Only Mine: What is Possessiveness?

What is Possessiveness in Relationships?

Possessiveness is defined by as “having or showing an excessive desire to possess, control, or dominate”. Think of possessiveness as a line with two ends.

couple on opposite sides of the bed

On one end, we can feel uncomfortable when our partner is out at a bar, being hit on by someone else. On the other end, possessiveness leads to forbidding our partner from going to a bar due to the fear they could be hit on.

Further, our placement on this line can change with external and internal factors. For example, if we go through a friendship break-up and lose a lot of our social connections as a consequence. We then become more possessive of our partner to protect what social connection we have left. As our social connections are re-established, our possessive tendencies can decrease over time.

For those who fall higher along the line of possessiveness, where does it come from?

Researchers suggest that attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, might shed some light on this question. According to Bowlby and Ainsworth, we develop different styles of ‘attachment’ depending on the relationship we had with our parents or caregivers. These attachment styles persist into adulthood and shape the quality of relationships we have with our partners. Researchers suggest that an anxious attachment style might lead to possessive tendencies developing later in life.

Warning signs of possessiveness in relationships?
  1. Moving too fast at the start of the relationship: If your partner does not respect or understand boundaries, this could indicate possessiveness. Your partner might want to move quickly to solidify the relationship and position themselves to control the dynamics. This might be seen by the possessive partner as a reasonable response due to the strong need for media apps on iphone screen
  2. Safety checking behaviours: If your partner is often searching your phone, social media accounts, or emails for evidence that you are being unfaithful, this might indicate possessiveness. Highly possessive individuals feel strong anxiety at the thought of losing those close to them. These behaviours minimise the anxiety. Although, in the long term these strategies are likely to cause fights and lead to separation.
  3. Not respecting individuality within the relationship: If your partner is opposed to you building and maintaining friendships outside of the relationship, this could indicate possessiveness. Further, highly possessive partners feel the need to include themselves in their partner’s plans and goals.
What to do when faced with a highly possessive partner?
couple in counselling session

It’s important to adopt assertive communication, rather than passive or aggressive communication with your possessive partner to set clear boundaries. Learning to be assertive in communication is challenging, and building this skill with a mental health worker is one option.

We can also reassure our partners in response to safety checking behaviours by encouraging problem solving alternatives to anxiety management. It could be helpful to encourage your highly possessive partner to consult a mental health worker.

Couples counselling is one approach to raising awareness of the difficulties within the relationship whilst building on skills in order to reduce the distress which stems from possessiveness.

Severe possessiveness can cause psychological distress and can negatively impact the ability to function in different areas of life. It could be indicative of severe mental health difficulties including personality disorder. In this case, assessments and treatments from medical professionals could be required.

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