How to talk to boyfriend about his smothering behavior
May 13, 2012 10:09 AM   Subscribe

What do you do about a smothering boyfriend?

Before i go into any details allow me to explain that i'm not a fan of a lot of mushy, lovey dovey stuff. A little is fine, but i was just never the type to always want to be touching or kissing the other person. And that's fine for some people, it may work for you but it's just not for me. It may have something to do with my personality and/or how i was raised, who knows.

I'm 24, and my boyfriend is 22 we've been dating for almost 8 months now. Up until these past few weeks most things have been smooth sailing. But recently he's began to smother me, and the more he smothers the more i push away and the more i push away the more he smothers. Vicious cycle.

It's gotten to the point where he HAS to have his arm around me while we are watching tv/movie and if we're laying down he might as well just sit on me. It's as if he hasn't seen me in months everytime we hang out now. And then there are the constant "i miss you" "i like you" "i miss you already" texts. I mean it was nice to hear at first but after you say it so many times it sort of loses its meaning.

I enjoy spending time with him a lot, and really like him. But, him smothering me recently has made me get irritated and push him away.

I had to tell him once within the first few months to ease up on the mushy stuff and he was fine for awhile, but now he's doing it again. Is there a nice way i can explain all this to him without hurting his feelings?

Is it inevitable that i'll have to break up with him if this continues?

How do you deal with relationships where one person is super affectionate and the other isn't as much?
posted by ohtimorousme to Human Relations (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
>Is it inevitable that i'll have to break up with him if this continues?


It's time for a serious talk, one way or another.
posted by cyndigo at 10:12 AM on May 13, 2012

"You are a great guy but this is driving me nuts. Here are some examples. Why are you suddenly doing this so much more?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:13 AM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lucky girl. I think you're not that into him, if you were it would all be fine and dandy. When you meet your match that won't bother you. Maybe explore why the affection bothers you so, even if you think you are crazy about him.
posted by i_wear_boots at 10:23 AM on May 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

and, to answer your actual question: begin with how much you do care about him, then bring it on. Keep in mind that he sees the affection as his expression of love (provided it's not clinical).
posted by i_wear_boots at 10:25 AM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: My parents and my sister are the same way. They love each other a lot but they hate all that touchy feely stuff.
posted by ohtimorousme at 10:25 AM on May 13, 2012

One possibility. He's doing it more because he feels you pushing him away. If you dial up your affection level, maybe he will dial his down.

Second possibility. He's into you and wants to touch you. This is not something you can change. This is a fundamental incompatibility, either because you don't like to be physically affectionate or because you're not that into him or because you have something else going on in your life making you irritable/stressed that you're not dealing with.

Honestly, I suspect he is much more into you than you are him, and this is causing you both to feel uncomfortable and react in opposite ways. Either way it's time for you to talk with him about these issues.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:28 AM on May 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Some people are just more touchy-feely than others. I think you probably won't be able to change the way he is, and you will be happier once you find someone like you who is less physically affectionate.
posted by Slinga at 10:31 AM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you truly care for him and this is your only problem, why not handle it with humor? Find a plastic crow bar or fly swatter (pink would be nice), show it too him, and tell him that whenever you want your space, you are going to use it on him. Be playful. It will still hurt his feelings, but it may hurt less if you can laugh about it together.
posted by myselfasme at 10:35 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are a number of possibilities here, but the solution begins with talking. Only you know how into him you actually are. It's possible he is clinging because he feels you pulling away. Or its possible that you are not pulling away but your preferred manners of expressing affection are not mutually compatible.

You may or may not want to bring this book up with your boyfriend, as I have no idea what your feelings are about commitment with him, but reading it will help explain that people have different ways of expressing love and affection, and understanding what works for you may help you find the words to tell your boyfriend what you really want from him, instead of feeling smothered.
posted by ambrosia at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2012

You just aren't that into him. I can't imagine a conversation you can have with him asking him to dial it back that's going to end well.
posted by empath at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2012

Agreeing that this is (or can be) a fundamental incompatibility. Part of his giving so much is meant as a signal for you to reciprocate. Asking someone who relies on these signifiers of love and attraction to basically take your word for the fact that you cherish them, despite little physical evidence, is going to be a steep uphill battle.

