Relationships

13 Surprising Signs Your Partner Is Possessive

These habits may seem sweet at first.

Experts reveal the signs you might be in a possessive relationship.
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Good partners check in with each other, show concern, and often spend a lot of time together. This is part of being in a functional, loving relationship. But if your partner is possessive, you might notice that they do these things excessively, sometimes to the point where it starts to feel toxic.

The trouble is, it can be tough to tell whether you’re in a possessive relationship, especially since a desire for control is often disguised as care for your wellbeing. Their habits might even seem cute at first — “Omg, they’re just worried about where I am!” — when in reality their actions are annoying at best and super damaging at worst.

“Being possessive is problematic because it’s a sign that the possessive partner is insecure, controlling, and untrusting,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Date Smart, tells Bustle. Over time, she says, this unhealthy approach to the relationship can progress to emotional abuse.

While you can't change your partner or single-handedly help them overcome old issues, you can bring your concerns to their attention. And, of course, set down a few ground rules. "The best thing for you to do is be clear about your boundaries," Dr. Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. Some possessive people — particularly the insecure ones — may be able to change their ways if they invest a lot of time and energy into gaining personal insight. “You can support your partner by communicating how their possessiveness makes you feel and identifying specific behaviors that seem unhealthy to you,” says Grace Olivia Dickman, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker.

See if you're S.O. is able to respect your boundaries, improve their communication, and strike a healthy balance. That said, “it's important to refrain from taking the role of your partner's therapist,” Dickman says. “A possessive partner should work through these issues independently with a trained therapist outside of the relationship.”

Here are 13 signs of possessiveness that may indicate your partner is crossing the line — as well as what to do about it.

1

They Text You Nonstop

If you always have 100 texts and missed calls from your partner, consider it a red flag. “If your partner is constantly reaching out while you're gone, it's a good sign they can't trust you,” Dickman says. “It also demonstrates their need to be the center of attention in your world even when you're physically apart.”

By constantly reaching out, they’re disrupting your ability to fully enjoy other aspects of your life. And that’s not OK. “Having a partner who doesn't respect your boundaries means you'll never be able to get your needs met,” Dickman says. “A possessive partner who doesn't respect your boundaries is unwilling to give you what you need in order to care for yourself and what you ultimately need to make the relationship thrive.”

2

They Get Upset When You Visit Friends

A lot of possessiveness can be chalked up to an insecure attachment style. “One form of insecure attachment is called ‘preoccupied attachment,’ in which a person is overly focused on preserving closeness and hypersensitive to any hint at abandonment,” says Dr. Jake Porter, LPC, a licensed professional counselor.

This is why they freak out whenever you try to have fun without them. “Time with someone is interpreted as taking away from the primary relationship, something to be competed with,” Porter says. Again, you don’t have to be their therapist, but it may help to acknowledge their concern by assuring them all is well and you’ll be back later.

3

They Get Super Jealous

While some level of jealousy is bound to occur in a relationship, take note if your S.O. is positively consumed by it, says Dr. Caroline Madden, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. As long as you haven’t broken their trust — by, you know, actually cheating on them — then jealousy is likely due to insecurity or a toxic need for control.

A possessive partner might also get jealous about your past when they hear about who you dated or how many people you’ve hooked up with. “This is particularly possessive/controlling because there is nothing you can do about it,” Madden says. “You can’t undo the past. You didn’t cheat. You didn’t do anything wrong. It is used to shame you and make you be on the defensive.” Typically, this type of jealousy is full-on toxic and might be a sign you should end the relationship.

4

They Care About What You Wear

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As a rule, a partner should never comment on what you’re wearing or cause you to second-guess an outfit. “If your partner cares so much about what you wear or the way you look to [the point they become angry] then you are entering a danger zone,” Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon, Psy.D., a double-board certified integrative and interventional psychologist, tells Bustle. “Anger is impulsive and unpredictable and can quickly turn to violence.”

5

They Try To Protect You From “Bad” Friends

If your partner genuinely thinks one of your friends or family members is bad news, go ahead and hear them out. But also consider why they don’t want you to hang out with certain people. According to Gilza Fort-Martinez, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, they may be sabotaging your friendships to pivot your attention and time further towards them.

In extreme cases, it may also be a way for them to isolate you from caring friends and family so that they gain full control of the relationship. It could also be due to their aforementioned insecurities, which isn’t OK either.

6

They Have Unrealistic Expectations

Are you expected to check in at a certain time? Answer their call on the first ring? Or hang out with your S.O. every single night? While it might be nice at first that your partner “cares” so much, Fort-Martinez says this is yet another sign of possessiveness. Time apart is an element of a healthy relationship, after all.

