5 Signs You’re Suffocating Your Partner Emotionally 18

Here’s what “intimacy overload” is, 5 signs you’re emotionally suffocating your partner, and 8 ways to give him some breathing space. Love is important in a relationship – but suffocation can smother and kill the love you’re trying to protect.

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If you haven’t read any of the “Boundaries” books by Cloud and Townsend, you should get Boundaries in Marriage. It offers helpful advice for creating a strong relationship with your partner and being a healthy individual. The healthier you are, the better your relationship will be — whether or not you are married.

Focusing too much on your partner and your relationship can contribute to its breakdown. Too much togetherness can lead to intimacy overload, which is as unhealthy emotional disconnection. Intimacy overload will suffocate your partner and destroy your relationship.

Intimacy overload isn’t discussed as much as lack of intimacy or fear of intimacy. Talking about your feelings, thoughts, and past experiences is part of a healthy relationship, according to many psychologists, counselors, and doctors. However an article in Psychology Today (“Back Off!”) reveals that there’s a limit to how much intimacy your partner can tolerate before he feels suffocated.

What is Intimacy Overload?

If you’re dependent on your partner for constant affirmation, unconditional love, and total protection – then you may be expecting too much from him. This is intimacy overload. If you expect your partner to increase your self- esteem, fulfill all your social needs, and share every emotion with you, it’s too much intimacy or intimacy overload. Excessive expectations in intimate relationships involve unreasonable demands for time, affection, or energy. You’ll suffocate your relationship if you expect too much.

Intimacy overload involves blurred boundaries. Sometimes, there is no line between two people, and this is suffocating. It involves too many emotional demands, too much togetherness, and too much criticism. Feelings of suffocation and control become are impossible to ignore, and neither partner is happy. Too much intimacy can break a relationship.

When intimacy overload happens, it’s not “intimacy” anymore. It certainly isn’t lack of intimacy! It may indicate a different problem such as insecurity, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

Your partner may respond to intimacy overload by retreating and withdrawing. He feels suffocated in the relationship, and pulls away. Some call it going into his “man cave.” He’ll tune out when he feels like you’re suffocating him, perhaps hiding in his work, hobbies, or friends. How do you know if you’re suffocating your partner?

If you know you’re smothering your relationship, read How to Get Over an Addictive Relationship. The tips will help you pull back a little, which will help.

5 Signs You’re Suffocating Your Partner

  1. You feel like he’s withdrawn from you, emotionally or physically.
  2. Friends and family tell you that you may be smothering him.
  3. You don’t feel comfortable going to events or activities on your own.
  4. You never feel like you can get close enough to your partner.
  5. Your partner tells you he feels suffocated in your relationship.

Do you believe you’re suffocating your partner? Here are several ways to ease up, and breathe light and air into your relationship.

8 Ways to Stop Smothering Your Partner

    1. Signs You’re Suffocating Your Partner Emotionally

      5 Signs You’re Suffocating Your Partner Emotionally

      Take time for yourself.

  1. Give your partner time, space, and room to breathe – both literally and metaphorically.
  2. Balance your need for intimacy with your partner’s need for space.
  3. Enjoy your own hobbies and interests. Stay in touch with yourself.
  4. Take time away from one another – “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.”
  5. Cultivate your own friendships, apart from your partner.
  6. Know who you are as a person, separate from your partner.
  7. Develop your own spiritual, personal, social, and professional self. Again, not being in touch with who you are contributes to intimacy overload.

Mix autonomy and independence with interdependence and togetherness. When a healthy balance of connectedness and separateness exists, both partners feel happy with their relationship – and realistic expectations and mutual respect are evident. Intimacy overload eases up when each partner is free and yet still feels loved.

What do you think – are you suffocating your partner? You may find 8 Secrets About Fixing Unhealthy Relationships helpful.

I welcome your thoughts on how to stop suffocating your partner below. I can’t offer personal advice or counseling, but writing about your thoughts and feelings is one of the best ways to figure out what changes need to be made in your life.

