Carolyn Hax: Does desire for honesty make girlfriend controlling?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist February 22

Hi, Carolyn: Is it controlling of me to want, but not insist, that my boyfriend of one year cease contact with his ex?

I can answer that with a yes. Would it make a difference, however, if said ex once threatened me and called me unrepeatable names? She and I had no actual contact, but she saw me and my children out at the grocery store and called me the next day, middle of the night actually, ranting and threatening. He says he wants to marry me, so why would he want to be friendly with someone who treated me that way?

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I am a forgiving sort, but she’s never apologized. When I ask him he denies it, but I am pretty sure they are in fairly regular, friendly contact. She’s with someone else now, but if that relationship goes pear-shaped, is she going to impress herself on my guy again for even more attention?

I don’t do drama. To me this is out of bounds. Yes, I am questioning his ability to be straight with me, but is he denying they’re in touch because I am uncomfortable with their continued friendship? — Yes . . . but . . .


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

What — that would make it okay for him to lie to you? And to send his ex the tacit message that what she did was okay?

I appreciate that you don’t want to be controlling, but it’s not controlling to want something.

Controlling is to believe, and then act on the belief, that his role in your life justifies your doing whatever it takes to change his behavior.

An example of that in this case would be, say, insisting he stay away from this ex; threatening to break up with him if he ever contacts her; snooping through his phone, e-mail and social accounts to make sure he’s obeying your orders; and then finding ways to punish him (without actually breaking up — a true controller wants him on a string, not gone) if you come across proof they’re in touch.

If all you’re doing is growing increasingly concerned that your boyfriend is in touch with a still-invested and possibly unstable ex and lying to you about it, then the whole control issue is a red herring.

“Why would he want to be friendly with someone who treated me that way?” — that’s the best question in your question.

And I don’t like any of the answers I’m conjuring so far: He enjoys her attention, and he doesn’t see respect for you as a persuasive reason to give it up — that’s one possibility. Another: She’s a good person and friend in his eyes, despite the twin judgment lapses of the verbal abuse and non-apology, and he lacks the courage to defend her to you and conduct the friendship openly? Still not looking good for him.

Or he’s not that attached to her but it’s easier to respond to her texts than risk her fury, and it’s easier to lie to you than to explain his decision . . .

Or, he’s like you and thinks (in error) that her seeing someone means she’s harmless, or . . .

Well, are you seeing an awesome stepfather to your children here? I’m not, not if you’re right about his secret contact with this ex, whatever his motives.

If instead you’re wrong and they’re not in touch — or you have zero proof they are — then I’m wondering what the source of your distrust is, and why you’re not looking inward to make sense of that.

Either way, if you have fact-based suspicion, then it’s time to present it to your boyfriend calmly — “This is why I think you’re in touch with Ex and denying it.” Then use his answer to decide whom to trust, him or yourself. Don’t stay unless the answer is “both.”

* * *

Dear Carolyn: My husband doesn’t know yet, but he’s not invited to my brother’s bachelor party. I think it’s hurtful, but my brother is in general not a kind person, so it wasn’t really a surprise. My brother was invited, and did attend, my husband’s bachelor party, and he was even in our wedding party. I was not invited to be in his.

Any thoughts/advice on how to break the news to my husband? — Not Invited to Bachelor Party

Cake. It’s usually served at happy milestones, right? Your obligatory presence at the celebration of an unkind person is not requested! [Cork-popping sound.]

Exclusion stings at any age, I get it, and the first peek behind a facade you thought was a family can be agony. As such, I expect this will hurt you more than it does your husband.

Frame it accordingly: “Well, Pookie, it’s a sweep — I’m not in Brother’s wedding and apparently you’re out of the bachelor party. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. I’m sorry.

“What do you say — a nice dinner out tonight?”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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