How to Handle a Controlling and Toxic Boyfriend
An advice letter from the archives.
My name is Cheryl, and I am writing to you for advice on a boyfriend (Mike) I have had for 7 months now.
First off I want to start by saying that I am seeking advice because from you because I have heard so many different things that I myself am starting to get confused, which doesn’t happen often!
Anyway, when I first met Mike there were numerous things that attracted me to him. He didn’t shower me with presents or take me to extravagant places, but we had a lot of fun together doing very simple things.
Even though we spent a lot of time together and we both knew there was something there. He waited to kiss me for about 3 weeks, maybe longer, because he wasn’t sure if I felt the same as him and we worked together so it would have been awkward if we didn’t feel the same.
Regardless if this really meant something or not, I took it as a sign that he respected me and my feelings. Once we did kiss, we obviously established that we were attracted to each other and from there we started to date.
He did tell me that he cared for me very much and that he hadn’t felt for someone like this in a long time, but he didn’t jump to talking about marriage, or moving in together, or anything crazy. He was actually the one that seemed to want to take it slow and let the relationship take its course.
As things started to get more serious he became more and more wonderful to my son (from a previous relationship) and I and we developed a great friendship as well as a relationship.
He was very gentle with my son and caring in every way possible. He knows I come from a past of rocky relationships and one that was briefly abusive and was sensitive to that. I am a strong and independent woman and as soon as I was abused in my past relationship I left as fast as possible and never looked back. So I demanded respect from the beginning of this relationship and I think Mike saw that.
As so many men that I have read about on your website, Mike slowly started to show signs of controlling behaviors after a few months. He became paranoid about why I wouldn’t answer phone calls or why I would forget to call him when I got to work, and texts or calls I would get from by boss late at night related to work stuff (I work in the restaurant industry) and while he never accused me of cheating, he would ask me “You would never cheat on me right?”
These jealousy questions and comments never lasted long and would sometimes cause fights because it upset me that he didn’t trust me, but when I brought it to his attention he usually apologized right away and asked why I was getting so upset.
He never put me down, didn’t call me names, or try and lower my self-esteem. In fact he often gave me compliments and told me how beautiful I was and how happy I make him, how much I made him want to be a better person and so on.
It did seem however that he would get jealous of my time with other people.
I don’t have a lot of friends, and didn’t before I met him, but he would get weary of the rare times that I did go out with friends.
I still live with my parents so he would often come to my house and hang out and had no problem with that. He would make comments about how he really liked my family, but didn’t necessarily want to be around them all of the time because of the lack of privacy.
The things that upset me the most were just the side comments about why I didn’t call him back, why I would do things without telling him, and why my boss called me all of the time (which he didn’t).
It also seemed that sometimes these things would bother him and sometimes he could care less.
And sometimes he would recognize his behavior without me even pointing it out. Once when I was trying to figure out how to set the alarm on his phone, I found notes that he had written to himself and one said “When you try and call Cheryl, don’t get mad when she doesn’t answer. Focus your time on something else and wait for her to call you back”.
When I recommended that we go to counseling together to work on our communication and other things, he happily agreed and now goes on his own as well because he says it feels good just to talk to someone. It seemed that our counseling sessions were mainly focused on his little temper tantrums about me not answering the phone, or how our arguments would escalate over nothing. It usually ended up in him apologizing and the therapist making him realize that basically he was the one starting the arguments and being ridiculous.
He can have a bit of a temper, but the one good thing is that he has learned how to step away until he cools down, and he doesn’t drink so thankfully he can recognize in a sober mind the way he acts sometimes.
A few days ago I spent some time on the internet searching for articles about controlling men and signs of a controlling man and I became really scared at a lot of the things I was reading.
I called him the next day and broke up with him and told him that I didn’t want to put up with his insecurity issues and that him not trusting me was not acceptable and I felt he was being manipulative at times. I explained to him that his behavior would only lead to abuse and that it scared me to think about what the future would look like and if his insecurities would get worse.
Of course he felt blind sided and in our first conversation didn’t understand why I didn’t want to work on it and why it was over for me. Of course he said “Please let me change”, “please forgive me” and “please understand I won’t do it again”.
I pointed out to him that those are classic responses and that he can’t tell me that he will never do it again when he has been doing it for a lot of the time we have been together and possibly in other relationships. I told him to give me time and space and not to talk to me and to please respect that.
