My Daughter is in a Controlling Relationship

Reader’s Question

My daughter aged just 18 is in what appears to be a dangerously controlling relationship! She has known this boy who is 19 since she was 15. He had another girlfriend and chased my daughter until she became his girlfriend. He dumped this other girlfriend. I was not happy but my daughter kept this a secret and I did not find out until about a year later. My husband and I never liked him; he did not talk to us or have a conversation, and he was not very friendly. She spent a lot of time away with him and time spent at home was short. My daughter was continually asked to come home from his place given time boundaries but to no avail. She had big exams last year and she apparently broke it of with him. She completed those exams and did fairly well, enough to get into university. Over her summer break it was all back on, but secretly — her friends and family did not know. Her friends told us they did not like him. “The loser”, they called him, and he became the loser to us as well. He has not kept a job. He comes from a broken family and has lived at lots of different places until he burns his bridges and leaves.

My daughter started uni in March, and the day before she broke down to me and told me all the things he had done. He had seen another girl in their friendship group (I use that term loosely), and he came over to our house and kissed that girl in front of my daughter with all her so-called friends looking on and verbally abusing my daughter. She was not at fault pursuing him and not letting him go and abusing as well. But this was her defense in a confronting situation.

The next day after no sleep she had to start uni; it was horrible to see and feel. She tried to get her uni life up and running, but she was continually disrupted by his phone calls wanting her back, and unfortunately she kept seeing him secretly again. She has not done well at uni. No wonder: she has not been able to concentrate on her studies. We do not get along, now she has isolated us, and has moved out with him. She just went underground with the relationship. She offsets her feelings of hate and blame onto us. He goes back with his other girlfriend when my daughter looks like leaving and threatens physical harm to himself out of anger. Now I think she feels she can’t get out and spends all her time trying to help him. I am scared of the next step with these two.

My daughter keeps telling me it’s none of my business and keep out of her life. I don’t deserve to know anything. University is on hold after one semester and she does work but a lot of it gets given to him I think. She lends her car to him and it goes on and on. I have tried to do what I can; my husband is in denial. We need help so we can get our daughter back before it’s too late.

Psychologist’s Reply

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Your daughter is involved in a controlling relationship with a manipulator…but you know that. I’ve described him in my article on Identifying Losers in Relationships and I’ve discussed your daughter’s situation in Love and Stockholm Syndrome. Both articles are available on this website. Your daughter is held in the relationship by manipulation, guilt (he’ll threatened to kill himself if she leaves), and her emotional investment. He depicts himself as a victim of an unfair universe and she feels she can help him.

As I describe in my Stockholm Syndrome article, the family needs to develop a strategy. Part of the strategy is to

  1. establish a line of communication with her, maybe through a sibling or cousin,
  2. send her information to help her see her plight (sending copies of the articles often helps),
  3. monitor but not aggressively intrude on the relationship, and
  4. have an exit and recovery plan available when the relationship ends.

Relationships with Losers are miserable and eventually end — but only after the victim-partner is emotionally exhausted. Your daughter may eventually return very depressed and overwhelmed, needing mental health care. She may be required to start the university program again. While that’s unfortuneate, it’s not nearly as bad as remaining with a manipulator and controller for years at a time.

As concerned parents, the Loser views you as the enemy. The Stockholm Syndrome article provides a variety of steps on keeping touch and monitoring the relationship from a distance. I’d also recommend reviewing the discussion threads on my two articles on this website. As parents, you are not alone in this situation and the threads discuss how others have coped with the same family circumstances.

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