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18 thoughts on “5 Signs You’re Suffocating Your Partner Emotionally

  • Hayley

    I have been in a very serious and committed relationship for 5 years. I really love my guy and we have had our share of fights but we are still strong and we have our fair share of restrictions on each other as well. Mainly related to the opposite sex. I don’t have an issue with having restrictions in the relationship cause i was brought up in a family with restrictions too and I’m used to it. Usually i don’t rebel much and listens. In the relationship there has been a couple of girls who tried flirting with him and i told him to stop talking and a couple of guys who tried flirting with me and i stopped talking cause he doesn’t like. An year back i met a guy whom i gave a very embarrassing first impression of myself and a few months later we had to co-captain an event at office. We grew pretty close through that and our friendship hit it off instantly. It was the kind of friendship where we either became bestfriends or something more. We were almost together everyday running everywhere to get stuff done and we became really close in a matter of few days where we even started talking about personal things like relationships and gave advice to each other. My friends love bugging me with anything that i do and they started bugging me with this just to get a rile from my boyfriend. My guy never admitted that he was jealous of the guy but we started having issues and it was not related to the guy and there were a few unavoidable circumstances where he had issues about the two of us having to go to places together. After the event was over our friendship didn’t end and we continued talking in office chat almost everyday at the beginning. But my guy didn’t like it and i reduced the amount that i talked to this guy. But our friendship continued and my guy friend had a break up and i was helping him throughout the phase. My friends suspected that he had feelings for me with the way he treated me cause he did small things which were really thoughtful and was always very attentive to me. It felt different from what i have experienced because my guy is not very showy of his feelings and is not much of a thoughtful person cause he doesn’t know how to do those. I liked the feeling it gave me and at one point even thought that i had feelings for him too. Not very strong but it was there a bit. But i soon grew out of it cause I’m in love with my boyfriend. Our friendship never escalated into anything more but was just there. The amount we spoke to each other reduced a bit more to about talking to each other once a week or so but we continued talking. I got a transfer to the same building where my friend was and left the department where me and my guy worked together. I was not in the same floor nor department as my friend but he was excited that i was at the same building and with a bunch of other friends we had lunch everydy. The two of us grew very close to the point where he told me about all of his secrets and i told him all of mine. We understood each other like no other and grew really close and calles oueselves each others best friends. He was jealous when i was too close to another guy friend even if that friend has been my best guy friend before him. I was his wing woman and i got him the perfect girl for him and whenever they had issues they both spoke to me and i gave advices and they resolved whatever issues they had with me as their advisor. I have told everything to my guy and he was okay with my friendship with this guy and we didn’t have any issues like when i first became friends with this guy. In the meantime a girl i knew cause of netball got to know my boyfriend when he came to watch me play, without my knowledge got my boyfriend into their clan in COC and got his number and had started texting him. My guy never told me and when i was on his phone playing games i got to know that they were texting each other. When i asked him about it he was saying that he didn’t think it was a big deal to tell me about it. (This girl was never close to me and we never texted each other) i was okay at that point and didn’t make anything out of it. But as days passed it became excessive where he was texting her when we were out on office trips and when we were on dates. When i asked he said that he never initiates a convo and was only replying according to what she sends. I became annoyed and told him to have a limit. Things got too far to the point where he hung out with her and her friends without caring if i liked it or not and on days i was unable to make it and even dropped her which was out of his way but was an alternate route to his place as she lives close to me. She has a boyfriend who was a friend of mine before they even started dating but a guy that i stopped talking to because my guy thought that he was flirting which was not true. However we kept having fights for this and he kept on bringing up my guy best friend whenever we had issues and we came to a point where we both agreed to stop talking to our respective friends to avoid anymore issues. I know that my guy would never cheat on me. And our relationship is very stable with parents support on both parties and with future marriage plans. But these issues became constant. It always came cause of that other girl as they texted everyday all the time which me and my bestfriend never did. She knew that i do not like her and even voiced it out to my guy but never stopped talking. Whenever we had fights my guy kept on bringing up my friendship with my best friend and kept using that against me. Now we both stopped talking to our friends to save the relationship. I told my best friend all of it and we decided not to talk to each other till we try and somehow solve this issue. Now things are getting really hard at work as i have to avoid lunch with my friends and eat alone, my friend is being very supportive trying to make me eat with our friends and not turning up. But it hurts both of us. He voiced it out to me and said that he misses me. He does everything at work to avoid me but whenever we bump into each other after not saying more than just a hi, be comes back and says that its hard for him to do that. Which is the same for me cause i miss my best friend in my life. We have been too close to each other all this time its hard to avoid something that has been constant for the past one year in my life. My guy complained once about losing his friend cause of me but never said anything anymore cause I responded the same. I don’t know what i need to do anymore as my guy friend clearly hates my guy now and I’m torn in the middle of them at work related stuff. I miss sharing secrets with my best friend and talking to him when i go through hard times. As in my case my boyfriend and my best friend are two different guys they are both very important to me. I don’t want to lose either of them. Please advice what I should do.

