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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

3/23 Interactive Board: He's Changing... I'm Not...

3/1 Interactive Board: D/s Lifestyle

1/14 Interactive Board: My Purrrfect Husband

12/12 Interactive Board: What if He Could Have Changed?

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7/20: Dr. Irene on cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness

6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

New Relationship: Is (S)He's A Controller?

New Relationship: Is (S)He's A Controller?

by Dr. Irene

"Faith in oneself is the best . . . and safest course."

April 23, 2000

A recent email question highlights an issue former victims often face: How to tell if the prospective partner is controlling. This is a tough one. While some controllers show their colors early, most do not.

bulletIs is always a sign of control when a relationship starts off quickly?
bulletIs it always a sign of control when your new friend makes too-quick insinuations about your future together?
bulletAre little personal intrusions signs of a controller?
bulletHow can you tell if your new relationship is "wrong"? 

Keep reading...


"I told a man I had been dating not to call me anymore. I am wondering if maybe I was too hasty - but then again, maybe not? I think this is part of my recovery so if you don’t mind giving me a quick +/- take on the scenario, I’d really appreciate it!

James and I clicked almost instantly. He’s 39 (I’m 38) and has a great job, never been married, no kids - and very good looking. We spent a lot of time together in a very short span. For about 6 weeks, we saw each other 2 or 3+ times a week. So fast!   Whether we had a night on the town or just  stayed in, we had a very comfortable and enjoyable friendship developing. We shared stories of our youth as well as our past failed relationships - some of them very personal and emotional and private (things I could not ever have shared with my x-husband)! Things seemed to be going fine, each of us not pushing the other too much at all. We just couldn’t seem to stay away from each other for very long, actually.

NOW: Let me list a few "red flags" that I noticed, and didn’t exactly ignore - didn’t say anything out loud to James, but just sort of kept mental notes on "things" that caught my attention. Dr. Irene, please tell me if I’m extreme ok? OK. I don’t want to scare potential boyfriends away, but I also do not in a million years – ever, ever - want to get myself into another relationship like the marriage I am out of. Good for you! By the way, the fast, intense pace of your relationship is also a "red flag."

