Possessiveness in marriage is the desire to dominate or control every aspect of a spouse’s life. It may be with regard to friendships and relationships, jobs, hobbies or even programmes that can be watched on TV. It can lead to coercive control of the other person, making the victim afraid to oppose such behaviour or do what she wants to do. Possessiveness is commonly attributed to men. But there are many women who also like to keep their husbands in a vice-like grip. Probably the term ‘hen-pecked’ reflects this attitude.
A marriage was arranged between a smart and sprightly young pharmacist and an officer in a private bank. Though his features were distorted by Bell’s palsy, the parents thought nothing of it. He had a steady job with a good income and this ensured the security of their daughter. Within a few months, the girl turned into a sad, morose and distracted woman. Her husband was possessive to the extent that she had to give him an hour by hour account of her behaviour at work. He obstructed her progress professionally in different ways.
She could not join in any social activities with her colleagues. Three children followed in quick succession. The girl tolerated her husband’s behaviour for ten years. Then she absconded, leaving a note to say that unless her husband went in for psychiatric treatment for his abnormal behaviour, she would never come back again. One recalls the nursery rhyme of “Peter, Peter pumpkin eater who married a wife but couldn’t keep her. So he put her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her very well.”
But the girl broke through the shell hollering “Don’t you dare fence me in.”
Obviously, his facial deformity had given him a complex. He felt that unless he controlled his wife, she would be unfaithful or even leave him. He lost her not because of his looks but because of his behaviour. Timely psychiatric intervention finally brought about a reunion.
Signs of Possessiveness:
• Controlling a spouse so that she cows down and submits to his wishes.
• Unfounded suspicion of her activities, who she meets and with whom she talks. Not just her interaction with the opposite sex but even female friendships are suspect.
• Frequent phone calls to check on her activities.
• Socializing with friends is totally prohibited.
• Selfishness with no consideration for the likes or dislikes of his spouse.
• Spying on her movements through private detectives.
Reasons for Possessiveness:
1. Insecurity: Growing up in troubled families, deprivation of love in childhood, desertion by parents may have created a deep-seated insecurity. He therefore wants to hold on tightly to his ‘possession.’
2. Lack of trust in the spouse.
3. Inferiority Complex: A spouse may be better educated, and better qualified. She may be holding an important job and drawing a fabulous salary.
4. Borderline or acute personality disorders: Those who suffer from Schizophrenia or Bipolar disorders are prone to insecurity and possessiveness.
5. Egocentricity and selfishness. He cannot think beyond his own comforts.
6. Jealousy may be covert or open.
7. When love becomes an addiction, the love object becomes an obsession.
Effects on the victim:
– Frustration and resentment against the intimidating spouse.
– May retreat socially or vocationally.
– Self deprecation and loss of self esteem.
– Desire to escape from the spouse’s clutches.
How to prevent possessiveness:
Two most important elements that are required for a stable marriage are Love and Trust. This calls for a proper understanding of the different roles of spouses in a relationship. Individual differences must be respected. Though the marriage commitment does supercede some individual rights, it should not destroy all individual rights. Each one must have the freedom to develop personal skills and interests. Spouses should be allowed to have friends of the same gender.
M. Scott Peck calls the failure to appreciate the separateness of the other as narcissism.
“Love is separateness,” he says, “The genuine lover perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity. The genuine lover encourages this separateness and the unique individuality of the beloved.”
Each individual needs physical and mental space if they are to function to full capacity. One spouse cannot be an extension of the other. There should be time for friends and time for hobbies. However, there must be mutual agreement on how much time can be spent on separate activities. Time spent apart does not drive them away from each other. Each little absence from the beloved makes the heart grow fonder.
“Separateness enhances the marriage relationship,” says Scott Peck.
Generosity allows partners to take genuine delight in the success of their partners. They should encourage and mutually support each other.
How to overcome possessiveness:
• Discover the root of your insecurity. Do you have an inferiority complex about your background or your job?
• Are you afraid of losing ownership of your spouse? Communicate your feelings and fears to your partner and clear the matter. You’ll find that your fears are unfounded.
• For any relationship to survive and grow, there must be mutual trust and open communication.
• Overcome selfishness and give your spouse space to grow.
• Remember that possessiveness is a terrible form of abuse. It cannot be called love. “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Cor. 13:6).
• Though marriage is a legal bond it does not mean enslavement of the spouse.
• Seek professional help and counseling.
Advice for the Victimized:
– Don’t expect others to fight your battles. Confront your spouse, and retrieve your distinct identity.
– Don’t tolerate abuse in any form. Better to end a destructive relationship.
Khalil Gibran author/ philosopher leaves us with this thought:
“Let there be spaces between your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”
Relationships take time to develop. They should be strengthened and nurtured by love and patience, commitment and trust. Possessiveness leads to manipulation through intimidation, coercion or even seduction, so that the offender can have his way. Someone compared manipulation to witchcraft. Be it a husband or a wife, one has no full authority to control another.