Why Do I Become Overprotective and Possessive in Relationships?

I am in a relationship that I have wanted all of my life. I find myself starting to sabotage it with overprotectiveness and possessiveness. I know what’s happening intellectually but am struggling to control it. What measures can I take to give me solace and contentment? - Overprotective
Dear Overprotective,

Thank you for writing in with such a great question. When it comes to the oft elusive quest for a partner to build a life with, what makes sense intellectually can begin to feel much more complicated in a hurry. You mention feeling overprotective and possessive in your relationship. While it can feel really scary to make yourself vulnerable, it might be a good idea to talk to your partner about what you are feeling. In a relationship, discussing hopes and dreams, as well as fears and insecurities, can be very effective in building intimacy and fostering a strong bond. Imagine how you might feel if you learned your partner was struggling with some fears and insecurities of his/her own. Imagine how you might feel if your partner expressed how much you were loved and valued and compassionately alleviated your fears. It is possible that opening up a conversation about how you are feeling in the relationship might just produce these responses and increase the connectedness between you.

For many people, initiating a conversation like this with their partner can feel more than a little uncomfortable—it can feel completely overwhelming, perhaps even impossible. If you find yourself somewhere on this spectrum, you might find it beneficial to talk to a therapist. My belief, which is backed up by a growing body of research, is that much of the change that therapy produces is a result of the therapeutic relationship that develops between the client and the therapist. Therapy can be very effective in helping people work on relationship issues, in part because the therapy relationship allows you to participate in a safe, strong, and healthy relationship. Therapy affords you the opportunity to learn, develop and practice relationship skills in a safe setting and offers continued support as you begin to implement these skills outside of your sessions.

In addition to mastering relational skills, therapy can also offer a safe space for you to take a look at yourself and the health of your relationship. Sometimes when people are feeling overprotective and possessive in their relationships, it can be an indicator that they lack the confidence and self-esteem to believe that they are worthy of the relationship that they are in. If this is the case, therapy can be invaluable in helping you learn to truly love and accept yourself and to know that you are worthy of love. Sometimes overprotective and possessive feelings in a relationship can be indicators that the relationship is not a healthy one—maybe your partner has given you real reasons to not believe he/she is trustworthy. As an objective third party, whose sole responsibility is to you and your well-being, a therapist can also offer insight into the health of a relationship.

Committed, healthy relationships can offer a sense of partnership, comfort, support, and myriad other benefits; however, they also require hard work and an ability to look at yourself, your partner, and the relationship in ways that can be uncomfortable.

Kind regards,
Sarah

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • R.Z

    November 16th, 2012 at 9:48 PM

    I was like this before when I was much younger. Over possessive to a point where I can now imagine I must have been frustrating for my partner. Lost out on a great long term relationship solely because if that reason. I learnt my lesson. You can hold sand in your hand but hold it too tight and it will just slip away!

  • kent

    November 17th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    If you have been hurt and abandoned earlier in life, either by your mom or dad or in a relationship, then I think that it would only be natural to begin feeling possessive of someone that you love.

    The hard thing to recognize though is that for a healthy person being possessive like this is actually going to drive them away. And while it is easy to see this it is hard to stop that kind of behavior without a little bit of help.

    That’s the one thing that I would encourage- don’t be shy about asking for some help because most of the time all of us need this. This might not be an issue that you can overcome on your own.

  • Dimple

    November 18th, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    There must be a reason behind why you are overprotective and possessive in a relationship. Your attitude is a direct results of his behavior.

  • Kali

    November 18th, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    Have to learn that many times the best protection is release. Being over protective and over watchful can definitely run those that you are closest too off and leave you standing with nothing but an empty feeling.

  • Jamejimion

    November 19th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    For most of us this is a trait that we have when we have never been given the tools to ahow someone real love. We think that love is about having to have someone under our thumb all the time, but really it is more about being able to let them go and still being confident that they will come back to us.

  • Xeexee

    November 19th, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    You sound like you understand what’s driving your behaviour but are struggling to know how to cope.

    Give to yourself that which you are seeking in your partner, this might be love acceptance and nurturing which has been missing, part of this will be a therapeutic process which allows you to grieve past losses and validate the feelings you are having at the moment. It may also involve accepting that you are trying the best you can in what sounds like a very difficult situation for you….and is all part of your healing. Being able to manage you’re present feelings may also be assisted by considering meditation or mindfulness practices….wish you healing on your journey. First step has already been made by you….

  • Ray

    September 27th, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    Maybe possessiveness and over protectiveness is due to lack of perceived or actual abundance?

  • Nerdygeek

    April 5th, 2015 at 12:44 AM

    The key to having a good relationship is giving your partner time to miss you.

  • Riya

    June 5th, 2016 at 2:37 AM

    I am too friendly with my best friend but my boy friend gets over possessed feels jealous and insecure.
    what should i do so that my boy friend does not get jealous or something like that. but the problem is that i cant stop talking to my best friend .

  • john m.

    January 8th, 2019 at 8:27 PM

    I’m one of the most protective guys that my girlfriend has and I asked her one day ” am I too protective or overly protective ” and she responded with ” I think it’s hot that your overly protective and I don’t mind it as long as you don’t limit me to people that I can talk to” why does my girlfriend think it’s so hot about me being overly protective over her. can anybody here answer that because I can’t..

