What initially starts as a cute tendency to be affectionate can often lead to a nightmare as the relationship matures. If we fail to erect walls that safeguard our individuality early, we risk losing touch with what makes us tick as people, and consequently, the relationship will stale. Not only this, but there’s a passive element to allowing possessive behavior — the longer we say nothing, the more we teach our partners that unloading their insecurity on us is okay.
But before we get into dealing with possessiveness, I think it’s essential to separate behaviors that are part and parcel of exposing our hearts (a reasonable amount of insecurity) with those that are destructive. Not every bout of jealousy should be cause for concern as we all have our fears when entering a relationship, and we all have our idiosyncrasies.
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The bottom line with deciding whether a behavior is destructive is whether or not it seeks to control the relationship. Everyone has their low moments, when insecurity threatens our stability. And so we seek validation from our partner. This is a standard part of putting our hearts on the line. If we didn’t care, if we didn’t stand to lose, there wouldn’t be much point after all.
A normal bout of insecurity deals with the present rather than the future. It seeks reassurance now. For instance, you might feel uncomfortable that your partner is chit chatting with an ex over Gmail. Here’s a normal vs possessive breakdown.
- Seeks to understand whether there’s a point to the communication.
- Looks for signs that their partner is engaging above and beyond a typical chit-chat (copious laughter, an abundance of emojis, e.t.c).
- Conveys the message that they are uncomfortable with what’s going on.
- Erects “new rules” aimed at alleviating their insecurity (e.g you can only talk when I’m around).
- Engages in long-term manipulation aimed at making their partner feel guilty/worthless (to compensate for their own pain and level the playing field).
- Overanalyzes conversations, body language, and intent.
As you can see, the main difference is that the normal partner voices their concern but lets their partner haggle with the fallout, whereas the possessive partner uses force to protect themselves without considering the feelings of their partner, or the harm this will cause the relationship.
Destructive possessiveness is inherently selfish and does not seek to negotiate. A normal bout of jealousy is the catalyst that can allow a couple to face a problem that might have been hidden under the carpet and therefore fulfills a necessary function in a long-term relationship.
Dealing With A Possessive Partner
Silence is consent when it comes to insecure behavior. If we do not actively oppose being caged by our partner’s insecurity, we risk teaching them that what they’re doing is okay.
If we let our partners get away with enforcing destructive new routines and rules at our expense, in the name of avoiding confrontation and “taking one for the team,” things are not going to get better magically. Our partner is not magically going to finally achieve emotional security because we tore our own well being apart. All we are doing is silently approving their methods, and teaching them that forcing their insecurity down our throats is an option they will always have.
You know where this leads.
The earlier we build walls that protect our own well being as individuals, the better off the relationship will be. Because to ignore our needs is to doom the relationship anyway. It doesn’t matter if our partner finally finds peace if we are reduced to being the shadows of what we once were because we gave it all away.
Standing up for our needs (wants are negotiable of course) can be tough, but think of it this way: For a relationship to work both your needs and your partner’s needs need to be fulfilled. I’m not talking about wants here, this is core stuff. Things you need to feel empowered as an individual separate from the relationship; career, exercise, friends, e.t.c. The better off you function as an individual, the more you can actively contribute positively to the relationship. Don’t sacrifice who you are out of fear.
This distinction between needs and wants is what your partner needs to understand. That asking you to sacrifice what makes you happy, in the name of their insecurity, will ironically be the reason their fears will materialize.
An Everyday Story
Enter Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill have been married a mere 3 months, but Jill is already tired of Jack’s tendency to erect new rules to protect himself, rather than address his own insecurity.
For instance, Jack insists on phoning Jill constantly when they are apart, which makes Jill feel like a prisoner and the relationship like a prison. This is sadly not far from the truth.
Jill now has two options: She can either accept Jack’s need for control, and risk destroying her own happiness in the long term, or she can attempt to stand up for her needs and risk confrontation.And by needs, I do mean something she cannot do without. Love it or hate it, this is what Jack must come to grips with. That his tendency to seek control is actually destroying the stability and validation he seeks.
While neither choice is pretty, the answer should be objectively obvious. Salvaging the relationship, not merely in the short term, will require addressing Jack’s tendency towards controlling her. But agreeing objectively doesn’t mean it’s easy. Most of the time we know what we are doing is counterproductive, but we do it anyway to appease our partners or avoid confrontation.
So what should Jill do?
I would say that Jill ought to find a way of conveying her unease without making it an accusation. For instance, rather than saying “I feel like I’m in prison, stop calling me every 5 minutes”, a non-judgmental option (which will provoke less indignation) would simply be to take responsibility for how she feels, rather than what he does. Saying “I need my me time, we’ll speak later” does not accuse and inflame, but it does strike the root of the problem by telling him what she needs. And by needs, I do mean something she cannot do without. Love it or hate it, this is what Jack digest whole. That his tendency to seek control is actually destroying the stability and validation he seeks.
Taking back your individuality is a must, but it isn’t a cure-all. For starters, the possessive partner may well panic as their house of cards begins to crumble. In short term then, there may be an inflamation of the tension between partners.
If the possessive partner is denied their vampiric trick, and they know that you won’t stand for controlling behavior from here on out, there is a chance they will attempt to get their fix indirectly. Be on the lookout for:
- Attempts to manipulate you. Guilt, self-esteem, e.t.c.
- Hot and cold behavior.
- Transparent attempts to make you jealous.
- Feeling sorry for themselves and inviting consolation.
The possessive partner may feel as if you’re taking a stand means they have lost control, and will therefore, seek to level the playing field in other ways. Be on the lookout for behaviors which seek to make you feel guilty in some way. It may be a sign that your partner still hasn’t really understood that this is about your needs, and not about casting them aside. In fact, this is the opposite, it’s a last-ditch effort to salvage what you have!
If nothing else they should understand this: That you are under no obligation to negotiate, and the fact that you are there, trying, is because you want to make it work. A possessive partner may delude themselves into thinking that they have erected a web of control so thick that you are no longer capable of being autonomous. Break this delusion and you are both in a better place to objectively address the relationship’s issues.