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‘I’m becoming controlling and aggressive in my relationship’

Ask Roe: ‘I’m scared I’ll lose our connection but my behaviour is pushing them away’

Dear Roe,
I’ve noticed myself developing more and more possessive and controlling behaviours in my current relationship. It’s cropped up in the past, but not to the same extent. Every time my partner’s phone goes off, I’m itching to know what it’s about, and assuming the worst.

I suffer from a lack of confidence and have a tendency to develop a co-dependency with romantic partners, but I’m scared that I can no longer control myself.

Recently, I seem to be trying to put a wedge between my partner and other people they're close to, either by starting fights every time they go out, or trying to embarrass them in front of their friends. I'm scared that their closeness with others will eventually lead to me losing the connection I have with them, but my behaviour is pushing them away.

I don’t want to act or feel this way so, any advice as to how to stop the feelings and the behaviour is welcome!


The solution here is simple, but not easy: you need to acknowledge what you are doing to your partner, apologise, and then get to therapy. Your need for control, your possessiveness, your attempts to isolate your partner from their support networks, your aggression, and your attacks on your partner’s confidence and self-esteem are all textbook examples of emotional abuse. Let that sink in. You are emotionally abusing your partner.

It’s important to recognise this, because even in your letter, you are still focused on how your behaviour is affecting you. You are scared. You are suffering a lack of confidence. You don’t want to feel this way. These are important issues, the source of which needs to be immediately addressed with the help of a therapist but, right now, you’re not the priority. You’re not the one in danger. Your partner is. Because you are abusing them.

How do they feel? How would anyone feel if the person they loved started controlling them, insulting them, humiliating them, starting fights with them?

You need to ask these questions – ask yourself, and ask your partner. Listen to their response, even it’s difficult to hear. Because it is difficult to hear. Apologise.

But remember that an apology is only as good as the work that comes after it, because an apology without a change in behaviour is manipulation. So start the work, immediately.

Book in with a therapist who specialises in helping people who have demonstrated abusive behaviour, who can not only help you with your low self-esteem and co-dependency, but will give you immediate strategies to cope with your emotions and curb any abusive behaviour.

Here’s the hard bit: you need to do this alone. You need to end your relationship. You are not a safe person to be with right now, and it is not your partner’s responsibility to endure abuse while you work on yourself – indeed, asking them to do so is a prime example of the co-dependency you need to address.

When you have worked on your issues and become a safe person to be romantically involved with someone, maybe you two can rekindle your relationship. But that needs to be a decision they make freely, not a decision influenced by your current abusive dynamic.

I believe you want to change, and recognising your abusive behaviours is the first step. Keep going. A better version of yourself is waiting.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford