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Freedom, Control and Commitment in American Relationships

by Esther Perel

Possessiveness does not have much to do with Love. It’s really about Patriarchy. It’s about a power structure in society. Real love is the ability to let the other person go, rather than to want to own them. At most, your partner is on loan with an option to renew, but they never belong to you.

Freedom versus Control

On some level, possessiveness and control are reactions to a profound anxiety that you may lose the other person. We hope to diminish our fear of losing the other by trying to own them, to possess them, to control them; but people are more likely to stay and to come back voluntarily when they feel free than when they feel controlled.

Relationship Consumerism

In the western world today, consumerism is seeping into relationship thinking.

Is this the best choice? Is this the best I can find? Is this the right time? Will I lose my freedom? We have been so conditioned to develop our choices and autonomy that there is a greater fear for people to partner.


Usually, in a couple, one person is more afraid to lose the other (fear of abandonment), and the other is more afraid to lose themselves (fear of suffocation). We all need both connection and separateness, but some of us come out of our childhood needing more space, and some of us come out of our childhood needing more protection and connection; and we tend to partner with the person on the other side.

Some people who are afraid of commitment in a romantic relationship can be lifelong loyal friends, and be deeply committed to their family or their work. A fear of commitment doesn’t necessarily stretch across all areas of your life. It may be that the model of commitment you are being asked to adhere to doesn’t work for you. Some people may make a better partnership by not moving in together, for example.

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