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Ricky,

    Recovering from the painful aftermath of an affair is difficult – and it takes time. My friend’s husband had an affair, and she said it took them 5 years to fully rebuild their marriage and learn how to trust each other again. They went for counseling, and relied on their shared faith to bring them through.

    Have you and your wife talked to a counselor? That is often a helpful way for couples to re-establish themselves. And, if you’re struggling to stop suffocating your wife emotionally, I encourage you to talk to a counselor on your own. Learn what you’re missing in your relationship, and how your wife can help you.

    I also encourage you to read books about recovering from an affair and emotional healing. Here are 2 excellent ones:

    Emotional Chaos to Clarity: Move from the Chaos of the Reactive Mind to the Clarity of the Responsive Mind
    Integrating ideas from Buddhist psychology, Phillip Moffitt describes how we confuse who we are with the fleeting and impermanent thoughts, emotions, and impulses we experience. We then respond in ways which bring dissatisfaction, suffering and emotional chaos to our relationships.

    After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful
    A staggering number of couples in America—about 70 percent—have been affected by extramarital affairs. After the Affair is the only book to offer proven strategies for surviving the crisis and rebuilding the relationship.

    I really, really like Moffitt’s book Emotional Chaos – especially for people struggling to stop emotionally suffocating their partners.

    May you find wisdom, freedom, strength and power. May your marriage be blessed with healing, and your life filled with a peace that surpasses all understanding.


  • Ricky

    i’ve been married for 15 years (together 23) we have 2 awesome boys 20-17. My wife said that i didn’t pay enough attention to her. last year I found out she was having an affair. I was devastated. She is the love of my life.We are all we ever knew. It was with her cousins husband and it started after easter dinner. She said he wowed her and told her all the thing she wanted to hear. It’s over, but i think they still message each other. We have great days and some bad ones still. The affair has been over for a year. Now she says that i smother her because I try to tell her the things i should have been saying all along. But she says she misses the old me, the one before the affair. She says she loves me and can’t imagine life without me……I know i’m not myself right now ! please help

  • Me

    I noticed the article is written to a female audience. Just wanted to says that men can smother women too. I found this article looking for info as my husband is smothering me ….and now he is home ALL the time since he isn’t working.

    • NA

      I can completely relate to a husband who is there ALL the time! It feels like you just can’t breath sometimes. I thought the same thing about this article, that it was speaking to a female audience. Males suffocate the significant other in relationships too. I feel like running away sometimes!