You definitely deserve to be loved in the way you want/need. But especially during this early period of a relationship, this is how most people express their love, and I suspect most people will assume you're just playing games like hard-to-get. Without actually being there to see, I wouldn't say his behavior sounds excessive, though it also doesn't sound like he is really paying attention to your signals -- he thinks you just need time, that he will gradually win you over. He's probably never encountered someone like you in the dating world, so it sort of runs counter to everything he's learned about how to make a romantic partner feel special. You need to sit him down and bring him up to speed and together decide if it's a dealbreaker for either of you.
posted by hermitosis at 10:45 AM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lucky girl. I think you're not that into him, if you were it would all be fine and dandy. When you meet your match that won't bother you.

I don't think this is true. Some people just don't want to be touched all the time, and that is absolutely valid.

Just talk to the guy. My guess is that he's feeling you pull away and is trying to fix it. I bet that if you let him know that you still like him and enjoy his company, his anxiety will ease up and he won't feel the need to reassure himself by constantly touching you.

Something that has worked for me: If you're both on the couch reading or whatever, sit so that your feet are touching him. I'd never want someone to put their feet on me, but it seems to be ok for other people.
posted by runningwithscissors at 10:49 AM on May 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with many of these posts and they all could be true. You may not be as into him as he is you and/or there is a fundamental incompatibility.

What can you do? Talk to him AND lighten up. This is one of those issues where compromise is necessary since I suspect he feels/shows love through physical touch and without it he may feel like his needs aren't being met much like you feel now where your need for personal space isn't being met now.

Also, I had a similar experience with an ex (who has now passed away and I miss very dearly every day which isn't the point but must be said when I speak of him). Anyway, I was very much an anti-physical person. My friends would even joke if I happen to hug someone like... "OMG, look what you made her do!" or "Eek, are you ok, I hope it didn't hurt too bad!". So, when I got together with my ex whom I loved dearly it took some adjusting on both of our parts but eventually I began to except his "love" through physical affection. I still didn't reciprocate but we talked about how I don't show love that way and he was fine with that. The point, I accepted his love and if I weren't in the mood to cuddle I would squeeze him really tight to show I appreciated the gesture and then adjust my position so that I had a foot on him on the couch instead of him on my lap, etc. I hope that makes sense but my main point is compromise and learning to appreciate his style. :)
posted by MyMind at 10:51 AM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

How do you deal with relationships where one person is super affectionate and the other isn't as much?

It is okay to just say something to him. Just don't wait until you snap out of frustration and say something really harsh or dump him on the spot.

You can say something exactly like what you told us, at a neutral time, not a time when he's touching you (or over the phone or email or text or whatever):

"Hey, there's something I need to tell you. I need to tell you I'm not a fan of a lot of mushy, lovey dovey stuff. A little is fine, but I am just never the type to always want to be touching or kissing the other person. It makes me feel smothered when we do too much of that. It is not personal at all, I enjoy spending time with you and like you a lot. If you have noticed me pulling back it's because too much of that stuff makes me feel smothered, not because I don't like you. Is the lovey dovey stuff and frequency of touch something that you need to feel satisfied or secure in a relationship?"

Some people just don't want to be touched all the time, and that is absolutely valid.

Agreed. If anyone 'splains to you about how you "really" feel as if they know better than you about that, please don't tie yourself in knots over that.
posted by cairdeas at 11:12 AM on May 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

. But recently he's began to smother me, and the more he smothers the more i push away and the more i push away the more he smothers.

Why? What has changed recently?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:24 AM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had to tell him once within the first few months to ease up on the mushy stuff and he was fine for awhile, but now he's doing it again. Is there a nice way i can explain all this to him without hurting his feelings?

