While it may seem natural to want to keep your partner solely to yourself, safely locked away from temptation, possessiveness may well be a sign of your own insecurity – and, unless checked, this can wreck the happiest relationship.
At the beginning of most relationships, partners ask themselves: ‘Am I loved?’ Later on, that opinion may change to: ‘How much am I loved?’ and ‘How long will it last?’ These questions are both obvious and valid – but worrying unduly about them may make you become possessive, albeit for very different reasons. In the opening stages of a relationship, you may become possessive in order to be reassured that your partner loves you. In effect, you are showing how much you care. But once the relationship has become established, possessiveness may be used to try to make sure that your partner continues to love you.
While both are a form of emotional blackmail, the first can be excused as something that happens in the first flush, excitement and insecurity of a new love affair, but the second can only be seen as a sign of fundamental insecurity on your part, based on the real or imagined fear that your relationship is not working.
There are times when every relationship suffers because one of the partners is being over-possessive. This may be temporary, in which case common sense and a little reassurance soon restore a loving, healthy atmosphere.
But it may be a far more permanent situation, which often leads to both partners going their respective ways.
The sad and ironic thing about possessiveness is that while it may kill the relationship, it may also show just how intensely the possessive person loves his or her partner – and how much they value and need the very relationship they are helping to destroy.
The first thing to realise is that if you begin to feel possessive it is because you feel that your relationship is somehow being threatened.
Feelings of threat and insecurity leading to possessiveness may occur for many reasons. They can be due to a change in circumstances, which causes a person to lose self-confidence.
Heather began meeting Norman regularly after work – often when he was not expecting it – and spent most of her time hovering in his vicinity when they went out to parties together. As time went on, he began to feel increasingly resentful of her actions.
‘I see now that Norman was only reacting to my fears,’ says Heather, ‘but at the time it only confirmed them. Eventually he had an affair with a girl he worked with, and that finished us.’
In Heather’s case, her suspicions and possessiveness only started after they had decided to marry – indicating that one of the causes may have been the fear that she would not be capable of making a ‘good wife and mother’. In other words, she had a bad self-image which led to jealousy and possessiveness.
Although Heather blames herself, both partners were probably at fault.
When she first began to feel possessive, Heather should have tried to discuss her suspicions with Norman and together they may well have been able to solve their problem.
And Norman should have realised that something was seriously wrong when Heather began to behave so much out of character.
Jealous, possessive partners have featured strongly in many works of literature, because these emotions, though destructive and negative, are nevertheless very deep – and can provide powerful scenes.
Feeling left out
- Engrossed in a hobby
- Bound up with an outside interest
- Involved with friends or colleagues, excluding you
- A total workaholic
- Unwilling to go out with you
- More inclined to spend time alone
- Unwilling to discuss something that seems to be causing his or her partner worry
- Too tired for sex.
The important thing to remember is that it does not mean necessarily that he or she is rejecting you. Instead of desperately trying to bind your partner closer to you, it is better to sit down with your partner and try to explain why their behaviour threatens you.
Possessiveness only makes a bad situation worse. But sometimes it may reflect a basic imbalance in a relationship, and one which will continue even if the feelings of insecurity and possessiveness are coped with.
Julie and Neil had enjoyed a warm, close relationship when Neil decided to join the local dramatic society. To all outward appearances, Julie was one of the most well-balanced women you could hope to meet – but suddenly she found herself spending long evenings alone, worrying whether Neil’s new friends were not somehow more fun and attractive than she was. Her reaction was to join the same drama club – a disaster, since she had no aptitude and only made herself look silly and slightly pathetic. Luckily, Julie had the good sense to see where her feelings of possessiveness were taking her and gave up the drama club to start an evening class, which she had always wanted to do but had shied away from in case Neil himself had felt excluded.
‘I’d always had an ideal relationship in my mind in which the couple shared everything,’ explained Julie. ‘And when it was obvious that Neil didn’t feel the same way, I felt rejected. To be honest, I still feel that my ideal is the best, but I know that Neil finds it confining.’
Plainly, Julie has not really solved her basic conflict, which may or may not lead to an eventual break with Neil. But she has stopped possessiveness running out of control and ruining her life.
It is easy to feel hurt when you feel that your partner is somehow rejecting you. And it is only human to want to make your partner suffer for making you feel unhappy. This means that almost without realising it, you may start to become possessive. But talking to each other is really the only way to cope with – or cure – the problem.
Rules of the game
Some cultures have established rules governing possessiveness, particularly with regard to sexual faithfulness.
Various tribes in Borneo, for example, believe that the chief should offer his wife – and occasionally his daughters, even if they are already married – to any ‘important’ stranger who enters the village. Husbands or lovers of the women concerned are not allowed to show jealousy (and are ostracized if they do) since the law of hosptitality takes precedence over every other consideration.
In western culture, the most obvious attempt to eradicate possessiveness and jealously from human relationships came with the so-called ‘swingers’ in the sixties who regularly swapped partners or attended parties where their partners had sex with complete strangers.
The only rule appeared to be that emotional involvement with the casual partner was strictly forbidden, or generally considered ‘uncool’.
But research has now shown that most people do find it difficult to avoid becoming emotionally involved with their sexual partners, no matter how casual the relationship, and a common cause of problems – and possessiveness – in a relationship is when one partner wants it to become more serious, while the other one wishes it to stay casual.