Have you ever wondered if the negatives in your relationship outweigh the positives? Or if that seemingly helpless friend is actually acting manipulative on purpose? Read on to find the answers.Q: My friends say that my boyfriend is too controlling because he calls every night and yells at me later if I don’t answer the phone. He says he just needs to know where I am so he knows I’m safe, and I feel flattered that he loves me so much. Are my friends being overprotective?
A: When a relationship begins, little gestures (such as opening doors for the other person, calling after a date, etc) go a long way to show that a person cares and is interested. At some point, however, those acts can spiral from beyond just a desire to show concern to an attempt at exerting control. Determining when behavior crosses the line can be tricky, but it is crucial to maintaining a sense of safety and autonomy. In her book, “Boundaries,” Anne Katherine reminds us that “healthy boundaries are flexible enough that we can choose what to let in and what to let out. We can determine to exclude meanness and hostility and let in affection, kindness, and positive regard.” So, how do you tell if someone is caring or controlling? Look at the intensity surrounding behaviors; annoyance at a missed call might be a reasonable reaction, but yelling could indicate more severe problems. Other red-flag signs include a short temper, jealousy, degrading comments and a desire to make the relationship very serious after only a short period of time. It is also important to remember that relationships are full of gray areas-what is “normal” for one may be problematic for another. Remember to pay attention to your instincts. If you feel that something is not right, chances are you are better off without this person in your life.
Q: My girlfriend acts like we’re barely together sometimes, but at other times she is sweet, fun and generally amazing. What’s the deal?
A: When someone selectively demonstrates charm and appeal, beware-chances are that she wants something and knows how to put on an act to achieve her goal. Although it is relatively easy to spot when a friend is being used, it is much trickier when your own emotions are involved. Try to determine when and why this girl acts nicely-is it always when she wants to go out? Before an assignment is due? It might not be obvious at first, but pay close attention and you may spot a pattern. In addition, an objective (and honest) friend can help determine if someone is a friend or a foe. Yet another test is to reverse the roles. Ask yourself if you would feel guilty for acting this way toward a friend. If so, you may want to reconsider the value you give this relationship – it probably costs more than it is worth.
Setting up boundaries is easier said than done, especially if you’re not used to being assertive. One way to begin involves considering a simple scenario where refusing to oblige a request does not overwhelm you. Practice saying no out loud-to yourself, to a mirror, to your goldfish-whatever gets it out there. When you feel ready, try it out with the person in question. It will probably still feel awkward, but notice the positives in saying
“no” when the moment of discomfort passes. As your confidence increases, so will your ability to stand up for yourself and not feel guilty about defining your boundaries.
Emily Herber is a graduate student studying clinical psychology. She can be reached at EH331544@wcupa.edu.