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Possessive Relationship: What It Is, 39 Signs You’re in One & How to Fix It

A possessive relationship is controlling and damaging. Help your partner learn how to stop being possessive to turn the situation around. 

Possessive Relationship

A possessive relationship is not sweet; it is not full of love and romance; it isn’t what great love stories are made of. In fact, possessive relationships very often lead to intense dysfunction, manipulation, and even abuse.

There really is nothing positive about a possessive relationship, yet it seems to be something that is romanticized by many.

Thinking that someone loves you enough to do anything to keep you with them seems endearing at first. But, it is one thing to make someone happy and another to be controlling, manipulative, and even dangerous about that desire. 

A possessive relationship is not a fair or equal partnership. It is a form of ownership. When one partner thinks the other belongs to them, they let their intense fear of losing them turn into rage and jealousy.

Learning how to identify this behavior is so important for your mental health and physical well-being. [Read: The signs of obsession in love that you simply can’t ignore]

What leads to a possessive relationship?

A possessive relationship is usually controlled by one person. And that person is possessive for a reason. This reason could be a past of betrayal, it could be low self-esteem, it could be anger issues, or it could be brought on by a difficult childhood.

Tons of things lead to this sort of relationship. But, being possessive in a relationship isn’t always an outcome of these situations. 

Many people have been cheated on in the past and go on to have perfectly healthy relationships. It is someone who has not worked through their past traumas that lets their fear of pain and rejection control their actions. There is a lack of trust from someone that is possessive in a relationship—they don’t trust their partner or anyone else. 

Possessive relationships aren’t just someone fearing the loss of their partner. They use that fear as an excuse for controlling behavior. That need for control overrides any love that may have ever been present. [Read: Controlling vs caring: A thin line controlling people love to cross]

Is possessiveness a sign of love?

We would like to say that the answer is simply no, and in a way, it is, but it isn’t so simple. Most people in possessive relationships will claim their love is so strong it makes them do crazy things. 

A possessive person will use love as an excuse to control their partner and ensure they don’t leave them. And the person on the other end will do the same. 

Love can be a wonderful thing. But in the wrong hands, it can become dangerous. And although it is used as an excuse for the victim in a possessive relationship to explain to friends and family why they put up with their partner’s controlling behavior, it likely isn’t love at all. [Read: What is a toxic relationship? 53 signs to recognize love that hurts you]

A possessive relationship usually starts off intense. It is romantic and feels like a whirlwind. This is what makes the feelings of love seem so strong. 

But quite quickly, what seemed so magical and amazing turns to control and manipulation. A possessive person will use that history as an example of their love. They will say they want to control their partner because they don’t want to lose them or because they don’t think they deserve them.

They will prey on their partner’s appreciation for the good times to rectify the bad ones. And this so often works. They will guilt trip or manipulate their partner in countless ways to maintain their possessive relationship all under the guise of love. [Read: The 20 speedy signs your relationship is moving too fast]

Signs you’re in a possessive relationship

The signs you’re in a possessive relationship can range from obvious to subtle. A possessive person is often very good at disguising their behavior as love or caring, so you don’t see the signs. 

Manipulation is a key part of a possessive relationship, so being able to spot it is difficult but vital.

If you find any or all of these behaviors familiar, it is time to do something about the state of your relationship.

1. They get irrationally jealous

It is one thing to be a little jealous if you see your partner get hit on by an attractive stranger. But usually, you trust your partner and let it go. In the case of a possessive relationship, this small tinge of jealousy gets out of hand.

Your partner would accuse you of being interested in someone just for talking to them. They would be jealous of you working late because your work is getting more attention than them. Basically, they get jealous of anyone or anything that takes your attention away from them. [Read: How to deal with jealousy in a relationship and learn to overcome it]

2. They love-bomb

Love bombing is an attempt to woo someone with over-the-top gestures like sending flowers, buying gifts, or being extra romantic right off the bat. This could be seen as sweet, but it often happens very quickly and before the person even knows you. 

This is very often a precursor to abuse and manipulation. By starting a relationship with an overwhelming amount of affection, you feel flattered and excited by this, only for it to turn into something creepy and dangerous once you’re involved. [Read: The warning signs of love bombing that could easily be confused with love]

3. They show up out of the blue

It can be sweet for your partner to show up with wine after you’ve had a bad day. But, if they frequently show up out of the blue for no reason except they missed you, it can be alarming.

They may cloak this behavior as sweetness or love, but in reality, it is a way to check up on you. [Read: 16 signs of an emotionally manipulative boyfriend who’s playing you]

4. You feel guilty for being happy

If you call your partner after getting a promotion or having a great day, they will bring you down by accusing you of bragging when they’re struggling. They will speak about your job negatively, claiming it’s taking time away from your relationship

They struggle to be happy for you in these moments because it has nothing to do with them. In fact, they may even speak negatively about your friends and family when they have good news because they pull your attention away from them.

