A romantic relationship is the most intimate relationship a person has. So, it’s only natural that your partner impacts the way that you think. In a healthy relationship, your partner changes your ways of thinking for the better, encouraging thought patterns that are more positive, encouraging, and validating. When you’re in a healthy relationship with someone who really cares about your growth and wellbeing, you should find yourself with a brighter outlook on life, feeling empowered, safe, and hopeful about the future. If you are in a relationship, but the types of thoughts and feelings I just described sound foreign, or a million miles away, you may be in – sorry to say it – an unhealthy relationship. In fact, you may have a possessive partner.
A possessive partner will influence the way you think for the worse. They don’t make it clear at first that they’re doing this – they typically win you over with charm and affection. And then, the slow manipulation tactics start. They’re so subtle, that you may not notice them, until one day you wake up and you feel decidedly darker and less hopeful about life than you did before entering into this relationship. We spoke with Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy Melanie Hussain (IG: @meltuition) about how a possessive partner can change the way you think.
A possessive partner preys on your insecurities
Hussain explains that one way a possessive partner begins to change your thinking patterns is by first identifying what your insecurities are, and then saying or doing things that confirm those insecurities. One example would be a possessive man recognizing that his partner has some body insecurities, and then making small comments like “Maybe you should wear a different outfit” or “You’re right – that doesn’t flatter you.” Slowly but surely, “They get into your mind,” says Hussain and “Feed that self-doubt.”
He lowers your self-esteem
In those moments when a possessive partner says something to confirm your insecurity, the possessive partner looks for someone who doesn’t stand up for herself, but rather internalizes that feedback, and becomes depressed. They actively work to lower your self-esteem “They thrive off of that. That’s how a relationship works on their terms,” explains Hussain.
Everything is about him
For a possessive partner, it’s “About ‘I’ rather than the ‘we’…it’s more about the individual than the togetherness of the relationship,” explains Hussain. And, feeding into that, there can be a lot of dishonesty and grudge-holding. The possessive partner is fixated on how he is (or isn’t) getting what he wants, which can be a “justification” for those behaviors of lying or holding grudges.
Feeling stuck in life
As a person in a possessive relationship begins to feel stuck within that relationship, they also feel similar feelings in all areas of their life. “Feeling numb and stuck in their relationship makes them feel numb and stuck in their friendships or family relationships or career,” says Hussain. There is an overall sense of “Not thinking that life will get better – that hopelessness and uncertainty.”
Typically, possessive partners try to control who their partners spend time with. And begin to limit their partner’s interactions with those outside of the relationship. So, the non-possessive person starts to feel isolated from friends and family, which can further the issues of not feeling worthy, or worrying what will happen if they leave the relationship, because now, they feel distant from their social circle.
Not trusting your own judgment
Once a possessive partner has both removed their partner from their friends and family, and chipped away at their self-esteem, their partner can struggle to even trust their own judgment. “Then you just view the world from the partner’s narrative. You’ve lost sight of your own narrative,” says Hussain.
Your partner creates a lens for your life
You essentially see your life the way your partner does, losing your own perspective, which was by your partner’s design. “They filter what the person [the non-possessive] can do, and control who they can talk to and socialize with,” explains Hussain, which slowly makes their world, and the perspective they have access to, smaller.
Always feeling watched
The person in a possessive relationship “Is always being monitored,” says Hussain. So they can develop that sense of always fearing what they do won’t satisfy their partner. “They question who they are, what they do in their career…There’s a sense that nothing I do is good enough.” Every decision is made with the fears of what the partner will say.
A subtle way a partner can demean you
In addition to preying on your insecurities, a possessive partner may also get his hooks in you by controlling your finances. Hussain says it starts out subtle, like by suggesting you get a joint bank account, and then scrutinizing your every purchase, or giving you cash to get something “for yourself,” and then judging what you choose to buy. It’s one more way they make you feel you have less control over your own life.
Disrespecting your boundaries
Possessive partners don’t respect boundaries, says Hussain. And one way they disrespect boundaries is actually by limiting your interaction with your friends and family. One example of crossing a boundary is “Not giving someone space to express themselves,” says Hussain. And friends and family were that safe space to express yourself, but your possessive partner takes that away.
Making decisions for you
Another way a possessive partner disrespects your boundaries, explains Hussain, is by shutting down your ideas about how you’ll handle certain decisions. “When you set boundaries, you honor yourself and the things you want to get done… but the possessive person comes in and says ‘No. you’re not going to do that.’”
They build you up or knock you down
There are two main ways a possessive partner talks you out of upholding your boundaries and doing what’s best for you. They either tap into your insecurities again, pointing out the reasons you will ultimately fail at what you’d like to do/why it won’t go well. Or, Hussain says, they will use the manipulation tactic of saying things like, “I do this because I love you” and “Don’t you trust me?” when they tell you how to live your life.
Don’t normalize the cycle of violence
It isn’t a pleasant topic and nobody likes to think that their partner could take it there, but possessive partners do often have the capacity to be violent, says Hussain. So it is important to recognize the cycle of violence. The same cycle can appear without violence, but with harsh words. So just because physical violence hasn’t occurred, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned if you see other parts of this cycle appear. We’ll cover it in detail in the next slide.
Breaking down the cycle
Hussain describes the cycle of violence this way: “First, there’s tension building: you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, always worrying something is going to happen. There is heightened anxiety in that phase. Then there is the crisis phase: the fight. The blowup. The threats. The passive aggressive comments. You can fear for your own safety during the crisis phase. Finally there’s the honeymoon/calm phase. Your partner goes back to being the person you fell in love with. He puts on that face and says ‘I love you. It won’t happen again. I’m sorry. I’ll seek help, we’ll do couples therapy…’ But it happens again.”