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Climbing Out of Your Rut

Climbing Out of Your Rut

by Dr. Barb DePree

The changes that come at midlife sometimes mean that we need to recognize that we’ve fallen in a rut—whether in our health habits, relationships, or sex lives. Mary Jo Rapini, a MiddlesexMD advisor and psychotherapist specializing in intimacy and relationships, offers this advice to recognizing—and then climbing out of—those ruts.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

–Anais Nin

I believe people can change. It isn’t easy, and most of us don’t want to, but we can. To change is difficult work, and many times it happens only when we are faced with dire consequences. People come to therapy to change. Many times they think they are coming to change someone else or get validated for why they feel the way they do. Those are all good reasons to seek therapy, but the bottom line is if you go to therapy and stick with it, you will change.

Sometimes people become afraid of the change, and they drop out of therapy; they’re often the ones who say therapy wasn’t helping them. Sometimes the patient/therapist relationship just isn’t working, but usually the key factor is whether the patient is ready to look at herself honestly and make changes that will help her to feel better about her situation and herself.

The word that most signifies resistance to making changes is but. When I hear a “but” in a session, I make note of it. I can tell where the walls are by listening for this word. Many people use this word as a way of staying stuck. There is safety in staying stuck; you know your own rut best. It may be a rut, and you may want out, but it’s scary that you don’t know what is outside your rut. Just admitting you’re in a rut isn’t easy.

A professor of mine once told me that we all live in a rut. He likened it to a distorted reality; we all make our own world, and we begin to believe it. This thought comforts me, and I think it has a lot of truth. Except humans are incredible and, once they see that there could be a better way, they will usually strive for it.

For example, if a woman is told all of her life that she is ugly, she will believe it, staying in a rut created by her family. Then someone special comes along and tells her, “You aren’t ugly, you’re beautiful.” She sees a light in her rut, and she will strive to climb up and take a step. It won’t be easy, but she will eventually take the step out. As she comes out of her rut, she will be expected to act like the confident attractive person she was told she was. At this point she can either accept the challenge or say, “But I can’t. I am ugly.” If she goes back to this thinking, the rut begins pulling her back in. Unless she hangs on to something stronger than the pull of the rut, she will slide back in. The strongest thing to hold onto is her own self worth, but what if that was taken from her at a time she was too vulnerable to fight for it? If she has no or little self worth, the rut becomes attractive again. Known pain is more comfortable than ambiguity of not knowing and anticipating pain.

Here are three things you can do on your own to identify and begin to climb out of a rut:

  1. Identify the rut you are in, who is responsible, and what you may lose if you dig out.
  2. Write down every reason you think you should stay in your rut. Many times what sabotages people is that they weren’t honest about what staying in the rut offered protection from.
  3. What do you expect will happen in the next year if you don’t change your circumstance? Is the rut more painful than your image of what is outside of the rut?
We all create our life to a certain degree, and many things happen to us over which we have no control. We do have control over how we react to what we have been given. Whether we react by staying stuck in the rut or climbing out is determined by our ability to avoid the word “but” and just making the change—one step out at a time.


  • It certainly sounds easier than it is!

    Lisa on

  • Thank you..I am in that rut and trying to get out.

    Theresa on

  • Good stuff. Thank you so much.

    Janet T on

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