Feeling emotionally connected to your partner is great. It means there's intimacy in your relationship, and you can freely share your opinions without fear. In short, it's healthy. Being in love and caring about someone a lot can be overwhelming for both them and you. But according to experts, it's important to know when being caring is becoming emotionally suffocating.
"An emotionally suffocating relationship is one in which one or both people do not feel they have the freedom to be their authentic selves," Rebecca Ogle, LCSW, psychotherapist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Perhaps one or both partners is critical, overprotective, jealous, and/or has rigid beliefs and thinking."
If your partner is being emotionally suffocating, they may keep tabs on you throughout the day. They may subtly judge you, your appearance, or your opinions and choices. They may constantly worry and check in on your emotional state. They may get jealous and easily threatened by people you're close to, and they'll likely want to be in your life as much as possible.
It's not quite emotional abuse, but it can be really toxic. The good thing is, you can do some things about it before it gets worse. So here are some small ways to fix an emotionally suffocating relationship, according to experts.
1. Express Yourself
When you're in an emotionally suffocating relationship, you may feel like your boundaries aren't being respected. According to Kelsey M. Latimer, PhD, CEDS-S, a psychologist who specializes in relationships and founder of Hello Goodlife, some people see this in the level of communication they have. For instance, if one partner doesn't need to stay in constant communication throughout the day while the other does, they can feel like their needs aren't being respected. "One of the most important things to do to fix the experience of emotional suffocation is to express your feelings openly to the person you feel is violating your boundaries," Latimer says. If your partner isn't aware that they're being suffocating, chances are they won't do anything about it. It can be an even bigger problem if they're aware of your needs and aren't listening.
2. Make Small Decisions On Your Own
"Over-policing and over-controlling can be symptoms of a blurred boundary style called enmeshment," Christine Scott-Hudson, licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle. "Enmeshment generally develops slowly over time and does not typically turn into conflict until one partner wishes to make a decision in which the the other partner does not approve." If you feel like you're enmeshed with your partner, it can make you feel like you have to consult with them before you make any decisions. While you should always talk to your partner before making major life decisions, you don't have to talk to them about everything. "If you think you have developed an enmeshment style of attachment in your relationship, begin to set small limits on your partner’s overreach by making small, daily choices without consulting with them first," Scott-Hudson says. This way, you can start to gain some of your independence back.
3. Allow Your Partner To Do Their Own Thing Without Asking Any Questions
If you are in the "controller role," practice allowing your partner to make independent decisions without believing that they're going to abandon you. According to Scott-Hudson, you may even want to do some self-reflection to figure out why you feel the need to have control over what your partner does. "Your partner will not leave you if they individuate a little from the partnership," she says. "In fact, allowing them the space and room to grow may help your partner to feel more comfortable, safe, and free within your partnership." Healthy relationships give both partners space to grow on their own while remaining part of a solid team.
4. Stand By Your Opinions
When you're in an emotionally suffocating relationship, it can sometimes feel like you have to agree with your partner or else it's just going to cause problems. While having a different opinion may cause an argument, it can be healthy. Couples who know how to fight productively typically last longer than those who don't fight at all. So stand by your opinions. "Tell your partner that the two of you can still love each other without agreeing on everything," Ogle says. "No couple on earth agrees on everything. That's the truth!"
5. Spend Time On Your Own Each Day Practicing Self-Care
If you want to create a healthier dynamic in your relationship, it's important to set boundaries for yourself. According to Penelope Lynne Gordon, relationship expert and women's empowerment coach, "Boundaries in relationships are often directly linked to self-esteem. The partner who is clingy and possessive, is oftentimes a person who is struggling with low self-worth." It's important to spend some time each day doing things for yourself. Practice self-care each day by taking a job by yourself, reading a book, or writing your feelings out in a journal. As Gordon says, "You will undoubtably see your boundaries strengthen and your relationships flourish."
6. Put The Relationship On Pause For A Week
"Emotionally suffocating relationship are ones where one of the parties is putting most, if not all, of their emotional, relational, physical touch, and socializing needs on their partner, while the partner feels trapped and possibly manipulated," Rich Oswald, licensed professional counselor who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle. Fixing this type of dynamic will require both of you to do your part. Sometimes taking a break from each other can do a lot of good. According to Oswald, putting the relationship on pause can give you time to be yourself, and to reflect and address your individual needs. "Otherwise, the pull to continue the dysfunctional behavior may be too strong to allow any healing and growing to be accomplished," he says.
7. Reinforce The Importance Of Trust And Faith In A Relationship
When you're in a healthy relationship, there's trust. According to Ogle, it's important to show your partner that you can trust them and that you have faith that the relationship can work out. You can do this by talking to them about old baggage or being open about the fact that you have trust issues from the past and you're working on it now. Your partner should be able to do the same. "If your partner continues to have difficulty trusting and putting faith in you (or say they don't but their actions say otherwise), it may be time to seek couples' counseling," she says.
It's important to note that if you ever feel guilty or ashamed for expressing yourself, Ogle says you may be dealing with much more than just emotional suffocation. In this case, this may be emotional abuse and talking to someone about it should be considered. There is help out there.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.