5. They don’t like giving you space

Every healthy relationship requires some level of personal space and boundaries. But in a possessive relationship, that is not the case.

If you need a day to just relax, they will question why you can’t relax with them. They will want you to spend all your free time with them, including when you just want to see your friends. [Read: Why people become clingy and needy – And how to help them change]

6. They need to know your schedule

If you go out without them, they will want to know where you are, where you’re going, and who you’ll be with. They may not word these questions as accusations, but no one needs to know where their partner is at all times.

They may also insist you share your location with them via your phone. If you try to instill boundaries and privacy, they will likely accuse you of lying to guilt you into sharing such details. If you want to know how to set boundaries, start with these 15 healthy boundaries all happy couples follow in a relationship.

7. They don’t encourage your growth or success

In a healthy relationship, partners motivate, inspire, and support each other to become better and more well-rounded people. You want each other to be better and happier. But, in a possessive relationship, it is quite the opposite.

A possessive partner will negate your growth and want to confine you instead of encouraging you to explore. [Read: The 15 scary signs you’re in a toxic relationship that’s breaking you]

8. They text a lot

Texting throughout the day is all great, fine, and well. But when it becomes unnecessary and excessive, there is a reason for it. They want to be in constant communication with you for a reason – they need to know they have your attention. 

It is one thing to text about dinner plans or to send memes during your lunch break, but when they need a quick response when they’re asking about your day, something isn’t right.

9. They are all over social media

Someone who is possessive will post a lot of photos of you on social media. They want the world to know that you are theirs. They will also know a lot about your online activity. 

If someone complimented your selfie and you liked their comment, they will ask you why you did that and accuse you of instigating attention from other people. [Read: 15 serious warning signs of a clingy partner and why you should avoid them]

10. They try to restrict your freedom

This could be on so many levels but is very common in possessive relationships. They will guilt you into staying home with them instead of going out with friends.

They will even invite themselves along, so you don’t have time away from them. Or they may ask who you’re texting or make you unfollow certain people on social media. Whichever form it takes, your partner should never restrict your freedom.

11. They accuse you of betraying them

This is a major one! If you don’t tell them there is a new person at your job and they find out, they will accuse you of keeping it from them. They will take it so far that even though you did nothing wrong, you end up apologizing because they manipulate you into feeling bad for hurting them. 

12. They are unstable emotionally

People who are possessive in relationships are not in control of their own emotions. This is another reason they feel the need to control you. They will fly off the handle at the smallest thing. 

You could be having a nice night, but if you do something as small as answering a phone call, they will become enraged or ice you out, so you beg them to forgive you. [Read: 15 signs of manipulation in a relationship you should never ignore]

13. They rely on only you

People who are possessive tend to have a small, if not vacant, group of friends. They are so laser-focused on you and your relationship because they have nowhere else to go. 

They put all their needs, desires, and attention on you and expect you to do the same because they don’t have that support system outside of you. [Read: How to stop being codependent and have a healthy relationship]

14. They care about what you wear

It’s normal to ask your partner what they think about your outfit, basically because you want them to say you look cute. But when a partner dictates what the other person wears, it’s controlling.

The reason is that they don’t want their partner to attract attention from other people. They’re so low in confidence that they believe their partner will leave them if they turn the head of another person.

15. They have unrealistic expectations

You could argue that all of the above points are unrealistic expectations, but in general, a controlling individual will expect their partner to live up to standards that are out of reach.

They’ll want them to be on hand to talk all the time, no matter what they’re doing. Perhaps they’ll ask them to video call to prove where they are when the circumstances simply aren’t right to call. Basically, everything is over and above. [Read: Lower your expectations – Best way to find love or complete BS?]

16. They always want to know what you’re thinking

It’s normal to ask your partner what they’re thinking occasionally, especially if they look deep in thought, but this type of person does it all the time. They want to know exactly what is on their partner’s mind because they’re worried it’s something that spells the end of the relationship.

How to handle controlling behavior

If you can recognize several of these signs in your relationship, the chances are that there is a significant element of control going on.

Now, you can choose to walk away from your partner if it’s really affecting you, or you can work with them to try and reduce the amount of control they seem to need.

The decision has to be yours, but if you want to work on it, here’s how you can handle control in a possessive relationship. [Read: 38 small changes to better your love life and improve the relationship 10-fold]

1. Re-establish your self-confidence and self-respect

First, you need to work on yourself a little. When you’ve been in a possessive relationship, it affects your confidence and how you see yourself. Start building yourself up and reminding yourself of how wonderful you are.

It’s time to focus on you.