  • Laura

    October 17th, 2019 at 8:25 PM

    Acting this way always happens in a relationship due to one partner lying and cheating. it’s a coping mechanism

  • Athomas

    March 20th, 2020 at 9:23 AM

    In my view. Ia have been told that iam possessive. By my Love. Iam not an expert in the relationship field. However, wanting to protect your partner or your Love is a great trait. Going to far is what causes ill will and frustration with the other party involved. My suggestion is open communication and lots of listening to the other side is huge. Professional help can do wonders aswel. Much success n

  • Mav

    October 15th, 2022 at 9:41 AM

    In my first hand experience, overprotectivness and possessive tendencies, in relationships and or family relationships, Can come from a few things that occurred (or didn’t occur) in a person’s life… And to figure that out we need to take a deep look into what areas they are more “possessive, controlling or overprotective” on or about. Like some ppl are possessive over their significant other on talking to other people, looking at other people, having friends of the opposite sex or seeing their family. And closing them off from the outside world to where you and ONLY you can have access to them. Other ppl are controlling over their spouse or family like always needing to be in charge, every idea needs to be theirs, tells you what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Will get very angry if not listened to or ignored (may result in violence). And then there are overprotective ppl. This is usually a parent-kid trait that rarely applies to spousal relationships. But they will guard their kids/loved ones from all forms of failure, embarrassment, hurt feelings and any form of physical or mental harm. Which stunts a child’s social growth and decision making and makes them completely dependent on you…… Once you figure out what trait someone is fixated on. If your spouse is “possessive” there are a few things you need to get to know about them and their past. Was their mom/father possessive? Where their parents abusive (mental or physical) to each other if they talked to anyone or hung out with family/friends? Did he/she get abandoned by a mother, father or close relative at a Young age? Or did he/she get heartbroken in a relationship? Ppl are not born with Possessive tendencies, They are picked up over time, and usually start watching parents or friends in possessive relationships. But not all possessive tendencies come from toxic parenting or seeing those types of tendencies. Some forms of “possessive tendencies”come from the “fear of abandonment” or “fear of being alone”. How is “possessiveness” an effect of “abandonment” you may ask? Like millions of ppl (including myself) didn’t grow up with a functional family… My mom dealing wit her demons and personal life, dad not there, me the older brother who feels no love and gets shown no attention and gets hit and a lil sister who can do no wrong and is loved. As I grew up I saw my mom go threw dude after dude and abused by most of them same wit most of her friends, then would look to me and say “everything is ok” or “everything is fine” or “mind your own business”. So I felt I was abandoned and robbed of family love and decided I’ll find ppl who will care about me and love me. Simple right? No! Because how can someone, who’s own family abandoned them, be worthy of someone else’s love? And along the line you run into someone who says “I love you, I’ll never leave u” or “you don’t have to worry, I got you” or “whatever happens we’re in this together”. So you get comfortable and trusting And all of a sudden they leave or no longer want you around or find someone else or turn on you. But this don’t happen jus once…. It happens again and again and again your abandoned by the ppl who “cared” for u the most, who “loved” you the most. It can be family, friends and or even lovers. They may not notice, while growing up, that they were abandoned or not truly cared for because that’s what they experience everyday and see from multiple relationships close to them… Then when they are old enough to start dating it’s exciting. Someone is interested in me, likes me, wants to to talk to you for hours on end, wants to get to know everything about you and wants your heart, and same for you. But young “love” is “silly love” and can hurt a lot but is often forgotten about quickly. Now that they have had a couple young relationships come and go, u get into your first serious relationship where u have been together a while now and sayin “I love you” and Talkin about “long term” throwing around thoughts of marriage and kids and how y’all we’ll be “together forever” then One day they will leave you for/find someone “better” or they will just leave you. When that happens ur heart not only breaks but, all the times u were left by someone who said they would never leave or said they loved/ cared for u, all those feelings and memories of abandonment come flying back COMBINED with the intense heartbreak over losing someone u love jus destroys a person soul… So after that they start putting up walls to protect themselves but in doin so pushes ppl, who want to love them, away or they will seek attention in other ppl… when this happens to ppl, who’ve been abandoned and left by significant ppl in their lives, they sit back and assess what is goin wrong and why ppl keep leaving? Then they start seeing other guys interested in their spouse and they don’t like it THEN their spouse ends up leaving them for the other person that was interested in them… Now jealousy is in high gear now ur letting everyone know thats YOUR spouse and will get upset if someone else shows interest in them. And at first your spouse likes it and tells you “you don’t have to worry about them (her/him)” “they’re jus friends” … Then they leave for for those “just friends” and now they sitting there thinkin “ok I know what not to do next time” but this one hurt so they wait a lil and then they same thing happens but it’s even worse now cuz y’all were engaged/married or had kids. Now your thinkin “I’ma be single for a while so I don’t get hurt again and heal”(but never actually do heal). Then at this point is where “Possessive tendencies” kick in… They finally wit someone who likes them and with someone they like, after a while of being alone, it feels good to be wanted…… But the fears of losing that, losin someone they love isn’t an option this time and remembered last time they left because another person was interested in my spouse, before that their friends hated him/her and talked them into leaving, after that they leave u for “just friends” and lastly their parents or family convince them they can do better and they leave, Soo. They come to a conclusion…….., no opposite sex friends, no nights out with friends, no constant communication wit friends, absolutely no “jus friends” if family don’t like them then no contact wit family. And if they do ANY of that it’s instant anger, yelling and in most cases violence.. and voila Possessive tendencies brought on by the fear of abandonment!! Yes, there are other causes of “possessive tendencies” but in my opinion in experience none are as bad as “Possessive tendencies” brought on by “The Fear of abandonment”….. So before you judge a book by its cover, make sure you read and understand the pages and chapters it took to make that book!!!!

  • Brooklyn

    December 31st, 2023 at 1:35 AM

    I don’t know what to do idk if I like my bff or I’m mentally unstable and I just need someone rn idk what to do :(

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