Relationship

My ex is still trying to control me, even though I broke it off | Dear Mariella


The dilemma I am 19 years old and I was in a relationship with a brilliant guy I met at uni. We were compatible and got along well, but as time went on he became a possessive, clingy, insecure shadow of his former self. I became estranged from my friends and my life revolved around him. Days and nights were spent constantly reassuring him that I loved him, that I wouldn’t leave him and that there was nobody more attractive to me than he was. It was exhausting. At times when I didn’t want to have sex with him I forced myself to, because the emotional breakdown otherwise was too much for me to handle. When I called it quits, he broke into my flat twice and begged me not to sleep with anybody else.

I am convinced the breakup was a good idea, but ever since my life has gone downhill. I’ve stopped going to the gym, gained weight and my self-image is significantly worse. Moreover, I developed a serious drinking problem, which has thankfully mellowed out a little. I didn’t do any university work for months and am now struggling to catch up. Before lockdown, all I would do was drink and try to sleep with as many people as possible. I don’t understand why this has happened – I wasn’t happy with him, things had turned toxic and yet I’m doing even worse now that I’ve broken it off.

Mariella replies It’s called recovery. Give yourself a break for seeking to self-anaesthetise… you probably needed to after the experience you’ve described. More importantly, I want to congratulate you for having the good sense and strength of character to extricate yourself from a seriously damaging liaison. This man, who you sweetly (or perhaps naively) still describe as a “brilliant guy”, was anything but. The behaviour you outline may have made him seem weak and vulnerable, but he sounds more like a bully, using every means at his disposal to control you.

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I’m relieved you managed to extricate yourself, but I’m disturbed by his gaining access to your flat. I am not into scaremongering, but it would be irresponsible of me not to suggest you consider a degree of self-protection where he is concerned. If you feel at any point that you are in danger, don’t hesitate to call the neighbours or the police. If you want advice, talk to Women’s Aid (www.womensaid.org.uk/) or the National Domestic Violence helpline on 0808 2000 247.

His last visit was not as a lover but as an intruder. He crossed a line. Change the locks to make sure you don’t have any more unsolicited visits where he tries to remind you what you aren’t allowed to do. It is not OK for him to let himself into your home or set rules in order to protect his feelings.

You seem surprised that he changed, but that’s what getting to know someone is meant to be about. It takes time to peel back a person’s shell and reveal the insecurities and character flaws that will influence your chances of compatibility. That’s why leaping speedily into new relationships, no matter how perfect the packaging, is rarely the way to ensure you are emotionally prepared for what’s to follow. Human beings are complicated and when we bare our bodies, we also reveal plenty that makes us vulnerable in other areas.

Back to you and your run of what you call bad behaviour, but which is – as I suspect you know – actually a form of self-harm. This man has insidiously managed to corrupt your psyche, making you feel complicit in allowing his insecurities and issues of control to run rampant through your relationship. It is not your fault that you hooked up with someone who failed to make you feel good about yourself, but if you let it become a dating pattern, at some point you’ll have to take responsibility for your choices. My guess is that this is what has led you down this self-destructive path.

Your letter doesn’t offer further clues, but I wonder if you’re overlooking something in your own past that led you to recognise and indulge his behaviour. It’s certainly a good precedent to take a hard look at what might be informing your relationship responses. Getting blind drunk may not be a clever choice, but so long as it is a choice it’s down to you. When it becomes more than that – either an imperative to block your brain activity or starts to feel like a crutch – it’s time to seek help.

You describe much of what you’ve been indulging in as though it’s happened to you, rather than having been sought out by you – whether it’s giving up the gym or giving in to sex when you didn’t want it. It’s an important distinction, because blaming outside forces for your own decisions is a losing game.

You may have made some poor choices recently and treated yourself with disdain, but it’s time to look in the mirror and work out how to better like the person you see there – or seek professional help to enable you to find her again.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1





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