Marriages are supposed to be close. You and your spouse should enjoy each other’s company, spend quality time together, communicate, and so on… But is there such thing as trying to be too close?
It goes by a few names - smothering, clinging, etc. - but we know the feeling when we experience it. It’s the subtle difference between having a partner interested and involved in your life, and feeling an overbearing presence you just can’t get away from.
To make matters worse, the people who engage in this kind of behavior often don’t even know they’re doing it! They may just be following their gut, doing the things that feel right to them, with little to no awareness that they are driving their spouse crazy with hovering attention and smothering attempts at closeness.
So, today we’re looking at signs you might be smothering your spouse - or at the very least, doing things that make them uncomfortable. It might feel like you’re just trying to stay close, but you may very well be pushing them away. Here are four important warning signs:
1. You’re Socially Selfish
This is often the first place “smothering” tendencies show themselves. If you feel resentful or angry when your spouse goes out with friends, has engagements that don’t involve you, or otherwise enjoys social time without bringing you along, this could be a serious problem.
Of course you should spend time together, but it doesn’t have to be every waking moment. Having separate social lives allows you to both grow as individuals, as well as gain experiences you can talk about later. If you do every little thing together, what do you have to talk about?
Additionally, we all need time to decompress, to spend time with people outside of the marriage, to do things that we’re interested in - but our spouse might not be. This doesn’t mean that you should block each other out or lead entirely separate social lives, just that it’s normal (and healthy) to be able to explore your own interests, and to spend time apart without hurting the relationship.
2. Obsessing Over Communication
Another big sign that you might be smothering your spouse: you’re constantly concerned with when they’re going to text back, why they haven’t returned your call or answered your email, and other unreasonable expectations for communication. If it upsets you that it takes them 10 minutes to respond to your text, but you aren’t considering any other circumstances, take a step back and think rationally about the scenario.
If your spouse is at work, out with friends, travelling, or really, doing anything else, it’s unfair to expect them to respond at the drop of a hat. They may not see the message, be mid-conversation, not have service, be navigating traffic, etc. Think about your own life - are you always ready to drop whatever you’re doing to answer a call or respond to a text?
These kinds of concerns stress you out unnecessarily, and place unrealistic expectations on your spouse. If you’re constantly giving them a hard time about how long it took to respond, it’s bound to breed some resentment.
3. Compulsive Questions
It’s good to take an active interest in each other’s lives. It’s healthy to ask questions about feelings, about work, about the stressors that might be affecting your spouse’s life. In many cases, it shows caring and concern, and reminds your spouse that their wellbeing is important to you…
There is, however, a line you can cross - and that’s going to be a little different for everyone. The typical culprit for crossing into problem territory is when the questions start looking like “keeping tabs” on your spouse. It’s one thing to ask them if they had a nice time out with their friends, it’s another thing entirely to pry about where they were, for how long, who else was there, what they talked about, what time they left, and so on.
If your questions are rooted in your own concerns about what they’ve been doing, it comes off as distrust, not interest. Think about why you’re asking the questions, and how it might be perceived on the other end. Again, we’re not suggesting that you forego asking questions - just that you be aware of how deep you’re probing… And why.
4. Assuming The Worst
This one’s tied to the communication obsession listed above, but can show itself in other ways as well. If you don’t hear back from a call or text message, or your spouse hasn’t checked in by a specified time, and you begin to assume all of the worst things - this is NOT healthy for your relationship.
Sure, being concerned about your spouse’s welfare is a good thing, but when it becomes assumptions of the worst kind, you’re likely doing more damage than good. This could manifest itself as assuming all kinds of disasters - car accidents and the like - which will make you overly worried and stressed out, ultimately making you unhappy… When you finally do hear from your spouse, you’ll take that stress out on them, actually blaming them for making you feel that way. This means you’re getting upset AND placing blame for being upset on something almost entirely out of your spouse’s control. It’s not their fault you jumped to conclusions or got yourself worrying, and when you place blame on them for your stresses, they may begin to resent you for it - or at the very least, act defensively.
This “assuming the worst” can also show itself as a lack of trust. Instead of assuming some disaster has befallen your spouse, you instead imagine that any time you don’t hear from them or they get home late, they’ve been doing something suspicious. If relationships are supposed to be based on trust, this poses all kinds of problems for the health of marriage.
First, it says to your spouse directly, “I don’t trust you.” Second, it creates countless scenarios of all the things your spouse might be (but probably isn’t) doing. If you’re stressing because you don’t know where they are or what they’re doing, and imagining all the worst scenarios, you wind yourself up, get upset with your spouse about things they likely haven’t done, and project all that stress on to them the moment they get home.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t signs to suspect infidelity, or that you should give your spouse a free pass for ignoring your calls… You can, however, give them the benefit of the doubt and understand that sometimes people run late, are indisposed, can’t call back, or simply forget - and that doesn’t mean they’ve suffered a disaster or are sneaking around behind your back.
The whole point here is to be more aware of your own actions, and to evaluate your behavior from your spouse’s perspective. How would you feel if they were keeping tabs on you? If they were counting the minutes between messages? If they automatically assumed you were doing something suspicious? It’s safe to say that most people don’t like to be treated this way, and it’s up to you to be able to check your own behavior.
Staying connected, communicating, and keeping each other in the loop is an essential part of a healthy marriage, but when it crosses into smothering, jealous, or otherwise unreasonable behavior, it does far more damage than good. Be aware of your own actions, ask yourself: “Is this helping or hurting my marriage?”
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the <a href="https://www.strongmarriagenow.com/coursedetails/strongmarriagenowsystem/">StrongMarriageNow System</a> today!
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, <a href="http://www.StrongMarriageNow.com">StrongMarriageNow.com </a>