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  • Feeling Stuck in a Relationship? How to Move Forward — and Why

    Many people enter /a-midlife-transition because they’re feeling stuck in a relationship.  Relationships are vital to us, but they cause genuine suffering when they aren’t working well.

    reeling stuck in a relationship

    How do you begin to move beyond relationship stuckness?  And why is it so important to do this?  These questions apply to all intimate romantic relationships, regardless of sexual orientation.

    What Does Feeling Stuck in a Relationship Look Like?

    Very often, but not always, people know when they are stuck in a relationship. There are some standard situations that therapists and in fact almost everyone would describe as being stuck.

    The relationship that is completely loveless would be the most obvious example of this. So would relationships that are physically or emotionally abusive. Then there is the relationship that is actually dangerous in terms of physical, emotional or financial safety (addiction issues particularly come to mind here.)

    However, in addition to these very obvious, glaring examples, there are relationships the just feel claustrophobic for lack of a better word. A person may certainly feel that their relationship is stuck if they have a strong sense that they can’t really be themselves in their relationship. Another, related criterion would be if a person does not feel seen or valued by their partner.

    feeling stuck in a relationship

    So, What’s the Big Deal?

    So, why does feeling stuck in a relationship really matter so much?  Well, University of Zurich Professor of Psychology and Jungian analyst Verena Kast has done some very important research with people in mourning for the loss of a long term partner.  This research demonstrates some very striking things.

    Her work shows that, very often, there are very powerful unconscious fantasies that underlie relationships with romantic partners. When we understand these powerful fantasies that bind us to the partner, something within us gets liberated, and we are able to meet our lives much more creatively.

    Understanding these fantasies enables us to see what it is that gives a relationship vitality, and also allows it to impart meaning in terms of our development as individuals.  What is more, these fantasies also explain the feelings of rage, stuckness and sterility when the partner does not match up to, or in fact actively sabotages, the unconscious fantasies.  These are all important dimensions of individual case studies concerning relationships.

    Feeling Stuck in a Relationship: The Individuation Story

    If your relationship with a significant other feels like a roadblock on your individuation path, that likely means that the relationship need some very close attention, probably leading to a deepened understanding of both yourself and your partner.

    feeling stuck in a relationship

                Relationship Claustrophobia

    A question that people often have is, should I be exploring this kind of issue in individual therapy work, or in couples’ work?  I would strongly recommend starting with individual work, as it will clarify a person’s understanding of themselves, which enables the person to see the true nature of the relationship much more clearly.  If doing couples’ work makes sense afterwards, the individual will bring a great deal more insight to it, after having done some individual work

    In the second part of this post, we’ll look more closely at the issue of figuring out “what’s really coming from me, and what’s coming from my partner?”, and we’ll examine more on the whole question of relationship, stuckness and the call to be oneself.

    As C.G. Jung said, being in close relationship with someone is essential to seeing and understanding our deepest selves and our own individuation process.  Stuckness in relationship, while undeniably painful, may be offering us an important pathway to our true selves.

    Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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    © 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


    1. HJ Blenkinsop (@HJBlenkinsop)
      October 21, 2015 at 8:25 am -

      Fascinating read. I would have thought that any situation in which a person feels stuck would provide a mirror of sorts, but agree, intimate relationships will certainly offer insight into the core unconscious programs running the show.

      Great article – thanks.

      1. Brian C
        October 25, 2015 at 4:19 pm -

        Thanks for your comment. I think it’s right that any situation involving the individual confronting stuckness reveals a lot of the inner psychic knots (what many depth psychotherapists would call complexes.) This is a subject I’ve written on quite a bit, as for instance in this blog post . It not only tells us about the unconscious programs of the individual, it tells us a great deal about their personality typology, and who they most fundamentally are as individuals. However, there is good reason for concluding that situations involving relationships tend to bring forward this unconscious substrate for the individual in particularly powerful ways. Stuckness in relationships can tell the individual an enormous amount about his or her individuation process. Thanks once again for reading and commenting,HJ!

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