Lots of the messages we receive from society about what counts as “romantic” are fundamentally toxic. These include the idea that a man should fight for the woman he loves or that women need to play hard to get. One of the most toxic messages is about having an obsessive partner.
Contrary to what you often see, obsessive partners aren’t romantic and their extreme reactions aren’t a sign of deep love. In this article, I’m going to break down what’s going on and why it’s important not to accept obsession in your relationship.
I’m mostly going to be talking about an obsessive boyfriend, but the advice here is equally valid for any obsessive partner.
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Let’s start by being really clear about the difference between love and obsession. They might sometimes look similar on the surface, but when you look deeper, they’re often the exact opposite of each other.
Love is generous. When you love someone, you want to give them your time, energy, and care to help them develop and achieve their goals. Your focus is on them and their happiness and welfare. You’re not constantly thinking about yourself and your needs.
Obsession is the opposite. It’s selfish, demanding, and hoarding. When you’re obsessed with someone, you want to keep them away from the rest of the world and have them for yourself. You don’t think about what’s best for them, instead focusing on how to keep them close to you.
Love also allows you to see your partner as a complete, wonderful person. You recognize their strengths and weaknesses. You understand that you will share some things and that they’ll do other things alone. You respect and value their autonomy and individuality.
Obsession doesn’t allow you to see your partner as a complete, independent individual. You don’t want them to follow their own dreams and make their own decisions. You want them to stay close to you and fulfill your needs and expectations. There’s little space for genuine respect.
Love requires trust. When we love someone, we’re making ourselves vulnerable to them and giving them the power to hurt us. We open up in this way because we trust that they care and we want to experience that feeling of closeness and connection.
Obsession destroys trust. Rather than trusting your partner, obsession leads you to demand proof that they haven’t betrayed you. When you’re obsessed, you’re not willing to be vulnerable. Instead, you’re demanding certainty and control.
Obsession is much closer to being an addiction than it is to love. Someone who is obsessed often struggles with their feelings and wishes that they didn’t have their obsession. Unfortunately, they feel as though they don’t have the strength to change.
There are so many different things that can lead someone to become obsessive about their partner. There are a few diagnosable mental disorders, such as erotomania or borderline personality disorder, but these don’t account for the majority of obsessive boyfriends.
For most obsessive partners, their obsession isn’t something that can be treated as a medical condition. It’s more often a behavior pattern that they learned as children or something they developed later in life.
Obsession can be an extreme reaction to difficulties surrounding attachment. Whether through childhood trauma or other difficult experiences, some people develop an underlying assumption that the only way to ensure that their partner stays is to cling to them, no matter what. This often leads to obsessive behavior.
Low self-esteem and insecurity can also leave someone feeling as though they need to focus entirely on their partner otherwise they’ll be alone. This is a combination of insecurity and unhealthy beliefs or expectations about relationships.
Whilst it can be helpful to try to understand where your obsessive boyfriend developed this way of approaching relationships, it’s important to note that none of this makes his obsessive behavior acceptable.
You can treat his feelings with compassion, but it’s important not to tolerate potentially dangerous behavior because he has a difficult past.
An obsessed man will often want to call or text you many times per day. He feels insecure and anxious when he’s not talking to you, so he texts you constantly as a way to overcome his feelings. He might also become angry if you don’t reply immediately.
An obsessive boyfriend will usually want to do almost everything together. He’ll want to come with you to your nail appointment and to visit your gynecologist, just so you’re not spending time apart.
He’ll often resent any events he isn’t invited to, such as girl’s nights, and might try to pressure you into staying home instead.
He might give up hobbies that you don’t share. This might be to spend more time with you, or as a way to put you under even more pressure not to do things without him. If you say you want to go to an event alone, he might use this as a guilt trip, saying “I gave up surfing for you. Clearly, you don't love me enough to put us first.”
Obsessive men will often want to know where you are and what you’re doing all of the time. This isn’t the same as a casual “What are you up to this weekend?” Your obsessive boyfriend will want to know all of the details about how you spend your time and who you’re with.
Often, an obsessive partner will try to find an excuse to use some form of tracking. He might suggest that it’s to “keep you safe” or that it “just sets my mind at rest.”
If you object, he’ll often turn it around and claim that you must be trying to hide something if you don’t want him to know where you are. If you refuse, he might even install this software without your consent.
To be clear, wanting privacy and autonomy is not a sign that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s completely normal and healthy.