When two people have widely disparate needs for closeness and distance - or anything else - one discussion won't be enough to avoid hurt/smothered feelings or to tend to both your comfort zones. Its an ongoing conversation that ideally will evolve many times. How successful you both are will depend on how willing you are to; meet the others' needs while respecting your own; not take the others' needs personally; be extremely clear about those needs. It's good practice to get into since no two people will always want the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Nurturing a relationship this way assumes a certain level of investment in it. If you're not there, your not there. No harm, no foul.
posted by space_cookie at 11:39 AM on May 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

As silly as this may sound, have you considered that you two may not be compatible astrologically? It's possible that his love style is so different from yours on a core level that your relationship will continue to be wrought with problems as the time goes on. Find someone who shares your preference for practicality over demonstrativeness.
posted by lotusmish at 12:17 PM on May 13, 2012

I had to have this conversation when my husband and I first started dating. My family is not touchy feel lovey dovey, and his is, so I imagine the way we both acted had to do with how we grew up and what the people around us were like. Therefore, he was very snuggly and I was very not comfortable with that. So I told him, and I explained why, and I said perhaps I would warm up to it later (which I have, over the years), but for the time being, he needed to lay off the touchy feely because I was not comfortable with it. And well, obviously, it worked, because we're married now. So perhaps try to have that conversation with him again - explain that it has nothing to do with your feelings, you like him very much and enjoy spending time with him, you just don't like the snuggling. Hopefully he'll be okay with it, too.
posted by echo0720 at 1:34 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Also, we had just one conversation about it - but we were also 10 years older than you and your boyfriend and more mature and each had more dating experience, so perhaps that's why).
posted by echo0720 at 1:35 PM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: I'll definitely talk to him soon about it and see what happens :)
posted by ohtimorousme at 1:51 PM on May 13, 2012

Even if he knows in theory that you don't like being all snuggled up with him while watching TV, that doesn't necessarily mean that he understands that what he's doing right this moment feels really clingy to you. He might not know that you wish he did not have his arm entwined with yours and his hand on your leg and when you moved your arm to get it away from him that didn't mean "I'm lifting my arm into the air so you can snuggle closer into my side". I do sometimes say to my husband, "Hey baby, elbow room!" and tilt him off me towards his end of the loveseat. But I keep holding his hand after I rearrange him.
posted by aimedwander at 4:54 PM on May 13, 2012

He is seeking attention from you. If this is a new development, then maybe something's changed.

Don't mean to sound crass, but how is your sex life? A little dwindling is inevitable in a longer relationship--whether in frequency or novelty--and he's a 22-year-old guy who probably still has a lot of teenage hormones in his system. He may be trying to recapture/recreate some of the honeymoon lust.
posted by elizeh at 7:13 PM on May 13, 2012

Speaking for my own experience, I'm very affectionate and touchy-feely, and being with someone not comfortable giving or receiving affection would be difficult. Not a deal-breaker (if terribly in love, again speaking from personal experience) but a big source of anxiety.

From his perspective, he may interpret the non-reciprocation as you not loving him or pulling away for some reason. So like many others said earlier, talk with him. But if you want to stay with the guy, I think both of you will have to make one step towards each other. Just you asking him to be distant and non-affectionate, essentially a person he is not, does not seem viable in the long run.
posted by peterf12 at 9:32 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking from my own personal experience as well, I am very touchy-feely, affectionate, and warm. This is a very ingrained part of my personality, and I tried to date someone who was more distant for a bit. Granted, we may have had other problems on top of it, but it made me extremely miserable. He knew this and tried to change his behavior to meet my needs for a while, but after a month or two it became too exhausting for him, problems arose, and we broke up. I sort of suspect this is what your boyfriend was doing--trying to bend to meet your needs, but it was too exhausting in the long run.

