In relationships, it’s normal and typically healthy for each partner to play certain roles. For couples, this is often how a productive balance is achieved. The keywords are healthy and productive. When slipping into your roles, you must be on the lookout for an overprotective dynamic. What begins with potentially good intentions can build into a form of emotional abuse.
There’s a fine line between showing a profound level of caring and aiming to control someone. At first, the “protected” partner may feel safe and comfortable. Before long, though, they are limited in who they see, how they handle their money, the clothes they wear, and the activities they engage in. Occasional protection is great. Overprotection is harmful.
How to Recognize an Overprotective Partner
- Love Bombing: This is usually the first sign. How early in your relationship did your partner declare their love? And did you feel pressured or obligated to say, “I love you?”
- Guilt Trips: Phrases to listen for include and version of “You make me so angry/worried/upset/etc.” You are being blamed for both their emotions and their behavior.
- Lack of Trust: They check in with you all day, every day. When they think you don’t see, they also check your phone and closely monitor your social media interactions.
- Control: Here is where it all comes to a head. You feel cut off from friends and family. Your partner wants you to leave your job. They take over managing your money and may even delve into how you dress and do your makeup.
A dynamic that includes any of the above can poison a relationship. You lack boundaries, and jealousy and mistrust hang over every interaction. Perhaps most importantly, the absence of healthy communication can make you feel stuck.
What to Do If Your Partner is Overprotective
Talk About It
Start with the basics. Make time to talk face-to-face and air out your grievances. This is not a one-time discussion. Make it clear that you need an ongoing dialogue about your relationship dynamics.
Introduce Them to Your Social Circle
Your partner may be unable to express that they are worried that your friends come first. Their unhealthy attempts to block you from seeing them can be circumvented by including them in plans. Give them a chance to see what you do when you hang out, and let them decide if they want to be part of it. Also, express your own interest in spending time with your partner’s friends.
We’re not talking about a childish attempt at “revenge.” Instead, let your partner feel what you feel. Be selective and judicious with such actions, but again, there can be much value in demonstrating what it looks like from your end.
Set and Enforce Boundaries
If you still do not feel heard or seen, use one of your discussions to set new boundaries. Be upfront about what the consequences are if these boundaries are ignored. Include in this conversation an emphasis on the importance of mutual trust.
Don’t Leave Things Open-Ended
You may not want to think about leaving, but you can’t allow an overprotective partner to continue down their overprotective road. It’s not just about love. If your efforts to increase compatibility are being ignored, you may have to ponder an endgame.
Before You Reach That Endgame
It can be challenging to see all the angles from inside the storm. Individual or couples therapy can be a giant first step toward clarity. Before the controlling gets worse and/or before you create an exit plan, it can be powerful to get some guidance and input from a professional. Reach out to learn more about couples therapy.