2. Set aside an appropriate time to talk with your partner

Make sure neither of you is busy and there’s nothing likely to interrupt you. Then, sit down with your partner and discuss what’s going on. It’s vital that you choose your language and tone of voice very carefully here and avoid any blame-style words.

Instead of “you always,” you could say, “I feel that…” [Read: How to change for your partner without compromising or losing you]

3. Provide specific examples

It’s important that you give specific examples of the behavior that is upsetting or disturbing you. This will help you to give weight to what you’re saying and show your partner what is actually going on.

It’s very possible that they don’t realize they’re being controlling.

4. Be aware that your partner might react negatively

Nobody likes to be faced with criticism of their behavior, especially from someone they’re desperate not to lose. Your partner may see this as a major threat, so be aware that they may react negatively.

This could involve them becoming angry, upset, or dismissive. [Read: Ways to handle dating someone with anger issues]

5. Be clear about what you want to change

It’s no good bringing up examples of control in your relationship if you don’t talk about the things you want to change. You need to be clear so progress can be made.

So, if you don’t like that your partner wants to spend every single second of the day with you, explain how you would like the space to see your friends a couple of times per week. If you don’t like that they text you constantly, ask that they allow you to enjoy your workday without constantly being bombarded with messages.

6. Remain calm during the conversation

This is a very emotive type of conversation, so it’s normal for you to become a little upset, but it’s important to stay as calm as possible. If you become upset, your partner is going to become upset.

That’s not the best basis for a constructive conversation. [Read: Communication techniques to finally get them to open up to you]

7. Help them out if they agree to change

If your partner agrees to work on themselves and learn how to stop being possessive, help them out. Ask what they need from you and do what you can.

Also, remember that they’re trying and that sometimes there may be road bumps along the way.

8. Be patient

Any type of self-development work takes time. And that’s what this situation is. Your partner needs to change something about themselves.

Be patient, and don’t expect miracles overnight. Celebrate every small win and do what you can to support them along the way. [Read: Love is patient, love is kind – rules to experience true love]

9. Give an ultimatum if needed

If your partner refuses to change, you need to step up. You can’t just allow them to carry on acting in this way because it’s detrimentally affecting you and your relationship.

Explain that if they refuse to work on themselves and make the changes you want to see, you will walk away. And you have to actually act on your words. It’s no good making a threat and then not going through with it.

How to stop possessiveness in a relationship

Of course, it may be that you’re the one who struggles with control in a relationship, and you think you may be acting in a possessive way. If that’s the case, the fact you’re reading this shows your willingness to change.

Now, understanding the cause of your possessiveness can require years of therapy. It can also take a lot of introspection and self-realization. [Read: 20 non-clingy ways to stop being a possessive friend and give space]

Look back to your past. Maybe your family or a prior relationship. What happened that made you feel like you had no control? That pain or loss is what pushed you into a zone of possessiveness. Once you get hurt, you consciously and subconsciously go into protection mode to try to take control of your life.

Some people may do that by not opening up to anyone. Others desire that companionship but cannot handle the parts that are out of their control, like their partners.

If you’re reading this, you are probably one of these people. And we get it. You may not have gotten to this point purposely. And you’re probably reading this because you want to treat your partner with the respect and trust they deserve. [Read: These signs of a lack of respect in a relationship should not be ignored]

That is a good sign. You are on the right track. Letting go of what brought this behavior on is what can help you move forward without such a strong need for control.

Repeat to yourself that every relationship is different. What happened in the past is not what’s happening now. And even if something repeats itself, it isn’t because it was out of your control but because it was meant to. [Read: How to get over trust issues in a relationship and heal from within]

How to stop being possessive in a relationship 

Unlearning everything your mind has programmed into you about protecting yourself will not go out the window overnight. You can’t stop this behavior by simply wanting to. You really need to put it into practice and work on your relationship with your partner so you are on the same page.

1. Trust yourself and your partner

Before you can start trusting your partner, start to trust yourself. Usually, if you have trust issues and need to feel in control, you have issues trusting your own judgment. 

You need to realize you chose to be with this person for a reason. Let them be with you on their terms.

Then you need to let go of any doubts and work on trusting your partner. [Read: 15 subtle signs of a possessive and controlling boyfriend that girls don’t like]

2. Learn to communicate

Talking is the best way to start building trust. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, and be sure to listen to them. Sharing what you need and expect from each other and actually acting on it is so important. [Read: How to help a possessive girlfriend to go from clingy to amazing]

3. Set boundaries

If you are having a hard time figuring out what is acceptable and what isn’t, sit down with your partner and discuss what is over the line for them. Should you be checking in with each other a few times a day when you aren’t together? 

Figure out what works for both of you. You can try to compromise and meet in the middle and slowly pull back as your trust grows.

