Bizarre Love Triangle

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Reader’s Question

My girlfriend’s father is too possessive of her, too jealous and too controlling, to a ridiculous point. I can’t even pick her up after she gets out of school at night because he says to her I don’t have the right to do that and I have no responsibilities over her, that he’s the only one who can pick her up.

He wants to dictate how our relationship grows, and how and when we see each other, but he contradicts himself. For instance, he wanted me to visit her more often at her home; I started doing it, then he began to complain that I spent too much time with her. We talk on the phone, and he complains that we talk too much. To him, it’s wrong if I see her after she gets out of work, and that only ‘low-life’ women meet their boyfriends after work.

If I bring her lunch to work, he gets jealous and tells her not to get food from anywhere; that he’ll bring it to her, or that he will take her out to eat.

I’m 31, been married before, and have experience with relationships. I’m in love with my girlfriend and she is with me. She’s probably the one suffering the most because she doesn’t want to go against him, but doesn’t want to lose me either. She doesn’t know what to do. She can’t talk to him because he doesn’t pay attention to what she has to say, and when he does listen, she’s never right about anything.

Once it came to the point that he told her to move out to her mother’s house because he didn’t know what to do with her anymore; that she was disobedient, was out of control, and only did what she wanted. (He’s wrong, and is the only person in her family who sees it that way.)

She can’t visit me at work because it bothers him. We can hardly go out, because that also bothers him. He treats her like a little girl, and wants to know where we are, what we’re doing, etc.

I have spoken with him twice about the whole situation and made it clear that I’m a man, and old enough to know the wrongs and rights of a relationship. We seemed to have come to an understanding both times, but one or two days later, he changed his mind and acted weird. I think he needs to see a psychologist.

I simply don’t understand him. He wants a man who cares for his daughter, who respects her, who can take care of her — basically all the good things a father wants for a daughter — and I’m giving her all of that.

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I will not leave her, but right now I don’t know what to do, and neither does she.

Psychologist’s Reply

You truly are in a bind. You love your girlfriend, she loves her father, he controls his daughter. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much power you have to change this situation at this point. Given that you have spoken more than once to your girlfriend’s father, as well as with your girlfriend about the situation without seeing any change from either of them, you seem to have exercised what influence you have without any results. Ultimately this is less a question about you and your relationship with this woman, and much more about her relationship with her father and family of origin. Unless she is ready and willing to break away from the restrictions of her family to carve out a more independent life for herself (with or without you, as the case may be), you are unlikely to see either her or her father change their behavior.

The best option you have available to you is to try to work through this issue with a couples’ therapist. A few sessions with a trained, objective therapist could help the two of you explore this issue on a deeper level. Your desire for your girlfriend to change her way of relating to her father and family is not a trivial issue, and it is one that you will need to resolve between the two of you if you have any hope of this relationship surviving. Given that you have (at least) one divorce in your history, you are aware that what looks like true love can fall apart over time if such deep-seated differences are not addressed. The two of you would be well-served by making an honest assessment of the ‘baggage’ you are both bringing to the table. This is an opportunity for increased closeness and intimacy if you can work your way to a deeper appreciation and understanding of each other; alternatively, it is a chance for you both to realize the gulf between you is just too wide at this point to continue pursuing a future together. Remember too that if you stay with your girlfriend, you are also choosing to embrace her father, her family, and the fallout that will likely occur in response to changes she makes in her relations with them.

I hope that you will make your best attempt at couples’ therapy with your girlfriend, as it is clear from your letter that you have very strong feelings for her. However, if she (and, by extension, her father) is unwilling to participate, you will then have your answer about her willingness to explore true change in her relationship with him. In that case, you will have the power to decide whether the status quo is something you are willing to live with, or if, despite your feelings for her, you need to move on.

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