  • Thomas

    So i was told by a friend of mine that i shouldn’t have told my gf that i felt like she was smothering me. She always has to be around me and she expects me to be ready to go to bed whenever she goes even though i’m not tired. Even as i type she is laying on the couch staring at me. I don’t know how much more i can take

  • Guest

    Hi. My problem is minor and want to prevent the problem from becoming deeper. I have even joked about it with my partner of 6 months who said just a week ago, “stop trying so hard to please me cos sometimes i feel smothered, i love you just the way you are”. Found this slightly difficult to u/stand as we are a few hours drive away from each other and on average, spend around 3 days a week together. Part of the reason i’m trying so hard to please her and telling her on a daily basis that i love her is, in her previous r/ship of 25 yrs, she was rarely if ever told “i love u”, or rarely if ever hugged or cuddled by her husband and was regularly verbally abused, so have been trying too hard in the last 2 months to reassure her of my feelings. It’s nothing too dramatic, just too many i luv you’s and generally trying way to hard to please and reassure. Part of my thought process has said to myself, “well, we are not together even half of the week, why would she feel “sometimes” smothered by daily, sometimes more than once a day i luv you’s make her feel like that. As said, nothing dramatic as we have even joked about it the last few days. When we exchanged Valentines day flowers, she was so excited showing all her family and friends photos on social media and sending me a message saying, “i love you so much, can’t wait to see you”, now, if a woman truly feels like this, wouldn’t you think she wouldn’t mind the few times daily dose of i love you’s and the over trying of the pleasing. Finally, the other reason i have a slight prob with this is, 30 yrs ago, she lost her husband of a few yrs in an accident, and when we were discussing past r/ships as new couples do, i was amazed that in several r/ships that she was rarely ever told those words and said to her one night, “haven’t any of your past partners told you i love you fairly regularly”, she said, “no, but my first husband, “the 30 yrs ago man”, told me all the time”. So from my point of view, why did it never bother her when her first man used to tell her all the time, but feels “sometimes” smothered by my constant affirmation of feelings. Is part of this to do with never being told in the previous 25 yrs, to suddenly being told everyday. Just require some advice, pls help.

  • B

    I think this was my problem… I’ve only had 2 relationships and the last one was what I’d call, a real relationship. It started off great, as they all do right? Well, after I felt more comfortable in the relationship, I became an over-giver. I brought drinks he liked to his work, came over to his house, sometimes almost 5 days a week, sometimes uninvited (which he told me before hand was okay). I got him gifts just because and encouraging texts for when he was having bad days. I was almost always available and wanted as much time with just us than with his family that was there.
    Also, something that’s probably important, his dad passed away a month after we got together. He said he’s liked me for years and at first wasn’t sure if he was ready and wanted to make sure I would be okay with moving forward. I was really excited at the prospect and had been single for three years. We moved forward but only lasted three months.
    In the beginning and middle, he said, if he had a list for what he’s looking for, that I meet it and I’ve been what he’s looking for. Also, during our break up he said that his mom told him I’m his match pretty much.
    It’s been a month and it’s hard because we have a lot of the same friends and still see each other almost on a weekly basis for church and have not spoken since. He told a mutual friend of ours that I was amazing, but he should have felt more than what he did, maybe I liked him more.
    But I think maybe I smothered him. Because maybe he really wasn’t ready for a relationship. I should have slowed down, especially since he wanted to and have that conversation, instead I feel like I was giving more and asking more out of him than he could give. Maybe making him feel he was in emotional dept that he couldn’t repay?

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    The best way to stop suffocating your partner emotionally is to find yourself! Develop your passions and purpose in life. Figure out who you are, where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, why and when and what for.

    The more well-rounded you are as a woman, the happier you’ll be. The happier you are, the less tempted you’ll be to suffocate your boyfriend with your desperate love. And he’ll love you more! He’ll be drawn to you, he’ll be all over you with butterfly kisses, roses and chocolate.

    And you both win.

  • Alison

    I have been madly in love with my boyfriend. We have been living together for about 6 months now. And things have been amazing up until the last tow or so months. I feel like I am smothering him way too much, (Afraid to loose him.) I feel like while trying not to loose him I am just making things worse. He even told me, “I just need space, I feel like you are always smothering me..” And I am trying my hardest not to smother him. I get it he needs his space, and I need to learn that no, it does not mean he doesn’t not love me. He just wants to be alone, have his thoughts and time without me wanting him to be all over me.