4. Talk about your feelings

We know this sounds mushy and cheesy, but actually talking to your partner about how you feel can help you let go of some of the anger or anxiety you hang on to. Once they know how you feel, they will understand. You will feel a weight lifted. [Read: Problems that will make your relationship stronger]

5. Do things with other people

Don’t just hang out alone, but join with friends and other couples. This will let you be together without being on top of each other. It also lets you get to know each other’s friends, so you know who they spend their time with.

6. Tell them what you need

Your partner may be tired of you controlling them, as they should be. If you let them know what you need to let go of that control, they will want to work with you.

If you need to see them more often or hear from them more throughout the day at first, to let go of that possessiveness, find a way to work on it together. [Read: Controlling vs caring – The thin line clingy people love to cross]

7. Ask what they need

Understanding how to stop being possessive in a relationship isn’t just about you. This is a partnership. Work with them too. Ask what they need from you to trust that you are trying to be better. 

8. Live your own life

One reason it can be hard to let go of being possessive in a relationship is due to the fact that your relationship has taken over most of your life. Maybe you see family and go to work, but if your life is consumed with the relationship, it can be hard to lose control over something that is so prominent in your life.

Go out with your friends. Take up other hobbies or more responsibilities at work. If you are independent and don’t rely on your control over your partner to be fulfilled, you can both live well-balanced lives. [Read: How to give space in a relationship without drifting apart]

9. Don’t try to change them

When someone is possessive in a relationship, they try to change their partner to how they picture them or want them to be. You may silence a partner that has strong opinions or make someone who is independent rely on you to help you more easily control them.

These things are not just manipulative but are ways to change someone for your benefit. If you don’t truly want to be with the person they are, then you are in the wrong relationship.

10. Tell your partner where these feelings came from

It can be hard to open up about why you have these hangups with trust and control. But, letting your partner know what experiences you went through will give them a deeper insight into why you have this behavior so they can work with you. [Read: How to fix the lack of communication in your relationship]

11. Consider trying therapy

If all of this doesn’t do the trick and you can’t help but continue being possessive in a relationship, think about going to therapy.

There is no shame in it. You haven’t lost control. It means you are asking for help to take control of your life. You don’t want your emotions controlling you but to control them so you can be in a healthy and equal relationship. [Read: Relationship therapy – 25 clues to know if it’ll help your romance]

12. Find ways to calm your anxiety

Learning how to stop being possessive won’t happen overnight, and there may be times when your anxiety spikes. In that case, learning how to handle your anxiety is important.

Exercise, head out into nature, try some deep breathing exercises, meditate, and try positive affirmations. These are all good ways to reduce anxiety when it hits.

13. Get to know each other’s friends

This doesn’t mean that you become one big social group and never do anything without each other. It means that you get to know each other’s friends so you can see there is nothing to fear.

When you know them, you’ll feel more comfortable when your partner is with them. [Read: How to get your partner’s friends to like you]

14. Don’t spy on your partner

And, of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t resort to spying on your partner to try and alleviate your worries. By doing that, you’re just playing into the hands of anxiety.

Your worry is based on nothing but fear. If you spy on your partner and they find out *which they probably will*, it’s just going to make everything ten times worse.

Possessiveness won’t keep them, it will cause you to lose them

At the heart of learning how to stop being possessive in a relationship, you need to realize that holding on tightly doesn’t do what you think it would. You’re not more likely to keep your partner because you’re being possessive and clinging on for dear life; you’re more likely to lose them.

People need to be able to breathe! They need to be trusted to live their lives inside and outside of the relationship.

Trust is so important in relationships for many reasons. It may be that your partner hasn’t done anything to make you distrust them but that someone in your past has caused you to have trust issues. In that case, work on yourself and don’t pour the burden onto your partner.

If you want to keep your partner and have a healthy and long-lasting relationship, possessiveness has to be a thing of the past. [Read: 18 critical signs of an unhealthy relationship]

It is possible to turn a possessive relationship into a healthy one

You might think that a possessive relationship is doomed to fail. But that’s not really the case.

If the controlling partner refuses to change their behavior, then yes, the relationship is not going to last. But if both partners talk openly and carefully about what’s going on and make a commitment to change, there is hope for the future.

It won’t happen overnight, and there may be times when old behavior resurfaces, but by working together and supporting one another, you can get there.

[Read: How to stop loving someone and read the signs it’s time to walk away]

If you see the signs of a possessive relationship, it is time to do something about it. You deserve a healthy and functioning relationship – both of you.

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Preeti Tewari Serai
Preeti Serai
Preeti, the founder of LovePanky, is an eternal optimist and believer in the beauty of love and life. With an exhaustive experience in love, relationships, and ...