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Romantic relationships can be difficult at times. Occasionally, your relationships might require some mediation, a little bit of trial and error, and a lot of communication to work things out. This especially can be the case after the honeymoon phase, or as you and your partner face life changes. However, romantic relationships shouldn’t feel like a burden or heavy obligation. And you definitely shouldn’t feel as if your relationship is suffocating you.
In practice, a suffocating relationship can take a number of forms. It can be a needy partner who craves your attention, and leaves no room for friends or family. It can be a co-dependent relationship that demands all your time and energy. A stifling relationship can even turn toxic if your partner wants control over every part of your life. No matter how or why your relationship feels suffocating, the end result is this: You might not feel the joy and fulfillment a healthy romantic partnership is supposed to bring.
Here are seven red flags you’ll notice if your relationship is suffocating you — and seven signs it’s time to talk things through with your partner (or, honestly, break up!).
1. YOUR SO TEXTS YOU… NON-STOP
A 2019 study by Typing.com surveyed 1,000 people — women, men, married and unmarried, those in long-distance relationships and not, — about their digital communication habits with their SOs. Among other tidbits, researchers found that about six text messages in a row is the point where most people feel their partner is too “clingy” or “needy.” Whatever that number might be for you, a partner who texts you incessantly might make you feel stifled by the relationship.
As relationship expert Susan Winter put it, “Having someone to check in with throughout the day can feel great, but constantly having your phone bombarded with texts and notifications from your (new) bae can start to feel like a bit much.” Moreover, Winter said, if your partner gets upset any time you want to take space, then that’s reflective of some seriously controlling tendencies.
Your partner might explain away their behavior by saying they’re that they’re worried about you. On the surface, that might seem sweet. But if they’re blowing up your phone — especially in rapid succession and throwing a fit if you don’t respond — this can actually be manipulation. “This is to substantiate their position, making emotional manipulation look like affection. Don’t fall for it,” Winter said. “It’s a ploy for control.”
2. YOUR PARTNER GASLIGHTS YOU
To “gaslight” someone is to “make them doubt that their thoughts, feelings, and actions” to the point where they believe they can’t trust their judgment or that they’re losing their mind,” Dr. Leslie Beth Wish explained to Elite Daily. It’s another tactic a suffocating (or even abusive) partner might use to gain control. This might include your partner flat-out denying saying things you definitely heard them say or denying doing things you definitely saw them do.
A partnership where one person gaslights the other can feel suffocating because now, there’s an extra layer to your relationship dynamic (especially when it comes to arguments). If your partner constantly makes you feel irrational, you might start feeling like you’re always the bad guy — and might start believing that about yourself, even if it isn’t true.
3. THEY UNDERMINE YOU
It can feel equally smothering to have a partner who frequently nitpicks and puts you down. Just like with gaslighting, undermining behaviors can do major damage over time. “[Their] feedback, in the beginning, might have just enough ‘truth’ in it that you doubt yourself. Over time, your partner will lie, and tell you that so and so said negative things about your appearance or conversation. Now you have ‘proof’ from another person that you are too stupid, too silly, too shallow, too wrong or too much or too little of something in your behavior or appearance,” Wish said.
Weeks or months of this kind of behavior can chip away at your self-confidence and inner strength, according to Wish. This is, all in all, a toxic situation. Constructive criticism is one thing. Disintegrating your self-worth is another thing entirely.
4. THEY ISOLATE YOU
One classic abusive behavior (that has a suffocating effect) is when your partner starts to isolate you. Your partner might start with putting down your family and friends. By casting your crew as untrustworthy, your partner narrows the scope of your reality and exerts control over you. Isolation tactics can be that subtle or more overt. Ultimately, it can come in the form of guilting you into not attending family functions, or berating you for enjoying wine night with the girls.
As love coach Monica Parikh told Elite Daily, “The goal is to isolate you from your support network, making you an easy target for emotional manipulation and abuse.” It’s overwhelming to be forced to deal with the trials and tribulations life throws at you, without your core support network by your side.
4. YOUR PARTNER NEEDS TO KNOW WHERE YOU, ARE ALL THE TIME
You might be feeling overwhelmed by a clingy partner if, as Winter put it, “you begin to feel like leaving your apartment requires a sign-out sheet.” And, Winter continued, “Your partner’s incessant need to know where you are at all times is a sign of deep insecurity.” It’s just not realistic or healthy to have your partner monitor your whereabouts at all times. It’s important you maintain your autonomy, even if you’re someone’s partner.
5. YOUR SO PUTS YOU OVER THEIR FRIENDS IN AN UNHEALTHY WAY
It’s also unhealthy if your SO is determined for the two of you to spend all of your free time together. This prevents the two of you from having space for yourself or to be with your own friends.
Again, having freedom is so key to not feeling like you’re drowning in a relationship. Kali Rogers, who founded Blush Online Coaching, told Elite Daily, “Having your own autonomy is so critical to not only your overall happiness, but for your relationship’s, as well.”
6. YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS CO-DEPENDENT
There comes a point, too, where your relationship can feel suffocating because the two of you are co-dependent. In co-dependent relationship, there’s one partner who relies heavily on the other and one who’s sense of self is wrapped up in providing for their partner. Psychologist Erika Martinez broke it down like this:
The dependent relies on the codependent to take care of, support, fix, and generally enable [them]. In some cases, the dependent really can’t take care of themselves, and in others, it’s a state of learned helplessness.
The codependent does the enabling and grows accustomed to being the one that people (including the dependent) turn to for help. Thus, codependent’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem are often tied to their ability to fix things, be proactive, help others, people-please, etc.
Being tied to this unhealthy relationship roles can suck the joy out of your partnership.
7. THEY DEMAND TO SEE ALL YOUR DEVICES
Similar to the desire to know where you are at all times, another suffocating relationship behavior is your partner demanding access to all your communication. Yes, transparency about what you’re up to and who you’re talking to is good. But it’s best when that happens in couples willingly and organically.
If your partner is pressed to see what you’re looking at online or who you’re messaging, either one of two things is happening: Trust has been broken or your partner is trying to control you. (Depending on your relationship, the situation could be a bit of both.) Parikh confirmed the latter, saying, “A controlling partner may feel entitled to have access to your email, phone, or internet history.”
WHAT TO DO?
It’s crucial that you and your partner talk things out. If your SO is texting you too much (or throwing a fit when you don’t text back), have a conversation about what kinds of texting or calling is appropriate for your relationship. Talk frankly about self-care and taking time for yourself. Re-establish boundaries. And if you have these hard conversations with your SO to no avail, then these red flags are grounds for breaking up.
Rough patches do happen. But at the same time, your relationship shouldn’t feel like a heavy obligation, or a black hole sucking up all of your happiness and self-esteem. You deserve a partner who’s going to gas you up, be your equal, and nurture your well-being.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
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