How to Deal With Possessive Friends (Who Demand too Much)

“My friend wants too much of my time. They don’t seem to accept that I have other friends and hobbies that they aren’t involved in, and it feels overwhelming. What should I do?”

Do you have a friend who is jealous of other friends, trying to control your behavior, or increasingly demanding of your time? Jealous, possessive, and controlling behavior can cause damage to your friendship and even make you stop liking someone. It can cause unnecessary stress to your life, leading you to feel anxious or depressed.

Possessive behavior usually occurs due to underlying problems such as insecurity, jealousy, poor communication, and lack of boundaries. Ultimately, possessive behavior leads to unsustainable relationships. Here’s how to deal with possessive friends.

1. Try to understand the pattern

How and when is your friends’ possessive behavior showing up? What are they saying or doing that makes you feel uncomfortable?

You may find that there are one or two specific triggers that make your friend feel jealous and insecure and result in possessive behavior. It may be simpler to avoid these triggers. For example, if your friend struggles romantically, you may decide that you prefer to limit how often you talk to them about all the nice things your partner does for you and instead talk to other friends about it when you feel the need.

However, this doesn’t mean you should feel like you need to walk on eggshells around your friend. It’s one thing to have a few topics that you prefer not to talk about with a specific friend. But if too many topics become explosive, or you don’t feel comfortable around your friend, it’s not a sustainable solution.

Are both of you possessive of each other, or are you the one being possessive? Here’s how to stop being possessive over friends.

2. Stop excusing possessive behavior

We often get some warped ideas about what love and care look like. The media may have convinced us on some level that possessiveness is proof of someone caring about us deeply. We often see movies and TV shows where unhealthy behaviors are not addressed and are even shown to be ideal.

So we excuse possessive behavior by saying things like, “He’s just jealous because he loves me so much.” We may guilt ourselves into putting up with more than we can by telling ourselves things like, “Everyone else has abandoned her, so I need to be there for her even when she’s clingy.”

Understand the difference between jealousy and possessiveness. While it’s normal to feel insecure or jealous at times, possessiveness is a type of behavior that attempts to deal with those emotions. Possessive behavior is usually unhealthy and often results in the opposite result than intended (for example, pushing someone away rather than holding on to them).

Most of us haven’t learned how to express our feelings in positive ways, so some people may suppress their feelings, lash out at others, or try to control other people instead of expressing their needs and emotions. The good news is that it is possible to change unhealthy behaviors if we want to. The bad news is that we can’t make anyone change.

3. Get clear on your boundaries

More important than understanding other people is understanding yourself. What is it exactly about your friends’ behavior that bothers you? What are you unwilling to accept in a friendship?

For example, you may decide that you don’t take phone calls while you’re at work or after 9 p.m. You can state this boundary to your friend and work to uphold it. If your friend gets upset or demanding, you can repeat your boundary (e.g., “I will get back to you after work”). Resist the urge to apologize for not being available if you had already stated you wouldn’t be available at certain times.

If your friend is unwilling to work on boundaries in your relationship, more drastic action may be needed.

We go deeper on boundaries in our article, how to set boundaries with friends.

4. Tell your friend that their behavior bothers you

Have you discussed this issue with your friend? We often avoid bringing up “negative” things because we’re afraid of conflict or hurting someone we care about.

While avoiding major issues provides momentary relief, the problems don’t go away. Instead, the problems pile up, and we grow resentful. Eventually, we may see no other solution than blowing up or ending the friendship.

Learning how to problem-solve in a relationship can be difficult, but it’s an essential tool that will make significant positive changes to your life once you begin to get the hang of it.

Give your friendship a chance by trying to solve this issue together. Try to frame the issue as something you can handle together, instead of putting all the blame on your friend.

For example, instead of saying “you’re possessive,” try to be specific and non-blaming. What are the behaviors that upset you? How do they make you feel? You may say something like,

  • “When you say negative things about my other friends, I feel hurt and insecure.”
  • “When you try to persuade me to meet up when I say that I’m busy, I feel frustrated and overwhelmed.”
  • “I noticed that you bought the same clothes that I have, and that makes me feel uncomfortable since that is not something we discussed together.”

5. Make sure you show appreciation for your friend

Possessiveness usually comes from feelings of insecurity. Your friend may be afraid that if you spend too much time with other people, for example, you won’t have time for them anymore.

Make sure your friend knows you value having them as a friend. Tell them things you like about them, like their loyalty, curiosity, sense of design, and so on. The more confident your friend feels in your friendship, the less likely they are to feel insecure and jealous. And the less jealous and insecure they feel, the less possessive behaviors are likely to occur.

If and when you talk to your friend about their possessiveness, try to include praise for them as well. It will help the conversation feel less of an attack. A “compliment sandwich” may look something like this:

  • “A, I love spending time with you. I think you’re hilarious and creative. I’ve recently noticed that when I mention my friend G, you’ve made some negative comments about them. I felt hurt hearing that and uncomfortable sharing stories that relate to them. I appreciate how last time we had an issue, you reached out to me to talk it through and listen to my side of it. I really value how seriously you take our friendship and want us to continue improving it.”

6. Consider ending the friendship

Your friend may be a nice person, but if they are unwilling or unable to change their possessive or controlling behavior, it may be best to walk away. You can still like and care for someone from afar, but caring for someone isn’t a good enough reason to let them have a negative influence on your life.

If you’ve tried expressing your boundaries and talking to your friend about the issue and things don’t seem to improve, it may be time to re-evaluate the friendship.

Some signs you may decide to end the friendship include:

  • Your friend crossed serious boundaries, such as sending messages from your phone without your knowledge, lying to other people about you, hitting on someone you are dating, and so on.
  • Your friend’s possessive behavior negatively interferes with other aspects of your life (for example, your performance at school or work is suffering due to stress about your friendship).
  • You have tried to bring up issues with your friend, but they are unwilling to talk about it or blame things on you.
  • They are vengeful and explosive.
  • Your friend disrespects you by calling you names or making fun of you.
  • You have more negative feelings than positive feelings regarding the friendship.

If you decide that ending the friendship is the best course of action, we have an article with tips on how to end a friendship that may help you out.

Common questions

What causes possessiveness in a friendship?

Possessiveness is usually a result of jealousy, insecurity, and a lack of boundaries. Relying too much on one friend may also lead to possessiveness.

Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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