bulletThe first time James came to my house to pick me up, I gave him a tour. I apologized for my messy study, and James said - "Oh, that’s something we’d have to fix if we ever live together." To myself I thought that was a little bit forward, but I didn’t say anything and didn’t really think about it anymore... Good reaction on your part.
bulletAs time passed, James made other comments. He told me many times, "I like you a lot". "I am starting to CARE about you." But he gave me the impression that it was a bad thing - caring about me - like it was bothering (or scaring) him or something? OK. Good for paying attention to your feelings. It would be OK to say something like, “Do you feel badly that you are starting to care?” 
bullet He jokingly / semi-seriously made references a few times that if everything went well, he and I could get married and have kids.  "Oh well, when we’ve been married a few years...blablabla”  with some sort of humorous ending. That is how he would comment on our future. I joked backed with him, and honestly did not take it seriously, but was this a red flag? Maybe, maybe not. It’s difficult to generalize on these little incidents. While many of the flags you raise are consistent with what a controlling person might say early on, these comments are not the exclusive domain of the controller. 
bulletHe also rearranged a bunch of magnets I have on my refrigerator that are words into a sentence that read, "I love to cherish you".  Very sweet.
bulletJames races cars as a hobby. He has broken his collar bone 7 times. Yikes! The last time, he re-broke it himself, said he got "liquored up" and banged it against a door frame. James does not seem like an alcoholic/abuser though; he was very responsible about cutting himself off when drinking and driving. But this seems kind of self-destructive to me(?) Me too. Just another red flag at this point. 
bulletWe had set a time I was to call him at home. I called a few minutes early and he asked me to call back in 5 minutes because he was watching something on TV. That by itself did not bother me. OK, though a bit yukky since I would hope you are more important than what’s on the tube. Also, he should have offered to call you when he was done. Borderline disrespect. 
bulletAnother time I called, he was watching TV. I offered to hang up and he could call me whenever; he said "no," and we had a conversation. But, I started feeling like I was an imposition or something, like a bother to him. No imposition Ginny. Unless you are responding to cues he’s giving off that you are not identifying. That he interrupted his TV show for you is good. He put you ahead of the TV, as he should. Are you are imposing your own stuff?
bulletJames often commented on how very busy he is at work. So, I never called him at work. James said he is not much of an "email person;" so, I didn’t use that form of communication much either. Hmmmmm, so I can’t use email, can’t call at work, and when I call him at home he’s always watching something on TV. I have never been one to "chase" a man, so this was OK with me. Good. If James wanted to see me, it was up to him to make the move, though I did take him to dinner once as a gesture for all he had been spending on me. Nice! But I was starting to feel sort of isolated; I really couldn't call him. You were isolated, but, you can’t surmise that he is controlling the communication yet – although he probably was – because you are making assumptions. James commented that he is very busy at work and is not an emailer. While you may be right on target, don’t mind read. Simply ask. For example, “I am not comfortable calling you at work since I know how busy you are, and you don’t like email, yet when I call your home, I feel I am interrupting you. When I want to get in touch, how should I contact you?”  A controller may say something like, “Oh, please, call me at home; you are no interruption.” Yet, when you do call, he may do (or not do) something subtle so you feel uncomfortable. 
bulletOne night after James stayed over, I noticed that he fixed my broken toilet paper holder. I thanked him and he was pleased I noticed. But when he told me that he went through my trash to find something to use as a tool, I felt violated. I didn’t exactly like his going through my bathroom trash can *yuck!*  I didn’t say anything because I really was grateful for his thoughtfulness and didn’t think he was trying to pry. Can’t blame you for feeling violated. Some women would, others wouldn’t. Yet you handled it well. You were perfectly reasonable and you responded very well. Nevertheless, this is another little red flag.
bulletAnother time at his place, I used the bathroom. A few moments after I returned, James went to the bathroom. He came out, gave me a kiss, and said, "No, I’m not seeing anyone else, I bought those tampons just in case someone ever needed them". I said "Huh?" I had no idea what he was talking about! He told me there was a box of tampons in the bathroom, and didn’t want me to think he was weird. I said, "Oh, I didn’t snoop James!" They were right out there on the counter, but I honestly hadn’t noticed them. If he didn’t want you to think anything, why didn’t he put them away before you came? Maybe this isn’t strange, but Dr. Irene, I have no tampons in my house - none! I don’t even buy them for "just in case guests" - but maybe James was just being thoughtful? Not thoughtful of you, I don’t think. Makes no sense. This could be a subtle maneuver that would make a more insecure woman frazzled. This one is kind of wacky to me. Me too. Maybe it’s a guy thing, they think we need tampons around and he was just honestly trying to do a good thing. :)  Maybe. And maybe you were supposed to become just a wee bit suspicious, even though he assured you there is no one else - words and acts don't match!. Reading this paragraph makes me laugh, it really was funny! It is funny!  Why not say, “Gee, I didn’t notice. But now that you bring it up, are you very thoughtful, are you a womanizer, or, do you get your period too?”  You are likely to feel less paranoid if you put your suspicions out there instead of keeping them under wraps. Not that you would have gotten a straight answer, but, at least it won't burden you. 
bulletJames does not believe in God. This is a major difference between he and I. We only had one very brief discussion on spirituality - actually it was basically a few sentences. James said he believes when we are dead, we are dead, there is no God. I replied simply that "there is no doubt in my mind...." and we left it at that. Ugh. I don’t think I could be with someone who is that far behind where I am, and where I need to go. Spirituality (my relationship with God) keeps me going every day; and I am mindful to try and surround myself with friends who I can be comfortable sharing and expressing that part of life with. A boyfriend that doesn’t believe in God probably isn’t the best match for me, huh? No Ginny. Not a "red flag" but not the best match for you. The research suggests that the more similarities between two people, the better, especially on such big issues..

After I got back from a business trip, things cooled down. He had ankle surgery and I offered to help him/drive him/run errands. He said he was "covered," and I didn’t pursue it any further. OK. I left a cheery, brief message on his ans. machine the night before his surgery wishing him good luck, etc. 

bullet Three days after his surgery, I hadn’t heard from him, and since we had been seeing/in contact with each so often, it seemed out of the ordinary not to have heard from James. So, I called and left a message saying I hoped he was OK and that his ankle was healing well. Good. He called me back a few hours later and said he was sorry he hadn’t called me sooner, was just busy, then drugged up from the surgery the next day and then some friends came by and he hadn’t been able to return my call. This bothers me – the friends part. There was no time to give you a buzz? He is pulling away.
bulletMy feelings were hurt, but I didn’t say anything. James said something like, "When I get healthy again, we’ll see where we are going." I didn’t know what that meant, but it felt kind of like I was being politely dismissed. Yes, from a man who saw you several times a week and made reference to your future children. 

