June 10, 2012 in Features

Carolyn Hax: He’s cold, mean and controlling

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: I am currently dating a great guy – we get along well, have fun, and care about each other a lot. We’ve been together four months.

At various points, mistakes I’ve made in my past have come up, and they really bother him. For example, I told him I drove drunk once, and tried a non-addictive drug. Both events took place a long time ago; and don’t do any drugs or abuse substances at all today.

He continues to bring these instances up, however, as “hurdles” in thinking about my character and our relationship. He asks probing questions about the details, acts very cold and mean to me, and I walk away feeling horrible about myself.

Do I need to think about these mistakes more than I do? How can I respond to his anger?

I feel like there are so many things I will never be able to share with him because he would judge me so severely. I also worry that I’m not good enough for him, and I don’t know what to do about it. – C.

Break up with him immediately.

That’s what you do about someone who shames you to the point that you withhold the truth about yourself and doubt your own worth – but who, hmmmm, doesn’t break up with you, despite judging you “severely.” And shouldn’t he, if you’re so so horrible?

I’m not even going to bother parsing your mistakes; they’d matter now only if they came from a place of cruelty (they didn’t); you didn’t know they were bad (you do); if you still did them (you don’t); or if there were a pattern (there isn’t).

This does matter: Instead of parsing his mistakes, or wondering why yours are the only ones being discussed, or telling him where he can shove his “hurdles,” you’re scrambling to secure his elusive approval.

This also matters: When he got upset about your past, you didn’t square your shoulders and say, “Huh. Apparently you’re perfect?” Or, “I’m not proud I did these things, but I own them, and they helped make me who I am.”

Meanwhile, he’s not seeing your distress and offering reassurances, or, “Hey, it’s OK, we’re all human”-type expressions of humility and empathy. He’s squeezing harder.

What that creates is an unhappy – reread your letter if you think I’m exaggerating – and potentially dangerous power imbalance between you. At a mere four months, you’re not even asking whether he’s good for you, you’re so preoccupied by the effort to be good enough for him.

Do you see this? More important, do you see the precedent this sets? And the vulnerable position this puts you in?

I realize I’m not being gentle here, but this isn’t a please-think-about-this situation. It’s a you’re-headed-for-a-very- bad-place situation. I’ve read too many letters from people, men and women both, who’ve walked on eggshells to please a punitive or volatile mate, without asking themselves, “Why am I doing this?!”

A relationship is healthy when you get to be your complete self, and enjoy mutual respect, acceptance and motivation to please.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Head to Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.” Your “great” guy’s in Chapter 10.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ carolyn.hax.

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