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Ask Ellie: Time to leave 'critical, controlling and obsessive' partner

Using an ultimatum to keep a difficult relationship going, only prolongs a very bad situation

Dear Ellie: We’ve been together six years, since our mid-50s; initially friends, then colleagues starting decades ago. We’re both twice divorced, both spent over 10 years single.

We’ve dated long-distance, now just two hours apart. I couldn’t live with him partly because his employees use his place freely when working from his shop.

But mostly because of his control issues. He’s tended to keep relationships at arm’s length. We’re both fine living apart.

When things between us are good, they’re great! Perfect!

He’s self-employed. Three years ago, he landed the big project that’d set him up for retirement — a massive project of national importance.

When he’d worked on a smaller portion of it some years ago, it strained his health and destroyed his then four-year relationship.

Now, this project is worse (his assessment). It’s brought out his workaholic tendencies and he’s developed a damaging sleep disorder.

He’s also become far more critical, controlling and obsessive. I’ve been uncomfortable for the last 18 months.

Over Christmas at his place, we started bickering about time and consideration issues for both of us.

He felt very slighted by my attitude (which wasn’t bad but not as fawning as he liked) and said something designed to hurt me.

It was devastating, betrayal-level stuff. Later, he said it wasn’t true, that he’d made it up to hurt me.

Now, I can’t move ahead unless I get a clear, unequivocal guarantee that he’ll never purposefully hurt me again. I’ve had and worked on PTSD and an anxiety disorder for years, including counselling. Deliberate infliction of pain is a big deal to me.

He refuses to give me that guarantee. He’s reframed it as me forcing something from him. He never acknowledged the pain he caused or the dysfunction of inventing a hurtful scenario to get revenge/change my attitude.

His non-apology included deflection, accusation, justification and excuse-making. It’s a pattern of his but this issue’s become my hill to die on.

Is there a way forward, or have the personality mismatches become so pronounced that the relationship is too broken to fix?

The Last Stand

Pack up anything of yours that’s at his place and move back to your own home. Whether staying with him physically or continuing as a live-apart couple, both choices keep you at risk of another purposefully-nasty verbal shot. He’s already aimed at you on that hill, feeling no true remorse.

Despite your mutual stage of life experience, and long-time connection, the emotional intelligence of you both is limited and fragile.

After 18 months of his being “critical, controlling and obsessive,” you need to breathe fresh air and get to know yourself better, set firm boundaries sooner, and never let a bad relationship get this far.

You have healthy years ahead to meet new people and learn whether you trust them, plus time to also be happy with your own company.

Leave the hill and him.

Feedback regarding the man connected to his ex-wife of 30 years ago (January 12):

Reader: “It’s unknown to us why the husband and his ex-wife divorced. She’s an ex-wife for a reason.

“His staying in touch reflects his character that he still cares enough about her to send birthday wishes.

“His current wife doesn’t say he ignores her in favour of his ex. Insecurity and jealousy are leading her to feel this way, and could harm her marriage.

“She needs to feel her own value to herself and to this man who married her.”

Reader’s commentary regarding the young mom’s long-time friends who were planning a spa getaway (Jan. 13):

“This would never ever have happened within my group of old friends. The behaviour of this mom’s group toward her was rude and disrespectful in going ahead with booking an expensive spa without asking her, knowing the cost wasn’t within her budget.

“It negates her in the friendship group.

“Couldn’t they put their desires for a more expensive luxurious spa aside to include her? To book the place without a group discussion makes it even worse!

“Lengthy friendships aren’t ensured by shared history alone. Among my friends, there would have been a discussion of a budget comfortable for all, a consensus of various choices available, followed by a booking.

“This group of women is dysfunctional in my opinion and I feel badly for the young mom who wrote you. She needs other, more thoughtful friends.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

Using an ultimatum to keep a difficult relationship going, only prolongs a very bad situation.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

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