Lots of people want to be on a relationship escalator, so this isn’t a major sign by itself. Obsessive partners do often want their relationship escalator to move at double speed, however.
An obsessive boyfriend will start pushing you to keep making your relationship deeper and more intense, even before you’ve both built up the trust needed to make this work well. He might want to move in together after just a few weeks, for example.
If you’re not keen, he will often claim that this show’s you’re not committed or that you don’t really care about him.
Even though he will often seem very loving and caring, an obsessive boyfriend doesn’t see you as an equal partner in your relationship. Instead, he sees you as a possession. You’re probably his favorite possession, but that’s not really any better.
He will often talk about you in a really possessive way, especially if he doesn’t think that you can hear. You might also feel as though he’s showing you off in the same way he’d show off a new car or a fancy new gadget.
Resist the urge to feel flattered by this. He might say that this is a sign of how much he loves and cares about you, but it’s fundamentally not respectful.
As well as talking about you in a possessive way, an obsessed boyfriend will often be physically possessive, especially in front of other people. He’ll make big public displays of affection (PDAs) that will often leave you feeling awkward and uncomfortable.
For example, he might lean in to kiss you while you’re in the middle of talking to a friend or wrap his arms around you when you’re trying to help someone pack some boxes.
These kinds of possessive gestures aren’t just normal PDAs. They make you (and others) feel uncomfortable. Often, you won’t be able to express exactly why, but you’ll feel as though a boundary has been crossed.
We’re not here to shame anyone for their feelings. Almost everyone feels jealous from time to time and that’s fine. What isn’t ok is how frequently an obsessive boyfriend feels jealous and how he deals with those feelings.
An obsessive boyfriend will usually become jealous very easily. He’ll interpret every conversation you have with another man as being somehow a sign that you’re cheating. More importantly, he makes those feelings your problem.
In a healthy relationship, your partner might say to you “I’m feeling a bit jealous right now. Can we talk about it and maybe give me some reassurance?” That’s a mature and respectful way to deal with those feelings. He’s being open and honest and asking for help, but he’s still accepting that these are his feelings and his responsibility.
An obsessive boyfriend doesn’t do that. Instead, he sees it as your responsibility not to make him feel jealous in the first place. If you talking to other men makes him feel jealous, his solution isn’t that he needs to deal with his feelings. It’s that you shouldn’t talk to other men.
Obsessive men want to know everything they can about you, and they won’t let a little thing like your privacy stand in the way. If your boyfriend is obsessive, you might realize that he knows things about you that you’ve never mentioned.
This can feel really uncomfortable, especially if he doesn’t see anything wrong with his actions. He might have looked you up online, talked to people who knew you years ago, or even found a way to access your emails and texts in his pursuit of information about you.
We often jokingly refer to looking for information about a new partner as “Facebook-stalking” them, but an obsessive boyfriend really is going beyond just looking at your profile. He’s checking up on all of your contacts, doing reverse image searches, and more.
All of this violates your privacy and makes it clear that he sees his feelings as more important than treating you with respect and dignity.
An even more extreme (and yet surprisingly common) request from obsessive boyfriends is that they want to have access to all of your email accounts, social media, and even the passcode to unlock your phone.
He might offer to give you his passwords in exchange, suggesting that this makes it “fair,” but that’s not exactly true. If you have no interest in having his passwords then he’s not actually giving you anything you want in exchange.
Again, he might also use any resistance on your part to suggest that you’re trying to hide things from him.
This leads me to our next point, which is that an obsessive boyfriend won’t be willing to take things on trust. He wants proof that you’re honest and loyal to him. If he can, he’ll read your emails and messages with other men to be sure that you’re not flirting or cheating on him.
His default assumption is that you’re cheating unless you can prove that you’re not. This is an incredibly hurtful thing to do to a partner, and it clearly demonstrates that he’s not trying to build a relationship based on trust.
An obsessed boyfriend will often be overwhelming in his loving and affectionate statements. They’ll usually be incredibly dramatic and extreme.
He might say that you “complete” him or that you “fill a void” in his life. You’re his “everything” and he’s “nothing” without you. These might sound romantic on stage, but they don’t have any place in a normal relationship, especially not a strong, healthy, equal one.
An obsessed boyfriend might be extreme, but he often isn’t exaggerating how he feels about you. He’s thinking about you constantly, which isn’t actually a good thing for either of you. Other important relationships in his life will suffer as a result.
He might struggle to stay in touch with close friends and family. This also means that he doesn’t get their stabilizing influence and can leave you feeling as though you have to deal with his emotions alone.
