If you have ever been in a controlling relationship, then you may worry about not being able to judge whether or not the next person you meet is a similar kind of controlling individual. You may be saying to yourself. “If I didn’t see it coming last time, how will I see it next time?” Sometimes people think, “You know what, it’s just not worth the risk” and they give up on relationships altogether. Others decide to take their chances, doing what they can to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Many people believe that those who end up in an abusive relationship have done so because that is what they have been used to, that is, they have come from an abusive background. This of course can happen, but it is by no means always the case. In many cases the person ends up in an abusive relationship because the controller managed to keep his controlling ways under wraps while the relationship was in the early stages of development. (I am using ‘he’ here, but it could just as easily be ‘she’). This may have been done consciously so as not to scare the other person off or the controlling may have come about so gradually that the other person didn’t notice it happening. The other possibility is that the controlling behavior may not have kicked in until the controller became emotionally invested in the relationship and that can take time. When the controller discovers that he has strong feelings for the other person, then his own insecurities can come to the surface ‘What if she prefers this other guy to me.’ ‘What if she leaves me?’ The controlling behavior starts as a way to prevent the ‘worst’ from happening. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Who are you going to meet?’ Constant checking and creating a row whenever she wants to go out can become a regular feature of the relationship.
I have a friend who was involved in a very controlling relationship – her boyfriend used to make her sit facing a wall when they were out together, so that she couldn’t see other guys. He checked up on her when she went out – ‘Where did you go?’ ‘Who did you meet?’ ‘What did you do?’ He was always trying to catch her out. He made such a big deal about her going out that she eventually gave up – it just wasn’t worth the hassle. He even managed to cut her off from her family and friends.
It’s Not Personal
At an earlier stage of the relationship she was flattered by his attention, believing that his jealousy and possessiveness showed that he really liked her, but in time she realized that his behavior was not about her. This is one of the most important things to realize when it comes to this kind of behavior – even though you are on the receiving end of it – it is not actually about you – it’s not personal – that may be a difficult concept to get your head around. Particularly when someone is telling you that you are the problem. Undermining your confidence and belief in yourself – telling you that no-one else would be bothered with you is the controller’s best attempt to keep you onside – to stop you from considering anyone other than him. In time, when you start to believe the propaganda – you will think – you know what – he’s right, no-one else would be bothered with me. This is an illusion. What you are in fact witnessing is his controlling nature, his need to call the shots, his power need – quite often his own insecurities – he may sound like a big shot who has it all sorted, but deep down he may be feeling very unsure of himself. All of this is about him – it is not about you.
He Couldn’t Trust Himself
In my friend’s case it was her boyfriend who couldn’t be trusted – it turned out that he was doing the very thing that he constantly accused my friend of doing – he was seeing other people behind her back. He couldn’t trust himself, so how could he trust her?
Past Behavior as Predictor of Future Behavior
They say that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Yet when it comes to relationships we don’t always check out other people’s behavioral history. You wouldn’t take on someone to work for you or to look after your kids or even your dog without finding out about them – you get references. Yet quite often we enter into relationships with others, on no more than a wing and a prayer. Even when we suspect or are told something ‘untoward’ about the ‘one’, we dismiss it and think, “It will be different this time – she/he is with me now.’ Again we personalize the issue. ‘I can make this work.’ It was because he was with ‘her/him’ that there was a problem. ‘He/she will be different with me.’
Would it be a good ideal if everyone carried around a little bubble above their heads that showed their relationship history? For example “Ended relationship with childhood sweetheart because she told him she loved him; likes spending a lot of time drinking with the boys; emotionally retarded; sees away trips as opportunities to play away from home; very bossy and controlling – gets off on being ‘tidy’; needs a counselor – not a boyfriend; divide and conquer is what she is all about – by the time she is finished with you, you won’t have any friends.” Do you think that a ‘history’ bubble would be a good idea?