“He complains that his boyfriend is too clingy and barely lets him breathe, but he answers the phone every time he calls, immediately responds to every text…it seems like he’s just as bad, or encourages his boyfriend to act this way.”
Raise your hand if you know this person, or someone like this. You do? I do too. They seemed to be glued to their phone, always in contact with their significant other. To some extent this is somewhat the norm these days, but I think there are different levels of attachment here that deserve to be explored, especially when thinking about power and control in a relationship. I don’t know about you, but for the person I’m thinking of, this constant contact does not come from a place of puppy love, the “honeymoon phase”, or a genuine interest in keeping their partner updated on all aspects of their day. What I’m seeing is more of an anxious, stressful response in an attempt to not set their boyfriend off if they wait too long to respond to him, or to avoid a fight later if they don’t keep him updated on their whereabouts and who they’re with (sometimes needing to provide pictures, [PICTURES!] as evidence).
Recently I had lunch with a friend of mine. When we sat down, he immediately asked if we could take a picture together, to which I automatically obliged and said “send that to me so I have it too!” He said he would, but then said, “I just have to send it to [his boyfriend, for the purposes of this article I’ve dubbed him*James*] first, so he doesn’t get all crazy thinking I’m secretly out with another guy.” I asked, “Does that really happen…?” Which led to a very long conversation about all of the ways that my friend’s boyfriend lets his ‘trust issues’ run their relationship. And the worst part is, my friend has never given James any reason to distrust him. He’s never been unfaithful, and they’ve been together just over a year. However, because of the infidelities his boyfriend has supposedly dealt with in the past, my friend is now experiencing the brunt of this behavior.
This behavior is not limited to, but including, having to constantly check in with his boyfriend when they’re not together, frequently receiving calls from his boyfriend while he’s at work on the work phone number, being required to send pictures to prove where he is when they aren’t together, going through my friends phone and computer to find information about past boyfriends, relationships, and flings, that ALL existed before James was even in the picture! Yet somehow, my friend has been made to feel guilty over and over again for things that happened before they even met. I’ve talked to my friend after fights with James. They get ugly sometimes, his boyfriend can be really nasty and insulting to him. My observation is that he indulges these coercive, controlling requests from James to keep peace in the relationship. And though I really want to tell my friend to leave him; he really cares about him and thinks that this is the result of damage that other people have done to him. I’ve been working with people in unhealthy relationships for long enough to know telling my friend to drop this guy ASAP isn’t going to get me anywhere. I’m just trying my best to be supportive while he slowly figures out that this behavior is getting worse, and that it’s not because James loves him that he’s acting this way…it’s because James is being emotionally abusive, manipulative, and controlling while using ‘love’ as the excuse.
At the end of the day, someone who loves you trusts you enough to let you have lunch with your friends without requiring a play-by-play every fifteen minutes. They won’t bait you by sending you a snapchat you’re expected to respond to, a couple of text messages, and a phone call all in a two-hour span. They value space, privacy, and independence in you AND in themselves. Healthy relationships allow partners to explore their own hobbies, interests, and have their own sets of friends. If reading this has made you realize you might be dating someone like James, or know someone who is, feel free to come in and talk about it with one of our counselors. Or, you can call our hotline or use our live messaging service. It’s confusing and difficult, but you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself.
-IH Teen Counselor