  • Julia

    My husband and I have been together for 10 years. We are unemployed for the past 2 years, so we’re together 24/7. We do not have many friends because since we do not work, we don’t have money to hang out with people very often. So we are together ALL THE TIME. And for me it’s too much. I feel I’m suffocating, and today it’s the first time I cried because of this. I tell him nicely and politely to give me some space (like, please let me be in a room, by myself) but he doesn’t respect that. EVER. So I start being aggressive, but that doesn’t work either… He comes knocking on the door, with a smile, and he has a question about something not important (like “did you see the shape of this bread?”), or wants to hug me, and I get furious because I really need to not see, hear, fell his presence all-the-time. He interrupted me at least 5 times in the past hour (I’m watching online courses, so I need a bit of concentration). I even put a ladder against the door, and asked him politely not to enter because the ladder will fall, but to no avail, he did come in, without any particular reason or need. I’m becoming crazy. I mean, I do love him, but come on. He’s 37, I’m 40. We don’t have siblings, so we’re both used to be alone as kids and this “alone time” should be a normal thing to both of us. I do respect his privacy and let him be alone, but he doesn’t like that, and if I don’t come to see him every 10 minutes, he will come to me. Or when I (rarely) go to see a friend he wants to come with me, or when he goes to see his friend he wants me to come as well. But I never let him do that and never go with him, because this is the only time we can be apart. And breathe a little. At least I do and I enjoy it.

  • Latoya

    Thank you so much for the article. This is exactly what I need. I am suffocating my husband of 7 years and he just told me. I get angry and mad at him when he does things without me and I always need his approval for things I don’t feel complete without him. I really need to take a look at myself and work on how to stop it as we have 3 beautiful children. I would really like some more pointers please so I can combat this. Thanks again!

  • Jill

    I’ve been saying someone for over 8 months and always feel overwhelmed w being suffocated. I’ve suggested we get our own space and my partner was automatically offended and “hurt” by that comment. All I was saying was for her to get some hobbies and stay busy and give us both space to enjoy each other when we are together. She didn’t take it well and said nasty things in place of the real issue instead of saying that she would honor that request and work o it for both of us to grow and get closer.

  • corie

    We dated for 1yr then married. Six mnths into the marriage his behavior changed. He’s controlling, suspicious, clingy and upsets easily. Now were almost 3 mnths into marriage. I am totally worn out. I cant do anything without him tagging along and though I love him, Im not In love with him anymore. We have sex once a month because I dont desire it. He’s a handsome man and a good provider. He’s friendly and cheerful to outsiders. At home hes a roller coaster ride of emotions.

    • Sharon

      This sounds exactly like my husband. He changed almost right after we married. He is the perfect husband to the outside world but we have no real intimacy. No one understands how draining it is to be stalked in your own home. He wants to be around me all the time but will not share anything meaningful, no emotions, or feelings. He has a very shallow emotional range. It has been a terrible experience. Please look up covert narcissism, reading about this has really helped me to feel not so alone. I hope this helps. No one understands except those who have dealt with these types of individuals. They are invested in their image and making themselves look like the good guy in the marriage as well as the victim. Good luck to you. I hope to leave my marriage as soon as I can. There is no real love, I too dread sex with him as he hasn’t emotions, and is unable to care about anyone. Smothering behavior is often linked to a personality disorder, and very difficult to treat. The person has to be very willing to make lasting changes and this is often impossible for these types as the control issues are deep seated in childhood issues of real or perceived abandonment.

  • yoly

    I’ve been married for 14 years and I allowed him to control my life. I was young and didn’t know better. Now something woke up in me and I’m changing and I want to have a persona and a life of my own and it’s causing problems in my marriage. I wish I would have read this article before.

  • Laurie Post author

    Thanks for your comments, Fiona. I hope your sister sees that suffocating her boyfriend isn’t healthy for him or her, and could destroy their relationship! Thank you for caring about her enough to share this with her 🙂

  • Fiona

    My sister is suffocating her boyfriend and doesn’t even realize it. I’ll share this article with her because if she doesn’t stop, she’ll lose him!! She won’t listen to me but maybe she’ll understand what you said about intimacy overload. Thank you.