Smothering or loving? How to tell the difference

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If you take the ‘s’ off smothering it becomes ‘mothering’ and there are many similarities between the two – domineering or controlling behaviour; wanting to know where you are and what you have been doing; too much attention to your business when you wish they would mind their own. Many children have left home as soon as possible to escape their loving mothers and many relationships have ended because of smothering partners. Here we look at the differences between loving and smothering.

Focus of attention

When you love someone, or are falling in love with them, they are the object of your attention and you may find yourself doing things simply to make them happy. There is an open, expansive feeling to being in love which can make you feel that anything is possible and as though you would do anything to make this person happy. They are on your mind a lot but in a way that is all about wanting to know them more, make them happy and give them the very best of your love.

When you are smothering someone the object of your attention is usually you – your needs, expectations and how you want things to be. The other person is important but only in so much as they should fulfil the role you want them to play. What they want and need often gets overlooked because they are being so tightly steered by you.

This type of controlling behaviour usually arises from fear. The fear may be that if you don’t force the relationship forward it won’t progress but by never letting go long enough to find out you are keeping the fear alive. Maybe the subconscious fear is that you will be left or hurt so you keep control to stop your partner from leaving. Unfortunately holding on too tightly could be the very thing that makes them go. People need to feel they have equal rights in a relationship and that their needs and feelings are taken into account, if they aren’t they probably will leave despite your plans.

Constant contact

There is a lovely phase at the beginning of a relationship where you want to be in touch with each other every moment of every day because you simply can’t get enough of each other. This is perfectly natural and usually settles down to a level of contact that both people are comfortable with.

Loving contact is when you ring, call or text because you are thinking about that person and want to let them know that or you have news and they are the person you want to share it with. Loving contact is all about including that person in your life because you want to share it with them.

Contact becomes smothering when you are calling, texting or emailing because you want to know what they are doing, who they are with and what their plans are – it is about you wanting to be in their life, keeping tabs and checking up on them. This is kind of contact is not only obsessive and controlling but can also become compulsive so you struggle to stop yourself from doing it.

Give your partner space and room to breathe. Allow there to be times when you are not in touch so that you can have a chance to miss each other and reflect on the relationship. Learning to cope with space between you is essential for a healthy relationship to develop.

Needs and wants

When you are in a relationship with someone you both give and receive – love, attention, support etc.  Ideally, over time, all couples fall into a pattern where they can read each others needs and are quick to respond appropriately. There is give and take and a balance develops. If problems arise they are addressed and balance is restored – each partner is getting their needs met and are able to express their wants as they arise.

When someone is smothering their needs never seem to be fulfilled – they always want much more than their partner can give. Wants are expressed as demands and there tends to be confusion on both sides. Sometimes people give a lot but they aren’t giving freely. They give because they want to get the same amount of love and attention back and when they don’t they become frustrated and angry.

If you feel you are smothering, rather than loving, your partner it doesn’t mean you are a selfish or a bad person. Try to step back and remember love cannot be forced or controlled, it must be given freely.


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