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6 Ways To Deal With A Smothering And Suffocating Relationship

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It’s difficult when you feel that your partner isn’t giving you enough space.

This can happen for any number of reasons, and can manifest in different ways.

However it presents itself, it’s something you will have to navigate if you want your relationship to last and to be healthy.

And it won’t be an easy ride.

Our natural response to feeling smothered in any situation is either to remove ourselves, or stop that situation from crushing us.

That works well if we’re trapped under a duvet or stuck in a closet, but it’s very different when we’re dealing with another person and their mental and emotional state.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to negotiate this difficult situation.

Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you handle your partner’s smothering behavior while minimizing the upset caused. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.

1. Establish clear boundaries.

It’s a minefield to express that you’re feeling smothered to another person without them getting clingier.

You may just want to practice a hobby you really enjoy. But if you try to tell them that you need “alone time,” they’ll panic.

That phrase seems to inspire intense insecurity in some people. Instead of being understanding and granting you the space you desperately need, they’ll likely be even more intense about spending time with you, as they fear losing the connection.

The key is to make it clear that you need X amount of time alone. Make it a very specific amount so that they have a clear expectation of when you will see each other again.

You can explain that you spend a couple of weeknights with your friends and that’s important to you. Or that you need time to yourself to read, or work out, or otherwise do your own thing.

If they suggest that they tag along with you and your friends, or work out with you, or “just hang out” while you do your own thing, be firm. This is YOUR time, and YOUR space.

They might try to argue or imply that if you’re not with them, then you must be up to something questionable. Nip this in the bud, and don’t let them overstep.

If they’re persistent, withdraw and make it perfectly clear that their behavior is unacceptable. This may seem like tough love, but it’s necessary if this behavior is to ever change.

2. Be compassionate toward their insecurities, but don’t pander to them.

If you want to continue this relationship, you’ll have to address your partner’s needy behavior.

This means understanding where they’re coming from. Different types of trauma and life-changing experiences play significant roles in what we do and don’t need, want, or appreciate.

For example, a person who grew up feeling neglected and unwanted by their parents might need constant affection and time with their partner. Otherwise, they feel insecure and unloved. They might be on constant alert for any possible sign that they’ll be dumped.

These people can fall into a panic spiral at the slightest provocation, and dig their claws in even deeper, demanding reassurance and love to feel “safe.”

If this is a situation you’re contending with, how do you think they’ll respond if you tell them they’re needy? Probably with even more demands on you.

The energy that should be going into their own self-love and purpose is being externalized. What’s worse is that if you point this out in a straightforward manner, it’s likely to exacerbate the situation.

It’s best to take an indirect approach. Redirect their attention to what they’re passionate about. Their goals, dreams, etc.

Encourage them playfully. If they’re crazy about you, that’ll be a powerful motivational tool, and the attention imbalance will slowly shift. They’ll start focusing on themselves in a healthy way rather than obsessing over you.

Actions speak far louder than words and take less time. Endeavour to make time with your significant other for fun or playful activities, and the results may surprise you both.

Perhaps all the time you spend together now isn’t what your partner considers “quality time.” Maybe you used to go places together, see plays, go for dinner, explore different cultures. But now you mostly stay at home and watch TV.

Whilst this is quite normal as many relationships settle into everyday life, your partner might be pushing to spend more time with you because the time you do spend together doesn’t have the same magic it once did.

By reintroducing genuine couples time into your relationship, you may find them more willing to give you more time to yourself too.

3. Ask what drew you together to begin with?

It can be good to objectively and honestly reminisce on what drew you to this individual initially.

Was it their looks? Their mind? Their sense of humor?

What was it about your partner that made you fall in love with them, or captivated you enough to pursue a partnership?

Once you’ve sorted that out, determine whether anything has changed within your dynamic. Do you feel that something or someone has changed in the relationship? What masks or shields have fallen away?

If you’re feeling suffocated, ask yourself if it’s because they’re being needier and clingier, or if you just no longer want the kind of attention that they lavished upon you to begin with.

Furthermore, take note of whether your behavior has changed. If you’re flirting with others or posting provocative photos on social media, then that will be a massive contributing factor in your partner’s insecurity and neurosis.

It’s also a clue that you’re no longer invested in this partnership, hence why you feel smothered.

4. Consider what you are feeling?

Take note of all the different ways that you feel smothered. Is it a literal smothering? Are they clinging to you physically all the time? Or are they overwhelming you with their emotional demands?

One great way to genuinely tell how you feel about another person is to pay attention to your body. Take note of how your body reacts and moves when you’re in other people’s company.

For example, if you spend time with a close friend, your posture is likely to be relaxed. You may feel openly hungry or thirsty, and generally feel at ease.

