,

an illness, a divine command – might magically
resolve the problem for us; like desperate

children, we hope against hope that something
might just show up.

But because it behoves everyone eventually
– and with nothing remotely unkind being

meant by this – to try to become an adult,
that is a person who can alter their circumstances

through their own agency, we may well benefit
from a few ideas to strengthen our resolve:

  1. For a start, we are here not because we
    are evil, fickle or just unlucky, but – at

base – because we had a bad childhood. This
could sound like an odd place to begin and

the tone may sound overly assured as well
but the matter does appear desperately simple

in structure, however impossible the repercussions
can feel in practice. Anyone on earth can

end up in an unhappy relationship. But those
who get badly stuck in them, those who cannot

find the courage to have a difficult conversation
and move on, those who spend years feeling

intensely ashamed of what they want and doubting
their right to aim for anything more satisfying,

these creatures are a particular subcategory
of humans: they are the ones who, when they

were little, never learnt the art of confident
self-assertion, they are the benighted creatures

who never felt they had a right – at points
– to tell others what they needed and to

stick up for their vision of contentment whatever
the short term troubles that might be entailed.

We, the stuck ones, were the good children,
the under-loved ones, the ones who were scared

of angry parents or overly anxious about fragile
ones, those who too early on learnt to comply

and obey, to worry about everyone else, to
fit in and to smile – and now, decades later,

the ones who cannot get up and leave because
we would, at some level, and let’s be clear

on the matter, rather than die than make a

  1. But however appealling that can sound,
    the problem is that there’s a small part

of us that won’t actually let us die like
this, that’s why we’re here, a part of

us that – awkwardly – refuses to shut
up and be stifled, a healthy part of us that

won’t let us continue without the kind of
love, intimacy and closeness we crave, a part

of us that is like a germinating seed with
strength enough to move aside a one tone concrete

slab in order to reach the light.

  1. We endlessly question the legitimacy of

our aspirations. Is it fair to want what we
want? Is it normal to seek whatever it is

that’s currently missing: more love, more
intellectual stimulation, more friendship,

more sex, more solemnity, more laughs? We
would, in a way, so love someone to tell us

that we were plainly wrong. But the reality
is that there can never be an objective measure

in these matters. We want what we want and
no amount of arguing with ourselves can make

our appetites go away or fundamentally delegitimize
our needs. The way forward isn’t to call

ourselves difficult and shut up – but to
learn to honour and adroitly defend in front

of others our own inner complexity. However
insane this will inevitably sound, anyone

is allowed to find someone else’s offer
of love to be – in the end – not their


  1. We are, along the way, naturally, terrified

of being alone. In our minds, by exiting this
relationship, we won’t be setting up a promise

of a better arrangement in the future. We’ll
be condemning ourselves to a lifetime of isolation.

It’s a feeling of basic unworthiness and
fundamental unattractiveness that turns the

prospect of singlehood from what it really
is, a minor inconvenience, to what we are

sure it must be: an ongoing and eternal tragedy.
We should, to calm ourselves, remember a rather

dark but ultimately consoling truth. Though
we may at present have someone to share a

pizza with on Sunday evenings, we are, where
it counts, already alone. What we fear might

happen has already happened. We won’t, by
leaving, be aggravating our isolation, we’ll

be taking the first proper steps towards ending

  1. Stuck people are agonised to the point
    of paralysis by the prospect of causing difficulties;

they possibly already have a lot of hesitation
about asking strangers where the bathroom

is. So now they worry whether the partner
would ever recover, what friends would say,

how the family would deal with it… The last
thing that occurs to them is how much, in

the end, everyone copes. The frightening yet
liberating truth is how little anyone actually

cares. Even the hurt lover will recover – and
come to appreciate the benefits of freedom

as opposed to enduring a constant unmentioned
emotional tourniquet around their heart. An

orderly life is a beautiful and fine thing,
but it can only ever be so when it sits on

top of a flourishing relationship, rather
than when it is fostered as an alternative

to developing one. Better to blow up a home
than continue in one unworthy of the name.

The way to start getting unstuck is via a
properly strange-sounding move: valuing ourselves

a little more. Slowly, we must accept that
the point of a relationship isn’t to suffer;

that some things are necessary but fewer than
we think – and that no one will congratulate

us on our death beds for having thrown away
our lives. We are not suffering because we

need to, but because we have grown up to be
people for whom suffering feels horribly and

compellingly familiar. We need to take the
entirely unknown step of telling the world

what we truly, truly want – and dare to
believe that we might even one day get it.

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