Dear John: “My partner is suffocating me and I don’t know what to do”

Jean Aiken is a relationship and dating expert featured on the hit show Nine Married at first sight. He is a bestselling author, appears regularly on radio and in magazines, and hosts exclusive retreats for couples.

Every month, John joins 9Honey exclusively to answer your questions about love and relationships*.

If you have a question for John, email:

MAFS Expert John Aiken
John joins 9Honey exclusively to answer your love and relationship questions. (New)

Dear John,

I feel smothered by my partner. We’ve been together for years and have a great relationship, but recently his interest in me (and what I do) has gotten a little intense.

I know the point of every relationship is to be in love and I’m so grateful that he loves me and wants to be with me all the time, but sometimes I just want some space. I really love him and it’s not me who falls in love with him, but I wish I could do things without him always asking me if he can come.

I feel bad talking to him about it because I know it will hurt him. Is there a right way to request space?

Of course, there is a simple way to talk about it. The fact that you’re worried about having this awkward conversation tells me that you’re a caring, caring partner, rather than one who tends to be selfish, bossy, and opinionated.

This is a very normal situation that many couples find themselves in. One person wants more independence, while the other wants more togetherness. The great thing about what you’re saying is that you both still want to be in the relationship together. So now it’s about adjusting how you connect as a couple, creating new expectations, and then getting the space you so desperately need.

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
“I feel smothered by my partner.” (Paramount Pictures)

The fact is that you evolve as a couple and you grow together. It’s good! As you do this, you need to keep adjusting the way you handle your relationship. Right now, he wants to spend more time with you, while you want space and to explore things on your own.

Healthy couples must constantly navigate these types of conversations as new variables come into play such as children, career, health and fitness, and new friendships. The key for you is to remember that how you approach this conversation will be vital. If you can do it with gentleness and respect, share your feelings with him, and give him a future plan of how things are going to go, then everything will be fine.

So when the time is right, express to him that you love being in the relationship with him and how excited you are about the future, but point out that there is something you would like to adjust in the future.

Own up to your emotions and tell him that you feel a little stuffy, anxious, cramped and smothered when he insists on spending more time with you (give specific examples). Then give him the plan and tell him that in the future you would like him to do things differently (give specific examples).

Then give them a chance to respond and see if they would like to make any changes as well. Be open to this. Ultimately, your goal is to fill her cup with togetherness, as well as get your own space to enjoy your separation.

Dear John,

I have a dilemma: my boyfriend’s ex is crazy. In fact, I don’t know if I would even call her an “ex” because they only slept together a few times before he and I started dating.

I have been dating my boyfriend for almost three years now and he is the best boyfriend ever. The only downside is that girl who is still obsessed with him.

She’s in the same group of friends as me and I always see her hanging out. Every time I see her she always goes out of her way to approach me and tells me that I stole it from her and they are “made to be”. It’s so frustrating!

I tried to avoid her but when I do she still says things to my friends which makes things so awkward for everyone. I don’t know if I should confront her about her lies or if this will make things worse? What do you think?

The bride from the movie Bride Wars screams
She always tells me that they are “made to be”. (Bride Wars / 20th Century Fox)

The problem here isn’t with the ex, it’s with your boyfriend. The reason this continues to be a problem is that he didn’t step in with you and stop everything.

She only does this because he allowed her to. Right now you are taking responsibility to do something about his behavior, when in reality your boyfriend needs to stop this as well.

It’s been three years, and having the ex keep trying to break you up is toxic and dangerous for you as a couple. So it’s time to bring it on board, fix the problem, and then you can move on without an ex coming between you.

It is a lack of boundaries. The reason this ex continues to act so destructively is that your boyfriend didn’t impose any limits. He probably knows this is happening, but he didn’t want to confront her. Because of this, she’s so self-sufficient right now that she feels comfortable telling you to your face that “they’re meant to be.” It won’t work for you anymore, so it’s time to team up and shut it down.

Talk to your boyfriend and give him all the details of exactly what happened and how it hurt you emotionally. Be very honest about your pain – it made you anxious, angry, attacked, uncertain about the future, and upset.

Explain that the two of you need to talk to him together and make it very clear that you are a united team. Then, when you get the chance, both of you will bring up the issue with her, specifically making it clear to her that you never stole it, that she (the ex) is absolutely not meant to be with her now or in the future, and both of you would rather she move on and focus on someone else.

Once you do this as a team, she’ll realize she can’t come between you and it’s game over.

Dear John,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year now and we were talking about getting a dog.

We don’t live together yet but we have a very good relationship. I love dogs and so does he, so he suggested we make a dog together. I know this may sound a bit dramatic, but do you think it’s premature to take this step together?

A dog is a big commitment and we don’t even live together. I can see us eventually moving into the same place, but not for a few years. My biggest concern is that we get the dog and break up a few years later.

Should we wait a bit to take this step or take a leap of faith?

marley and me
“My biggest concern is that we get the dog and split up a few years later.” (20th Century Fox)

I would wait if I were you. You have to listen to your gut here, and for some reason you want to wait and take more time. That’s very reasonable, you don’t even live together and you’ve only been dating for a year.

If I were you, I would focus on getting the relationship right rather than introducing another variable like a dog, before I figured out if that relationship has long-term potential.

It’s premature, it makes your relationship more complicated, and it puts pressure on both of you when right now you need to have fun and find out how compatible you are. Tell him no on the dog issue, spend more quality time together, and find out if this guy really is the one.

When you first start dating, you can be swept up in all the newness and excitement. New couples often make the mistake of making big decisions without thinking, only to have to bail out months or years later. Don’t be like these types of couples.

You are on a good thing with your partner, but you need more time. Your next decision is likely going to focus on when to move in together long before you get a new dog.

So take it aside and explain your position on it. Share with him that you feel overwhelmed, anxious, rushed and uncertain when thinking about adopting a dog.

Point out to him that you want to spend more time with him than worrying about a dog, and that you can’t see yourself adopting a pet until you’ve taken the plunge of moving in together. So let him answer.

If he’s really into you, then he’ll be more than happy to wait and work your schedule. If he can’t deal with that, he’s going too fast, not listening, and probably won’t be the one for you in the long run.

* Opinions expressed in this column are for informational purposes only, are based on limited information, and do not constitute professional advice. You should always seek your own professional advice for your situation. Any action taken is the sole responsibility of the reader, not the author or 9Honey.

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