Boyfriend’s Oddly Controlling Ways — Sexual Paraphilia or What?

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Reader’s Question

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for five months. Although I adore him, I am very aware he has some unusual behavior that threatens to end our relationship.

Every morning he virtually inspects me from a distance as I get dressed. He says things like: “Oh, you’re wearing that bra, that’s a sexy bra, isn’t it?” or “Oh you’re wearing that dress with the bra — that’s kind of sexy isn’t it?” The degree to which he becomes agitated doing this has become more and more palpable, and I becoming more and more aware that this CAN’T be normal.

He also can’t stand me wearing pyjamas! He literally freaks out. He can’t handle my walking around the apartment in pyjamas or nightgowns. He can’t handle my wearing standard round neck Ts, even with a sports bra underneath them, for yoga or running. He has “episodes” if I do — like he won’t let me leave the house, or will follow me all the way down the street if I do. And when we go out for dinner or if we are ever in public and I’m wearing something that he thinks is revealing, or even if I sit or lean a certain way, he literally stares at my chest, completely on edge, and makes me feel utterly terrified of how unbalanced a person I have probably chosen for a relationship.

It’s been a shock to me to get to know these things about him. Before we met, he was teaching aerial yoga, so he literally spent his waking hours doing partner yoga, in all manner of acrobatic positions with thousands of different women who, in the acro yogi tradition, wear next to nothing! His attitude towards me seems so deeply at odds with how he conducts himself to the outside world. For example, he loves to surf and loves the beach but says he says he’ll never ‘let’ (!!) me wear a bikini (like that’s even his choice to make!). He also can’t cope very well with the idea of my having separate showers from him, whereas I can’t stand to be followed in to the shower every morning!

And every day he wants me to commit to marrying him. And I keep saying, no not yet. He moved in to my apartment after about two weeks of being together, and although I have been asking him to get his own space so that we can just enjoy the development of our relationship — he says that he will, but that as a result he will also never see me again!

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I’ve never come across anything like this before. I don’t understand what it is. I can’t and won’t surrender to his insecurities. I’ve told him that if it doesn’t change, I will have to leave.

We broke up about five weeks ago because of this and other even more intense manifestations of controlling behavior from him. Since we got back together, he is much better, but gradually, as time passes, I see the old patterns and habits resurfacing with regard to my clothing. He says he is aware that he needs help with this issue. I worry whether or not change is actually possible. I am 36. He is 48. What is the best help he can get for his condition? Is this a particular type of neurosis? Is there a particular therapy? Are the chances of his changing his behavior good or not?

Psychologist’s Reply

The good news is that your intuition senses the controlling element of this situation, and you realize the jeopardy it poses for any kind of healthy relationship. Both my books, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] and Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], make the point of how important it is to trust your gut in these situations. But you still seem invested in old, worn-out, and most likely inaccurate presumptions (often reinforced by traditional psychology paradigms) that your boyfriend must ultimately be struggling with “insecurities” or some type of “neurosis.” And these presumptions have you doubting your gut instincts. There are several more plausible explanations for your boyfriend’s behavior, ranging from his having some sexual paraphilias to his having great difficulty viewing you as anything but a mere object to satisfy his erotic desires. But whatever the underlying reality is, you know the situation is not healthy. So, rather than speculate, and rather than be crippled by your own over-conscientiousness (which itself is a type of “neurosis”), it’s probably time for you to draw some lines in the sand, set some expectations for how you expect to be treated, and insist he get the therapy he needs to have any chance at a healthy relationship with you.

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