Obsessive partners are usually deeply emotional and can have powerful emotional outbursts. These will often be anger, but can also involve fear, sadness, grief, or almost any other emotion. He might even have extreme positive emotions (provided things are going well between you).
These emotional outbursts will often be scary and unpredictable. They’re incredibly hard to manage. Importantly, he isn’t able to moderate his emotions. It’s like a toddler having a meltdown. That sounds funny until you remember that he’s a fully grown adult who is perfectly capable of doing real damage during his outburst.
An obsessive boyfriend sees you in a black-or-white way. In fact, he’s not really seeing the real you at all. He’ll often put you on a pedestal and refuse to acknowledge any of your flaws.
Having your partner think that you can do no wrong might sound great, but it can actually feel really uncomfortable. You don’t feel properly seen and there can be a lot of pressure on you to act in the ways he expects.
Obsessive men will also often emotionally blackmail their partners to keep the relationship going if they think you’re about to leave. One of the most common ways to do this is by threatening to harm themselves or even take their own lives if you leave them.
An obsessive boyfriend might not only threaten to hurt himself to stop you from leaving him. Obsessive partners often cross the line into being both physically and emotionally abusive. He might threaten you physically to stop you from walking away from an argument or leaving him altogether.
He might not stop at threats. An obsessive boyfriend who doesn’t respect your boundaries and threatens you is not a safe person to be around. There’s a real risk that he might cause you physical harm.
I’ve already listed how obsession is different from love, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sometimes feel the same. If you’re dating an obsessive man, it’s really important that you genuinely understand that this isn’t love and it isn’t healthy.
Every advice article on how to deal with relationships talks about the importance of setting boundaries - because they’re really important. When it comes to dealing with someone who is obsessed with you, however, boundaries become even more essential.
Holding strong boundaries is the exact opposite of being obsessive. When you have (and enforce) your boundaries, your partner’s obsessive behavior has to change.
If your obsessive boyfriend is actually a good person deep down, he might know that his obsession isn’t healthy for either of you. Trying to get him to give you space and encourage him to get help dealing with his obsession takes compassion.
Although it’s good to be thoughtful and care about his feelings, it’s also vital that you put your own well-being first. Dating an obsessive boyfriend is dangerous, and you shouldn’t let kindness and compassion keep you in the relationship.
An obsessed boyfriend can be overwhelming. He’s also usually absolutely convinced that his behavior is perfectly normal. Spend some time with other people (especially healthy couples) to remind yourself what a normal relationship looks like.
If you’re going to stay in a relationship with your obsessed boyfriend, make it clear that his behavior absolutely has to change. There’s no way to make your relationship healthy unless he works hard to get over his obsession and start to build genuine love.
Set expectations for how he has to change for your relationship to continue, and stick to them. They should include timelines and ways that you will know whether he’s sorting himself out. If he doesn’t do the work, put your own welfare first.
Dealing with an obsessed boyfriend can be scary and intense. Find as much support as you can to help make it easier. Close friends and family can be great, but you might need to turn to a qualified therapist if things get bad. This is especially important if you feel threatened or if he’s threatening to harm himself or others.
If you’re not quite sure whether he’s obsessed or not, talking to a great relationship coach can help you understand his behavior better.
An obsessed boyfriend isn’t going to give you a healthy relationship. At best, you’re going to find yourself dealing with a great deal of pressure, drama, and angst. At worst, obsessed boyfriends can become violent. You can be in real danger having a relationship with an obsessed man.
Obsession ruins relationships because it doesn’t leave any room for genuine love. Obsession removes all of the trust, respect, care, generosity, and affection that would normally allow a relationship to thrive. Obsession is selfish and destructive whereas love is generous and nurturing. Healthy relationships aren’t obsessive.
An obsessive partner might only be obsessive for a few weeks or months, or they might stay obsessive for years. If the person who is being obsessive doesn’t understand that their behavior is harmful, they might never change how they think or act around their partner.
Contrary to a lot of pop culture, having an obsessive boyfriend isn’t sweet or flattering. It’s scary and dangerous, even if it doesn’t start off that way. If your boyfriend is obsessive, it’s important to put your needs first and keep yourself safe.
An obsessive partner can change, but many don’t want to. If your obsessive boyfriend won’t change, you’re better off being single.
What do you think? How have you dealt with an obsessive boyfriend? Was it easy to spot his obsession? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share this article with anyone else who might be at risk from an obsessive partner.