In contrast, if you’re feeling smothered by a person, you may find that you’re physically braced about 90% of the time. Your response to hearing your phone beep might be to flinch and sigh. You might get headaches from clenching your teeth or furrowing your brow.

Additionally, you may lose your appetite, or have digestive problems in their company.

If you’re spending “date night” playing games on your phone, or coming up with excuses for why you can’t get together, then this is a huge issue.

Both life experiences and people can be compared to meals, in a way. They offer us different types of nourishment, and have various effects on our bodies and minds.

The most important thing is how we feel after a given experience, and that includes the time we spend with people.

If someone keeps leaving a bad taste, or serious digestive problems so to speak, then it’s time to change your diet.

This could be open and honest work to change things for the better for both of you. Or it could be a strong indication that this relationship has run its course, and you’re both better off going in other directions.

Whether you two choose to work things through or split up, this is an excellent opportunity for mutual growth and healing.

5. Be honest about your feelings about this relationship.

How do you honestly feel about this person? Write down all their traits and how each of those aspects makes you feel.

For instance, you may have been drawn to this person not only because they’re attractive, but they were in a vulnerable position and you wanted to help them.

Now, several months (or years) down the road, they may have firmly placed you in white knight mode. That can be immensely draining, and who wants to be sexually intimate with a person who needs to be babied all the time?

Are their life skills and achievements comparable to yours? Or are you the more capable, successful partner here? 

A lot of the time, when people smother their partner, their behavior is innocent rather than intentionally malicious. They love you, look up to you, respect you, and admire you. You may be able to do things that they only dream about; maybe you’re braver, or smarter, or have a beauty that bewilders and intoxicates them.

In a situation like this, it’s likely that they feel insecure and inferior. If your partner feels like you’re out of their league, they probably feel like they can’t offer you anything on the same level that you’re offering them.

As a result, they likely have an intense fear of losing you. Especially losing you to someone else. Someone who’s smarter, stronger, better looking, has a better job, better health, etc. Just “better.”

When a person feels insecure, they often either try to overpower them (like being overbearing, making plans without asking, invading space to establish dominance), or cling to them so they don’t lose their position.

Perhaps your lover is a manic ball of stress, who talks endlessly at you without checking in to see how you’re doing. Or, you’re essentially furniture in their lives.

They need you to talk at or to listen to their issues, fix their problems, and satiate their desires, but they rarely if ever take note of what your needs are.

On the other hand, your partner may smother you with love and try so hard to please you that you feel like your independence is being taken away.

As hard as it might be on your partner, it can be really beneficial to get away from them for a few days. You can engage lightly with them via text, but try to avoid anything more than that.

Tell them you need time to think and assess things. Figure out what drew you to them initially and what YOU want from this. It’s only when you can get that bit of space between you that you can think clearly about the situation.

You might realize that you really do want this person in your life and are willing to do what it takes to make your relationship better. If so, great, this clarity will help you take the actions required.

Or maybe they are not that bad at all but you just want to move on. If this is the case, try to end things quickly rather than dragging them out. It won’t do either of you any favors to keep acting as if things are okay if you know that they are doomed to fail.

6. Get counseling.

If you want to continue with this relationship, you clearly have some challenges ahead of you.

Whilst it can be navigated just the two of you, it’s going to be a lot easier if you enlist some professional help.

Firstly, couples counseling allows you both to air your thoughts and feelings in a safe environment and have someone with training and experience in these matters listen and provide advice.

This environment can make it easier for truths to come out and for strategies to be put in place to improve your relationship both day-to-day and in the long run.

Simply knowing that you’ve got appointments every few weeks can help keep you accountable in putting the strategies into practice and making the relationship healthier.

Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a certified relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.

It might also be a good idea for your partner to see an individual mental health therapist if their need to be with you has reached this extreme level. They likely have some issues to unpack and resolve, and just like you’d have a physical injury attended to by a specialist, it’s sensible to do the same for emotional trauma.

If they would like to do this, you can use this link to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.

In the end, the decision to work at the relationship or go your separate ways is up to you. If things are no longer healthy and you don’t see a way back for you both as a couple, you are under no obligation to stay, no matter how difficult it might be and how hard your partner might take your decision.

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About The Author

Finn Robinson has spent the past few decades travelling the globe and honing his skills in bodywork, holistic health, and environmental stewardship. In his role as a personal trainer and fitness coach, he’s acted as an informal counselor to clients and friends alike, drawing upon his own life experience as well as his studies in both Eastern and Western philosophies. For him, every day is an opportunity to be of service to others in the hope of sowing seeds for a better world.