Why Do Some Couples Get “Stuck” in Their Relationships?

Couple in a relationship are breaking up


Most of us can look back on a previous relationship and think, We should have broken up sooner.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see that you and an ex should have broken up sooner, earlier into the relationship before it got serious. But hindsight is a double-edged sword, and we often forget how we felt at the time: things were adequate. They were okay, so we just coasted through months, even years, without really stopping to consider where we were going, whether our partner met our needs, and whether—deep down—we were even happy at all.

People in unsatisfying long-term relationships can be held back too long by stagnant partnerships simply because they’re comfortable and stress-free—only to wake up five years later and realize the person sleeping next to them is not life partner material. The feeling of being “stuck” can be paralyzing.

When people get stuck in such relationships, it’s generally because they’re caught between two different types of commitment: dedication and constraint. It’s a stark dichotomy: How much do I want to be in this relationship?(dedication) vs. To what extent am I in this relationship only because I don’t feel I can leave? (constraint).

Strong relationships balance both types of commitment. These couples want to be together because they genuinely enjoy and value each other’s company—but also feel compelled to make the relationship work because they’ve built a life together. Marriage, children, pets, home ownership, entwined family dynamics: All these factors make it harder to break up. Constraint can be as valid a reason to stay together as dedication, inspiring couples to work through things for the right reasons, rather than break up rashly and live to regret the decision.

The honeymoon phase is notoriously—and universally—deceptive. The beginning of the relationship is wonderful, euphoric. That’s why people in unfulfilling long-term relationships so often hark back to those halcyon “early days,” long for that happiness once more, and wonder in a quiet moment what ever happened to that person they once knew. Why did the good times fade away?

But while this thought process is ubiquitous no matter the strength of the relationship, only strong couples continually find new avenues for growth and connection. When these sources of rejuvenation cannot be found, couples become stuck—and what’s more, they often also lack the motivation to induce the breakup, because the inevitable turmoil seems surely more trouble than it’s worth.

When we stop considering whether we’re compatible with our partner and whether our needs are being met—something’s gone badly awry. But leaving a long-term relationship that on the surface is going well enough requires either a significant life event to catalyze proceedings or a gradual building of personal momentum to change your life. An example of the former is infidelity, either yours or your partner’s. But for most people, the feeling grows slowly and silently, as they recognize the void between their goals, interests, and values, and those of their partner. They see their life passing by, and reach a tipping point at which they realize their partner will never change; their lives will never align in the ways they once dreamed of.

Not every relationship is destined to lead to the ultimate commitment—and that’s a good thing. Dating is a mutual experiment and journey of which everyone partakes, honing their partner preferences and learning about themselves along the way. Even relationships that feel “fine” are sometimes best ended. Moving on opens the door to more fulfilling relationships with people who are oriented toward our own life’s journey. Breaking up is sometimes the kindest action to take—not only for yourself, but for your partner too. It’s possible to respect them and even “love” them by knowing what’s best for them is to be with someone else. These are tough decisions—but if you need a little extra advice figuring things out, we can help.

Maclynn International is a boutique, multi-award-winning introductions agency with offices in New York, California, and London. We’re world-renowned for bringing together highly compatible singles, and our matchmakers are eminent relationship experts in their own right. So if you’ve been through a breakup, are looking for a fresh start, or even just need a sounding board to discuss your relationship woes—we’re here to listen. Get in touch today, and let’s clarify your goals and feelings, then set you on the path to meeting that special someone you deserve—and who deserves you.