So, that is when I decided I was not going to pursue maintaining a relationship with James. Good for you for paying attention to your feelings - and realizing it was him, not you! If he wanted to see me, he had to show me rather than tell me. Right. You had offered, you had called. He was the one who had pushed you away. I was getting (to my brain anyway) mixed messages. They were mixed messages! Stop doubting that brain! Does he want me or not? Both. Yuck! I do not want to clutter my head with those types of thoughts, and if having a relationship with James means I am going to have those kind of thoughts, then I figured I had pull away too. Yuck is right. It’s not as though you made assumptions here. You asked him if you could be there for him; you called him. You did your part. The rest is his.

A few weeks went by, and I got an email from James. It was brief, “How are you doing, what’s new....” We exchanged a few chatty words. About a week later, he emailed: "Helping a friend with a race this weekend but next week I would like to get together with you. Interested?" I replied with “Yes, let me know when and where when you know more.’ 

bullet That was Wednesday. The following Monday I got another email from him. "Hi Sugar, hope you had a good weekend, just wondering what’s going on in your world?" In my reply, I asked him if he still had plans to see me that week. He replied with "Yes, I would like to...." So I again said, “Give me a call when you know what we are doing.” His last reply was, "OK, let me see how the day shakes out and I’ll let you know." Well, the rest of the week went by with no communication from Mr. James. By Saturday afternoon, I was angry. YEAH! This was a dis! If people call and cancel, then I accept that - but to be "blown off" - which is how I felt - was very disrespectful. Agreed! Plus, you had given him every benefit of the doubt. Had you played your script "right" (actually, wrong!), you would be so tantalized by this young Adonis, you would be chasing him down - and putting up with his rules and his antics.

I left a message on his ans. machine late Saturday afternoon that I was calling to see what happened; I hoped there was no family crisis or anything, but that if he had just decided to cancel our plans and didn’t tell me, then please don’t contact me anymore. I kept a conversational tone of voice, didn’t yell or use bad language since that is not who I am. :) Sounds good to me. But I did mean what I said - I think! I hope!  

bullet James called me back a couple of hours later and I wasn’t home - his message said he was sorry about 5 times - that he had been pulled in a million directions by his job and he was sorry he wasted my time, and that he would respect my request not to call me anymore. He provokes, you get annoyed, he apologizes - and you end up feeling bad - and wondering if you did the right thing! Sound familiar?

I sat on my feelings for 3 days - and decided to call James and try to explain that I didn’t hate him or anything. It just didn’t feel "closed" leaving things the way they were. It wasn't closed for him. He was just starting his push and pull game. So, I left one more message on James’s ans. machine and said that I felt disrespected, but know that he did not intend to disrespect me on purpose, and that I was confused because his actions and his words did not seem to match. They didn’t. If he wanted to talk to me then please call me, but if he was OK leaving things "as is," then I was ok with that too. I said I wished him well and that was about it. I felt a lot better after leaving that message. I haven’t heard from him since, and although I miss him in some ways, I think I wasn’t supposed to get too involved with James - I’m not ready, even if he is "right" for me."

This man is not right for himself! How unfortunate: a young, successful, good-looking man with everything going for him - seemingly, that is. Everything was wonderful early on, until he started to care. Then the push away started. Good for you for not pursuing an unavailable partner, no matter how sparkling his surface. I don’t think you over-reacted; you gave him the benefit of the doubt several times. Perhaps one time too many. He could have easily taken  you up on your last call - and wasted more of your time - and emotional resources. I think you saved yourself lots of headaches by dumping him.  

For the record, this man strikes me as a withholding type as opposed to an aggressive type controller. He specializes in sins of omission. 

A less controlling person might respond in a similar way out of baggage or fear, but not to the same extent, and is likely to be more responsive to your feelings. 


In answer to the opening questions, watch for "red flags" early on in a relationship. But, be careful not to generalize too quickly. Wait until feelings begin to develop. Do you feel disrespected? Insecure? Confused? Uncomfortable? Scrambled? Pushed away, pulled in, pushed away? These are not good signs.

Ginny did some things very right.


She paid attention to "red flags" and to her feelings. 


She did not discount her feelings or make excuses for him.


She did not act prematurely.


She did not misbehave.


She did not lapse into insecurity.


She waited to see what would develop


She let herself feel angry (a signal that something is wrong). 


She stated her feelings and asked for his feedback.


She decided that she did not want a relationship that made her feel badly - and stuck to her decision, despite her tendency to give the benefit of the doubt - once the evidence was in.

I just want to read the posts.