Dear Carolyn: Is it controlling of me to want, but not insist, that my boyfriend of one year cease contact with his ex?
I can answer that with a yes. Would it make a difference, however, if said ex once threatened me and called me unrepeatable names? She and I had no actual contact, but she saw me and my children out at the grocery store and called me the next day, middle of the night actually, ranting and threatening. He says he wants to marry me, so why would he want to be friendly with someone who treated me that way?
I am a forgiving sort, but she’s never apologized. When I ask him he denies it, but I am pretty sure they are in fairly regular, friendly contact. She’s with someone else now, but if that relationship goes pear-shaped, is she going to impress herself on my guy again for even more attention?
I don’t do drama. To me this is out of bounds. Yes, I am questioning his ability to be straight with me, but is he denying they’re in touch because I am uncomfortable with their continued friendship?
– Yes … But …
A: What – that would make it OK for him to lie to you? And to send his ex the tacit message that what she did was OK?
I appreciate that you don’t want to be controlling, but it’s not controlling to want something.
Controlling is to believe, and then act on the belief, that his role in your life justifies doing whatever it takes to change his behavior.
An example of that in this case would be, say, insisting he stay away from this ex; threatening to break up with him if he ever contacts her; snooping through his phone, email and social accounts to make sure he’s obeying your orders; and then finding ways to punish him (without actually breaking up – a true controller wants him on a string, not gone) if you come across proof they’re in touch.
If all you’re doing is growing increasingly concerned that your boyfriend is in touch with a still-invested and possibly unstable ex and lying to you about it, then the whole control issue is a red herring.
“Why would he want to be friendly with someone who treated me that way?” – That’s the best question in your question.
And I don’t like any of the answers I’m conjuring so far: He enjoys her attention, and he doesn’t see respect for you as a persuasive reason to give it up – that’s one possibility. Another: She’s a good person and friend in his eyes, despite the twin judgment lapses of the verbal abuse and non-apology, and he lacks the courage to defend her to you and conduct the friendship openly? Still not looking good for him.
Or he’s not that attached to her but it’s easier to respond to her texts than risk her fury, and it’s easier to lie to you than to explain his decision …
Or, he’s like you and thinks (in error) that her seeing someone means she’s harmless, or …
Well, are you seeing an awesome stepfather to your children here? I’m not, not if you’re right about his secret contact with this ex, whatever his motives.
If instead you’re wrong and they’re not in touch – or you have zero proof they are – then I’m wondering what the source of your distrust is, and why you’re not looking inward to make sense of that.
Either way, if you have fact-based suspicion, then it’s time to present it to your boyfriend calmly – “This is why I think you’re in touch with Ex and denying it.” Then use his answer to decide whom to trust, him or yourself. Don’t stay unless the answer is “both.”
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