7

They Stand In The Way Of Your Goals

Consider your partner possessive if they try to inject doubt into any plans that don’t involve them or that might open doors, like going back to school, traveling abroad for work, or starting a new hobby. “A partner who stands in the way of your personal goals is often deeply possessive,” Manly says. “Healthy partners want us to be our best, fullest selves — not limited versions of who we ‘could’ be.”

Again, this often comes back to insecurity. “Partners who are possessive tend to be limiting in their mindsets and behaviors,” Manly says. “They often say or do things that give you the feeling that you’re on a short leash.” They’re afraid if you grow or change you might want to leave — even if that was never on your mind.

8

They Get Offended When You Ask For Space

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Take note if "your partner is needy of your time and attention," Dr. Margaret Paul, Ph.D., relationship expert and author, tells Bustle, especially if it gets to the point where they pout over simple things, like the fact you want to spend an evening doing your own thing.

If you can't even go into the next room without them getting upset, it’s a sign of major control issues and insecurity on your partner’s part. You may even want to call in the help of a therapist at that point to help you figure out your next move.

9

They Never Make Plans Of Their Own

Take a closer look at a partner whose one and only interest is hanging out or doing things with you. “A sign of someone who is emotionally healthy is that they do not 'need' to see you each and every moment and that they value their time doing other things and want you to value your time doing other things as well," Jill Sylvester, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle.

Couples should be able to comfortably spend time apart. If your partner is glued to your side, it's definitely time to have a talk.

"The best way to handle this situation is to know these red flags and warning signs upfront, trust your gut, and set an immediate boundary in the relationship," Sylvester says. In order for the relationship to work, they'll have to do the inner work necessary to feel more at ease, instead of taking their insecurities out on you.

10

They Always Want To Know What You’re Thinking

Possessive partners often have “an insatiable desire to know everything that you are thinking,” Valerie Jencks, LMFT, LCPC, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. “The motivation for this is because they long to feel secure but fear abandonment. They mistake privacy for secrecy and in turn, you are robbed of your right to privacy.”

It’s tricky, but trust your gut if it seems like your partner is getting weird about your right to privacy. “Why? Because possessiveness is very sneaky and manipulative,” Jencks says. It isn’t uncommon for a possessive partner to guilt-trip or manipulate in an effort to get their way.

11

They Say “I Love You” Early & Often

While some couples click right away, consider it a red flag if a new partner blurts out “I love you” a little too soon. "Most possessive partners express love within the first few weeks of a relationship," psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR tells Bustle. They might also talk about moving in together or getting married, even though your relationship is still so new.

It’s easy to feel flattered, but consider why they’re jumping the gun. According to Dickman, possessive partners often feel like the more commitments they get, the more they’ll “lock” you into the relationship to prevent you from leaving. They aren’t excited about the future as much as they’re afraid to lose you — but not in a good way.

12

They “Stop By” To Visit Unexpectedly

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Another surprising sign? When a partner appears out of nowhere to “check in,” according to Dr. Kathy Nickerson, a licensed clinical psychologist. Think popping up at work or stopping by your friend’s house with a bottle of wine — and then not leaving.

While it might not seem like a big deal, this move is a way for a possessive partner to stay in control, Nickerson says. They might show up because they don’t trust you or because they didn’t know how to entertain themselves, both of which are red flags.

13

They Share Your Entire Lives On Social Media

"It’s usually a pivotal and endearing moment when your new significant other includes you in their digital world," Jennifer Ponce, MSW, CHES, a prevention and education manager at the domestic violence prevention nonprofit Laura’s House, tells Bustle. "But social media can also be used as a breeding ground for possessive behaviors."

A possessive partner — new or otherwise — may share couple photos 24/7 or tag you in everything as a way of “staking claim.” But even worse, a possessive partner might use social media as a way of keeping tabs on you while you’re out and about, which is incredibly controlling and toxic.

To tell the difference between “sweet habits” and traits of a possessive partner, it can help to speak with your friends or even a therapist. It's never easy to cope with a partner's insecurities, especially since they can occur to varying degrees. But there may be ways to work through it together, if that seems like something you'd want to do.

Experts:

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author

Grace Olivia Dickman, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker

Dr. Jake Porter, LPC, NCC, CSAT, CMAT, CPC, CCTP, licensed professional counselor

Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon, double-board certified integrative and interventional psychologist

Gilza Fort-Martinez, MS, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Dr. Caroline Madden, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Valerie Jencks, LMFT, LCPC, licensed marriage and family therapist

Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, licensed psychotherapist

Dr. Margaret Paul, PhD, relationship expert

Jill Sylvester, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor

Dr. Kathy Nickerson, licensed clinical psychologist

Jennifer Ponce, MSW, CHES, a prevention and education manager