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We’re taught from a very young age that jealousy and possessiveness are signs of true love. If you need proof, look no further than the classic Valentine’s Day “Be mine” conversation heart.
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We tend to perpetuate the myth in adult relationships, too. When your partner slugs someone in a bar for hitting on you or surprises you with a candlelit dinner even though you were supposed to go out with your friends, you can’t help but feel wanted.
And in a new relationship, it’s easy to misinterpret red flags for romance.
“Possessiveness tends to start off pretty slow—to the point where it’s almost tough to detect,” says licensed psychologist Ashley Hampton, Ph.D. “It doesn’t come all at once, and it’s kind of camouflaged in other things like romance in the beginning.”
The problem is possessiveness often is a precursor to power and control. Over time romantic gestures can turn into controlling behavior.
“I’ve had clients say they ignored early warning signs, telling themselves their partner just wanted to spend a lot of time together, thinking it was romantic. I think people expect that in the early stages of relationships, this not wanting to be apart,” Hampton says. “But before they knew it, things went way, way too far and they weren’t even allowed to go out and get groceries anymore.”
Warning: Possessive Behavior Ahead
Of course, not everyone who wants to spend a lot of time with a new partner will become controlling. What’s important to look for is a pattern of possessiveness.
“Ask yourself if you have separate hobbies,” Hampton says. “Let’s say you enjoy running and your partner says, ‘I don’t want you to go running. Stay here and watch this show with me instead.’ If that happens once, OK. But if it happens two, three, four times in a row, that’s not OK.”
Other signs of possessiveness include:
- Backing out of plans the two of you had with your family or friends and not wanting you to go either.
- Telling you what you’re wearing is too revealing.
- Getting angry at you for something you couldn’t control, such as a work meeting that ran late or a stranger giving you their phone number.
- Getting upset when you talk about someone of the opposite sex.
- Insisting you get rid of pictures of or gifts from an ex or friend of the opposite sex.
- Saying mean things about your male friends or suggesting you need new friends.
- Expecting you to respond immediately when he calls or texts.
Should You Leave?
It isn’t always easy to distinguish between fleeting jealousy, which can happen to the best of us, and possessiveness in a relationship. Hampton suggests taking a step back if you’re unsure and assess red flags before deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to move forward.
“I think it depends on how many there are, and whether or not your partner will respond to feedback,” she says. “Going back to the running example, if you say, ‘I’d really like to go running, but I’ll watch the show with you when I get back,’ and your partner says ‘OK,’ then that might not be a problem.”
If he or she puts up a fight, on the other hand, that’s probably a sign you should leave.
“Your romantic relationship should be serving you, not causing you problems and making you cry,” Hampton says. “If someone isn’t being supportive, you don’t have to stay.”
Still not sure if your partner has the potential to become abusive? Check out six signs in “Profiling an Abuser.”
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