Vail relationships column: What’s underlying controlling behavior?
Dear Neil: I have received multiple mixed messages from this controlling woman in my life, including her acting like a parent and treating me as if I were her child. I have called her on her control issues hundreds of times, but to no avail.
So I ended our relationship recently, and have been very puzzled as to why she is afraid to let me go. Why would she be critical, negative, scolding and unhappy with me and then resist our relationship ending?
Dear Confused: You can be attached to an intimate partner and badly want him or her to behave differently. That dynamic happens in most every relationship, not simply yours. It is also understandable that you can be unhappy in a relationship and still not want to be abandoned or left alone, and you can still feel enormous loss by losing a vital relationship in your life. But her controlling behavior speaks to something else driving her actions.
Let’s say you took her controlling and parental suggestions as important information, guidance and warning — how to handle a situation at work, how to behave with new people, what to wear and so on. After a while you might grow reliant on her opinions and advice. Especially if you are unsure of yourself, and she acts confident that she has the answers, then you could grow to become dependent on her input, suggestions and her judgment.
It’s that dependency that your girlfriend likely seeks, because if you are reliant on her guidance and counsel, then you are unlikely to leave her. I am suggesting that her controlling behavior may have been her attempt to simply keep you dependent upon her influence so she could feel safe and secure with you into the future. Paradoxically, it’s that very behavior that appears to have driven you away.
Dear Neil: I’m in my late 50’s and have been widowed for almost five years. I want to be in a forever relationship, but I’m having trouble meeting the right man. I toss men aside because they’re not everything I want — or not close enough. For instance, I live a healthy, active lifestyle and most men I meet are not into that. I’m also busy with work, the house, the yard, my parents and grandkids, so I find it difficult to create large amounts of time to spend with a man. Am I right in thinking this means a relationship is not meant to be, or that I found the wrong man?
Looking for Forever in the Midwest
Dear Looking: A serious relationship asks us to be physically and emotionally available much of the time, to put our partner as an important priority in our life and to be willing to blend with another person’s wishes, needs and lifestyles. To answer your question, you need not worry about giving up your healthy, active lifestyle or your other interests and relationships — I would guess that’s partly one of the things that makes you attractive.
But you do need to be able to carve out time for a relationship, and you do need to treat an important relationship as one of your top priorities. If you are willing to do that, then keep looking. He may take a while to show up, but your patience and your perseverance are far more likely to be rewarded if you do not give up on your wishes and dreams.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book, “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.
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