‘I am beginning to feel trapped and controlled by my partner’

She orders my food, tells me what to wear and constantly checks my phone

PROBLEM: I had been dating a woman before Covid and it was all looking very promising, but she was living in Europe – the travelling over and back made the relationship very special and exciting. We made a rushed decision during the first lockdown, when everyone was panicking that there would be no travel, to move in together and she moved to Ireland to live with me. She was able to work from home, so it did not involve a move of jobs.

During Covid, we got on great: we spent most of the time alone together and had a lovely romantic time and we discussed getting married. However, since the recent opening up and with the lifting of Covid restrictions I am seeing a different side of her and it has me worried. She seems very controlling and at first, I thought it was sweet – a sort of missing me if I was away for a short time, but now it is getting serious. If we go out with friends, it can only be with couples where she thinks the female partner is not good looking; or if I want to spend time with my own friends, she has a meltdown. She said that she has made a huge sacrifice for me and she needs me to acknowledge it.

Honestly, I know that she has moved to a new country for me, but it is now getting to the stage where she orders my food when we are out and tells me what to wear. She constantly checks my phone to see if I am more connected to someone other than her and I am noticing that my friends are not keen on having her around.

I am beginning to feel trapped and controlled.

ADVICE: It does seem as though your partner has an issue with insecurity, and this often manifests as controlling behaviour. It is easy to understand why this insecurity has grown recently as it is only now that she has had to share you with the world and it seems lockdown provided you with a safe environment of only two people and this did not threaten her.

The difficulty is that she sees you and your behaviour as the answer to her fears and of course this is not the case.

It is important to know what you are dealing with so you can put things in place to address the core problem, otherwise you will prove her to be right – you will leave her because you will not be able to always tolerate her need for evidence of your loyalty. Controlling behaviour often stems from fear rather than what we see it as: an expression of power over us. When we see it as power, we react and justifiably push against it, however it is possible that you can recognise that your partner is holding on tight out of fear that if you get freedom, you will run away from her. This then causes her to tighten her control and of course, your desire to flee also increases.

Your partner is struggling with confidence and with her faith in herself to be good enough to love without any restraints. It is unlikely that any efforts on your behalf to make her believe in her worth will result in her getting freedom from this fear and so all your attempts at making her feel loved will need to be repeated endlessly.

What she needs to do is to find her own self-worth within herself rather than looking to you for the answer.

Ideally, she will engage in therapy to help her understand the source of her insecurity and then she might find there are many actions she might take to help increase her confidence; these actions need to be for her benefit only and not with the aim of keeping you as a partner.

Love offers freedom. We do what is needed for our loved ones and this includes letting them go if it is in their best interest (this is how parents give their offspring the push to leave and find their own way in the world). Your partner can only hear this message if it is delivered with love and with her wellbeing at the centre of your delivery. Can you offer your support for her through the process of therapy? If you cannot, then she might be better supported by her family or friends in her own county as she clearly feels isolated right now.

What you do know is that your relationship thrived when you were on your own together. This is a representation of her best self and if she gets the help she needs, she may well grow into this confident character.

However, if you are going to be impatient, angry or irritated, you will prove her inadequacy to her, and your continued relationship will only deepen her sense of not being good enough. It is decision time, and you are (even if it does not seem obvious) in the more powerful position at the moment. See the Irish Council for Psychotherapy or the Psychological Society of Ireland websites for accredited and registered psychological supports. Also, Prof Ian Robertson’s new book, How Confidence Works (Penguin, 2021), will offer insights and actions on how to improve confidence.

(note:  if you are in a relationship where physical, financial or emotional power is being exerted, contact safeireland.ie for guidance, support and direction).