He did, for a few days and didn’t text or call, and then in the past few days he has sent me a few text messages apologizing for his behavior and the way he has made me feel. I saw him come out of our therapist’s office so I know that he took the initiative to talk to her about the issue (obviously I don’t know how the conversation went).
And for the first time tonight I actually had a conversation with him and listened to what he had to say. I explained to him all of the patterns of behavior that he was following and what it usually leads to. I explained to him that being independent is important to me and I will not be told what to do and when to do it. I told him that a relationship is an equal partnership and that he didn’t make me feel that way. I told him that he deeply hurt my feelings by not trusting me and that only when I threaten the relationship does he really want to change.
And then I listened to his response.
He apologized for his actions and said that his intention was never to disrespect me or hurt me. He said that he doesn’t feel good about the way that things have happened and that he wishes he would have taken my feelings more into account.
He said that he understands that all of the issues we have had are due to his insecurities and that sometimes he doesn’t know why he questions me or why he acts the way he does. He said that I make him want to be a better person and that in the time we have been together, that he feels he has grown as a person.
He said that whatever it takes he is willing to do some soul searching and figure out why he acts the way he does and how he can start to change his way of thinking, little by little.
SO all of this sounds great and dandy, and if he really means it then great. But I told him I want a break and I want time apart and that he needs to figure some things out for himself and that I need time to do things on my own, take a couple vacations, clear my head and take time away from him. He agreed and said that he respects my feelings and will be working on himself and bettering himself.
I also talked with his mom to see if there has ever been any history of controlling behaviors or abuse in the family or in past relationships that he has been in and she says no, acknowledged that he can be difficult, but always says he means well and has a good heart.
I have a good relationship with her, and what I know of his family is that they are wonderful loving people and can be pushovers at times, but are a wonderful family and welcomed me with open arms.
The problem that I am having is that while I am guarding my heart very much, I do love Mike more than I even thought possible. And I don’t want to be blinded by love.
I guess I am just wondering do people ever actually change if they really want to? Would I be an idiot to give him the opportunity to show me that he is bettering himself, but while still apart.
I am wondering if it is possible for people want to change and actually change? I know it doesn’t happen overnight. But I feel like we have something that I could never find in another person and if I have to move on for the sake of myself and my son I will of course. But I also feel torn and wonder if I would be stupid to have anything to do with him moving forward
I would appreciate any advice you have!
Your story really touched me. But I want to start by saying that from what you told me he was introduced to your family life much too quickly.
When a single mother allows their child ( or children ) to become a part of the relationship too early on many unsettling traits appear in the men they’re dating.
The men seek approval of the children and unknowingly begin to rate their own lack of children (read: trophies) from previous relationships.
The men begin to either ingratiate themselves with the children, with gifts and games, and assume that this takes over a large part of the relationship with the mother, which is a very false assumption.
The men also begin to “tie down” the mother because of the proof of her previous sexual encounters (and the resulting children) always remind him that you had a life before him and will have a life after him (this last part not normally a formed thought until the possible end of the relationship), so they begin to make sure you’re not still looking for a father figure to finish off your family.
The controlling aspects that you described to me are exactly the type that do increase in the control the man will usually attempt over your life. Although I cannot fully understand what goes through his mind I think that your detailed descriptions do create the image of a controlling man.
You are much better off ending the relationship rather that “testing things out” by continuing the relationship while, hopefully, he continues counselling.
You were very savvy to be concerned with his actions, many women do not see the signs until it is much too late and they are isolated and trapped into a relationship that slowly becomes a living hell – and the more worse when children are involved.
Allow yourself breathing space, a few months at least, before pursuing a restarted relationship with this man. And if you do at some point of the future, obey the 6 month rule: No introductions to your children until you’ve been dating at least 6 months. Introducing a boyfriend early in the relationship will always create an unexpected force to be dealt with that many men are not prepared to handle early on. And it’s extremely harmful to children that see, over time (and usually looking back on their youth) a parade of dates meeting with their mother.
My own mother had many “Saturday night dates” which involved the men coming to pick her up while we kids had our dinner. There were just so many names and faces that at 8 years old my own understandings of how men and women got together had a very bad effect on my early teens and dating.
I hope this helps, you’ve done right.
Are you addicted to men who are toxic to you?
Do you keep dating men who treat you badly, even when they’re the worst for you?
Do you feel like something is missing in your life, but you can’t figure out what it is?
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- How Toxic Men use various bait to lure you in and keep you hooked on them (even when they’re treating you badly)
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- How to break your addiction to a man, including what to do when you can’t stop yourself from calling him
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