My girlfriend is controlling and critical. How do I bring this up with her?

First, some background: I am in a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend who attends university in the States. I’m in my senior year of high school at an international school. I only knew her for around 3 to 4 months before her leaving for school. I assure you that the decision was made in a mature sense. I’m best friends with this girl…

But she’s controlling. It’s a part of her, she knows it, she hates it, but she admits it and tries to work around it. For example, she told me how to act around my parents recently, and I felt kinda shut up, and it was demeaning. I know it’s never intentional, because the only time she really does it is when she’s overwhelmed with stress, and because it’s just a part of her personality. Whenever she sees something that bothers her in me, she’s blunt, straight-forward, and I cope with it as best as I can.

She’s a tad touchy however (controlling + touchy = bad combo, huh), making me feel that if I were to bring this up when I shouldn’t, it could harm things more than help. Timing isn’t really the issue though, it’s more so: How do I start this discussion?

When I write about this, it sounds like she’s incredibly high-maintenance, or it looks like I’m magnifying the negative in one person – and I hate seeing it like that. But when she tries to tell me how to behave without understanding my situation it makes me feel walled and immobile. I don’t like feeling that way with someone I love.” – Anonymous, age 17


Hmm, you seem to be making some mighty complicated excuses for her behavior, dude. “It’s just a part of her personality?” “I know it’s never intentional?”

How do you know these things? And why is it acceptable to you for this to be part of her personality? It sounds like you view her controlling behavior as something natural, and that’s just not true about anyone. We aren’t born controlling and critical. That is something that is socialized into us.

The question here is not “How do I deal with her controlling behavior?” It’s more “Why do I put up with this and why am I afraid of talking to her about it?”

First off, you should know that I’m a guy who was cheated on three times in his late teens and early twenties, so some of what I’m about to say may be colored by that experience a bit, but by this point at age 34 I’m pretty sure I’ve processed most of that out of me. Regardless, you have to take what I’m saying at your own pace and amount based on where you’re at.

I suspect you feel like she’s a better person than you, which is not a good thing to be carrying around with you. Putting a girl on a pedestal is the first nail in the coffin of her losing interest in you. It’s a sorry, sad, hurtful fact of life that we lose attraction for people who think we’re perfect, because on some level, it’s a lie, and it shows weakness in the person who thinks this about us.

You had only been with her for a few months before you she went off to college and you say that she’s your best friend. It’s hard for me to believe that, even if the few months you’d been together had been somehow “perfect”, that there weren’t some negatives you both were avoiding.

The first freakin’ YEAR of a relationship is pretty much all about two people glossing over the faults and obsessively diving into all the supposedly good stuff. Of course you felt this way about her at the beginning… but what about now? Things are different, otherwise you wouldn’t be reaching out about this problem.

Best friends don’t consistently criticize and try to control you. Period.

There is never an excuse for controlling behavior, even if someone’s stressed out. So my questions about things with you and her are:

  1. How often does she, after she’s stressed out and then snaps at you, come back to you before you say anything and genuinely apologize for her behavior?
  2. If she does apologize genuinely, how often has she had to do this? If it’s more than a couple of times, then that means she’s not learning from what she’s doing to you and this may mean, on some level, that she doesn’t actually care that she’s hurting you.
  3. Why is it so scary to think about bringing this up with her? This probably means that you’re afraid of her on some level and afraid of rocking the boat, which makes me suspect you have trouble setting boundaries with her, which comes back to what I said earlier about putting her on a pedestal. If you treated her as a true equal, you wouldn’t feel afraid of bringing this up.

It is a serious attraction killer for a girl to feel like she scares you on some level. It’s also an attraction killer for a girl to feel like every time she criticizes you that you don’t stand up for yourself.

So what the hell am I trying to say here with all this?

I’m trying to say that you need to practice setting better boundaries without being a dick about it, which means you have to practice the art of managing your anxiety and fear about women without projecting it on to them and blaming them for how you’re feeling.

BUT, you also have to practice the art of seeing when something’s actually your fault vs. when your girlfriend criticizes you for something you did for reasons that are unfair or ridiculous.

This is extremely difficult and takes most men years and years of practice, and some never get there. Most men will take the easy way out and either become a pushover and get trampled all over emotionally or swing too far the other way and act like an a-hole to hide their frustration. Try to find a middle way between those two extremes, somehow.

Can you be caring yet assertive with her? That’s what you need to work on.

And ultimately, please don’t forget that she’s just one of many girls you could possibly be with. If she chooses not to work on being less controlling and impatient with you, then you must move on. I can guarantee you that there’s another girl out there who will never think of controlling you, but I’m sure that whoever that girl is won’t have some of the things that your current girlfriend has that you love so much.

That’s just life, though. We never get everything we want in another person. You just have to decide where to plant your flag, make trade-offs, and say “These are the non-negotiables for me in a relationship, and I’m willing to let go of needing X, Y and Z as a result.”

Don’t freak out, don’t make any rash moves and reconsider your entire relationship with this girl, but I do think that in the end you may have to work on your self-confidence with girls.

I’m going to leave you with a few quotes from a website that has a lot of damaging stuff on it that will harm your relationships if you believe all of it, so take this in very carefully. It’s from a website called Chateau Heartiste, and as I said, a lot of it is brainwashing of the highest order about what “all women” supposedly want in relationships. Then again, there’s some truth here that you should try to think about and put into action. Here’s my edited version of some “Commandments” about a satisfying relationship with a woman:

III. You shall make your mission, not your woman, your priority

Forget all those romantic cliches of the leading man proclaiming his undying love for the woman who completes him. Despite whatever protestations to the contrary, women do not want to be “The One” or the center of a man’s existence… You must respect a woman’s integrity and not lie to her that she is “your everything”. She is not your everything, and if she is, she will soon not be anymore.

V. Adhere to the golden ratio

Give your woman 2/3 of everything she gives you. For every three calls or texts, give her two back. Three declarations of love earn two in return. Three gifts; two nights out. Give her two displays of affection and stop until she has answered with three more. When she speaks, you reply with fewer words. When she emotes, you emote less. The idea behind the golden ratio is… it demonstrates that you have the self-restraint to avoid getting swept up in her personal dramas.

X. Ignore her beauty

The man who trains his mind to subdue the reward centers of his brain when reflecting upon a beautiful female face will magically transform his interactions with women. His apprehension and self-consciousness will melt away, paving the path for more honest and self-possessed interactions with the objects of his desire. This is one reason why the greatest lotharios drown in more love than they can handle — through positive experiences with so many beautiful women they lose their awe of beauty and, in turn, their powerlessness under its spell. It will help you acquire the right frame of mind to stop using the words hot, cute, gorgeous, or beautiful to describe girls… Instead, say to yourself “she’s interesting” or “she might be worth getting to know”.

XVI.  Never be afraid to lose her

… Fear is the love-killer… You will face your fear. You will permit it to pass over and through you. And when your ego-fear is gone you will turn and face your lover, and only your heart will remain. You will walk away from her when she has violated your integrity, and you will let her walk when her heart is closed to you. She who can destroy you, controls you. Don’t give her that power over yourself. Love yourself before you love her.

I hope this helped, young gent! Keep your head up out there…

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