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How to have a happier relationship by being less possessive

Written by:

Winston Lam

Winston Lam

Winston is a psychologist who is passionate about the underlying mechanisms that influence social interactions, human behaviour, and self improvement.


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We all want to have secure and happy relationships. But sometimes in trying to achieve those relationships, we grab onto them so tightly that we end up unintentionally achieving the opposite.

There is no simple name for this kind of toxic approach to relationships, but it manifests in many ways: possessiveness, neediness, jealousy. This article is meant to serve those of you who might have this unhealthy pattern, to show you that relationships sometimes work better when you just take it a little easier.

What does grabbing on too tightly mean?

There are a few identifiers for when people are doing this. During the initial stage of dating, they get too attached too fast. And accordingly, they start to have demanding expectations. They might text the guy things like “Do you miss me?”, or “Why have you not messaged me all day?” when they’ve only met a couple times.

The nature of their relationship at that stage is technically just acquaintanceship, but this person is already treating that guy with the emotional expectations of being boyfriends. They are bound to scare the person they like away.

During the relationship stage, sometimes people try to limit their partner’s autonomy. They can do this by directly disallowing their partner from doing certain things, like going out too much. Or they can do this indirectly, by fishing for exclusive affectional attention.

You would often feel this pressure that you have to do things a certain way, or risk upsetting this kind of partner. Even if this model of relationship manages to last, it more likely than not will be a rather unhappy one.

Why do we do this?

This type of behaviour stems from an insecurity about our partners’ commitment to us, or an even deeper fear that we are not lovable. Some of us fear that we will never find someone who loves us, and yet we desire love so much.

This made us hold onto the first person we meet who indicates the ever slightest potential of a love interest. And we do not let go, worrying that if we are not careful enough, this opportunity will leave us. It is almost as if our boyfriend is some kind of precious treasure that we need to stop other people from stealing.

There is some evidence to support this. Studies found that insecure-anxious attachment style is more present in gay men than the general public. And people with that attachment style are characterised by a persistent fear of being alone.

They crave intimacy, are highly emotional and dependant on others. It could explain the prevalence of gay men who hold onto relationships too tightly.

What should we do instead?

A lot of the times when we act like this, we know it is bad, but we did it anyway because we felt so strongly about it. Understand that while we may not be able to control how we feel, we can definitely control what we do about it, and that our feelings are not enough to justify the unhealthy behaviours that follow.

I know it’s hard, when our feelings for a person can seem so overwhelming. But we can learn to take a breath and act rationally. Take it easy and slow, give your partner some room to breathe and relax. Let the relationship develop at its natural pace.

Instead of trying to secure affection from them, show them that you care for them. More importantly, you have to learn to be happy with yourself. Looking for happiness through affections from others is a sign that you are not ready for a relationship yet.

A person who is content with himself will also naturally have the confidence to develop stable relationships.

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