I read a fair number of relationship articles and blogs, and one thing that I see again and again is that women don’t like it when men become possessive. Um, yeah. That seems like it should be fairly obvious (women do this too, but men seem to be bigger jerks about it).
The word possession implies ownership, and no one likes to think of themselves as property. Plus when you hear stories about it, they are commonly accompanied by stories of someone trying to control the other person. That seems like bad news all around.
Then I got thinking, don’t we all kind of think of our partners as “ours”? We don’t necessarily think of them as our property, but think of some of the things you’ll see on cards:
I’m yours? You’re mine? Those terms are actually kind of creepy when you think about it. We use them as terms of endearment, and they need to go both ways. But it does seem like there’s a degree of ownership there.
Are Relationships Possessive?
So are committed relationships inherently possessive? I don’t think so. I believe they are built on commitment and trust (which go hand in hand). But this commitment and trust NEEDS to be mutual. For you to truly commit to someone you have to believe you can trust them, and you must also believe they are committed to you.
Have you ever thought about fear? Fear is largely a learned emotion. There are instances where fear is believed to be innate and related to perception (there’s a classic study with babies and “visual cliffs” that you can read about here). But by and large fear is a defense mechanism that develops when we experience things that we come to recognize as threats.
As we learn that things are threats, these threats elicit the fear response, accompanied by physiological changes such as increased heart rate, breathing and potentially shortness of breath. Here’s a Wikipedia link to it if you want to learn more (it’s pretty fascinating stuff when you think about it).
So fear is a good thing. It’s a rational response to a perceived threat, and is one of nature’s built in ways of protecting us.
Fear is rational, however it can also become irrational. When this happens it moves into the realm of phobias and anxiety. Everyone has their own phobias (spiders creep me out). Anxiety is more subversive though, because it is like the fear of fear. It’s irrational, but seems very rational to the person experiencing it.
I have plans to write more on Anxiety in the future, but for now I’ll just steal a somewhat amusing description from a book I read on it (paraphrasing as I don’t have the book handy).
Imagine you are on an African safari, and you are sleeping in a tent on the savannah. You hear a noise and wake up and you suddenly worry that it may be a lion, and you may be eaten by a lion. That is fear.
Now imagine you are sitting at a bar in New York. You hope to one day go on an African safari, and suddenly you find yourself experiencing the physiological fear responses because you believe that if you go you may be eaten by a lion. That is anxiety.
Anxiety is more complex than that and I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of it. But generally anxiety is an irrational response to perceived threat, situation or even future situation.
Alright, so you may be wondering what the heck all of this has to do with relationships, commitment and possessiveness.
If you are in a truly loving, committed relationship with another person, then you are in a position of mutual trust and respect. When your partner is out you don’t even think about it as you trust them implicitly.
Fear is learned though, so if you have been hurt or betrayed by someone close to you before then it is a natural defense mechanism for you to experience fear if you perceive a threat to the relationship through your partners actions or behaviors.
When people start to feel threatened in relationships it can cause them to either pull away, or start to hold on too tight. Jealousy is fear that you are losing the relationship to someone else, and it can turn into control and possessiveness as someone is trying to hold on and try to regain some control over the relationship they feel they are losing.
Rational and Irrational Fear
When it is based on tangible evidence, Jealousy can be a rational fear response. There are all sorts of warning signs when a relationship has taken a negative turn, and you can usually “feel” the shift. You know something has changed. Counselors will often tell you to trust your instincts on these things, and that if you feel something is wrong you are probably right.
But what if it’s really an irrational fear response? People who are insecure or who have been hurt in the past are more likely to experience this. They are more likely to be hyper vigilant for any sign of threat to the relationship, and run the risk of perceiving threat when it’s not actually there.
Love and Trust
Jealousy can be a normal reaction to things, and I believe even the most emotionally secure of us have felt it at one point in time or another. But whether it’s rational or not, jealousy is still very corrosive to a relationship.
Relationships aren’t based on possession and control They are based on commitment and trust, and jealousy involves a breakdown of these. This is one of the many reasons communication is so important in relationships.
We all will do things to hurt our partners from time to time (hopefully inadvertently). But it’s important that we don’t let things fester and grow. We all have our own insecurities, and being honest and upfront about those insecurities is important. Get issues out in the open. If your partner understands the ways you have been hurt in the past then they may be more conscious of things that could be seen as threats by you.
One of the dangers of being hurt is that it can cause us to build up walls to “protect ourselves” from being hurt again. But those very walls that we build up are also likely to be the things that push people away from us. To truly love, you need to let those walls come down. It’s not easy, but you need to allow yourself to be vulnerable to being hurt again.
And you may be. Life has no guarantees. You may be hurt again, and love may break down. But possessive behavior won’t help anything. The simple fact is, you can’t control someone else and you can’t make them love you. The only one you have control over is yourself. There’s a line from a U2 song that says:
You can hold onto something so tight, you’ve already lost it
Being possessive and trying to control won’t help anything; it will just push someone further away. Try to operate from trust instead of fear. If you believe someone is violating that trust then communicate. It may just have been your own insecurities and irrational fear. And if it was a legitimate breach of trust, it may be a situation you are better off getting out of.