I am now dating someone who is also cuddly, warm, and affectionate, and it is not an issue. My ex-boyfriend and I were inexperienced and young, so that may be a part of it as well, but in my experience I really do think it is best to just match up in this regard, as it seems to be a lot of work and not very fun to negotiate. At least for me, matching with my boyfriend on this issue makes everything so, so much better; it feels like the foundation of an entire relationship and so I think it might be hard to compromise on.
posted by queens86 at 11:25 PM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I also need to ask: how is your sex life? Are you sexually active at all? If you haven't slept together (had sex), maybe he's feeling like 8 months is long enough.
posted by at at 12:40 AM on May 14, 2012

You're just not that into him. It doesn't mean either one of you is a bad person, but if you were more into him, it wouldn't bother you.

Speaking from my own experience, I love hugs and being touched but am not overly crazy about it. I dated a guy for several weeks last summer who was VERY touchy feely. I realized that I wasn't that into him when the though of him hugging me just made me want to run in the other direction.

My boyfriend now is ridiculously touchy-feely, but I love it because I'm crazy in love with him.

It's ok to admit that you're just not that into him. It sucks, and probably sucks more that there's no Big Reason why, but it's sometimes just the way it goes.
posted by floweredfish at 6:34 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

That kind of thing drives me crazy! Even if it is someone I love very much. I just do not operate that way.

So I don't necessarily agree that the fact that you don't like his behaviour means that you're not that into him.

A compromise would be best I think; casual touching, leaning into the hug for a second (to show that you are not outright rejecting him) before moving away and back into your personal space; and of course, always, communication which starts out with a reassurance that you are into him. I'm not saying he's necessarily insecure, he just may come from a very demonstrative family background or something, but whatever it is, it's always good to hear that you love someone so make sure you start your conversation with that.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:11 AM on May 14, 2012

I don't like being touched a lot, my mother clearly remembers me pushing her away from hugging me all the time even before I could talk, I have never liked too much physical contact. My husband is a hugger and a toucher so this has led to some interesting moments as we sorted out how to live together and show affection to each other.

Things that worked for us.

I have set up "safe" touching areas, areas that he can touch that don't freak me out so much. A hand on my knee or hip is fine, around my shoulders is a no go. We hold hands a lot.

I have found if I am the one doing the touching I can handle it better, and he gets the touching he needs. So we lay on the bed to talk, I will put my head on his belly like a pillow, I spoon him not him me. I will lay next to him and stroke his hair, or he can rest his head on my lap.

Sometimes while watching TV he will come in for a snuggle still, I love him so sometimes I suck it up for 10 minutes or so as he likes to snuggle, sometimes I can't handle it so I will give him a kiss on the cheek and take his hand instead and he understands

Talk to your boyfriend, try and find ways to work around it. My husband really didn't believe me about the touching thing, until he finally met my family, and my extended family explained to him that it wasn't just him, that I was like that with everyone, once he realized it wasn't rejection he was happy to help work to find ways to make us both happy.
posted by wwax at 9:17 AM on May 14, 2012

I am a touchy-feely person but only with my husband; everyone else can back the hell off.

It's like breathing to me. I cannot not hold his hand, give him hugs and kisses, cuddle with him in bed. He could probably live with a bit less of it, but I could not. If he were as unwilling as you seem to be, we would not be married. It is seriously as much of a need as food or water.

There's nothing wrong with you or your desires, but it doesn't sound like you're compatible with this guy. You can talk to him all you want but I'm almost guaranteeing you that the need for touch is as hard-wired as your not needing it.
posted by desjardins at 1:21 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally, totally subjectively, I think that both longing texts AND the physical stuff are too much. One or the other could be easily and happily incorporated into my relationship-view as something sweet, but both seems like "we have to be touching even when we're not touching here I am RIGHT HERE you are COUPLED all the time."

It will probably not surprise you when I say that my SO and I are very, very lovey-dovey in some situations but also have very, very independent schedules.
posted by desuetude at 9:24 PM on May 14, 2012

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