By Baila Sebrow

Question

I just proposed to the girl I’m dating and she accepted. I know this means that I’m engaged, but I am holding off on the l’chaim where we would make it official. She is nice and pretty, and we have fun and everything, but she is a control freak. It’s like she can never be wrong, or if I do something, it’s always wrong. For example, if I pick a restaurant, she says she’s not in the mood to eat at that place. For example, if I say, “Let’s go to a Chinese restaurant,” she will say she’s in the mood for milchigs. If I don’t give her the choice and I tell her that we have reservations someplace, she gets mad that I didn’t consult her, or she won’t talk to me and will block my calls until I drive to her house and apologize to her.

My parents don’t know what’s going on. They are just so happy that I met a girl I like. My brothers are all married, and they say that’s how women are. I don’t like the way my sisters-in-law treat my brothers, but my brothers don’t seem to care, and they are very happy. I don’t know that I want to have that kind of life.

Is it true that all wives are like that, and, if so, is there a way to change things up a bit? I want to add that she is very caring towards me other than what I told you about her.

Response

Contrary to what you might hear that it is possible to change a behavioral pattern in somebody, the answer is that, at best, a person can pretend to be a particular socially acceptable way for a limited amount of time, until something happens and they go back to their old ways. And that is because for the most part, people are consistent, especially where it relates to human interactions.

You say that all your brothers are married to women who control them. I believe that is not an accident, and no, not all women are control freaks. It could be that your brothers may be used to being controlled. That is what they might know and feel comfortable with, and it could also be that one brother might have married a controlling woman and appeared happy in his position, and another brother followed in the same footsteps, marrying a similar type of woman.

I do not doubt that they are happily married. I am sure you don’t know about everything what goes on behind their closed doors, so for now it is best that you focus on your personal situation. From what you are saying, it sounds like this girl’s way of dealing with life is a “my way or the highway” kind of approach.

This girl you are engaged to might have all the lovely qualities you listed — nice, pretty, and fun — but all that gets overshadowed, because the young lady sounds like a rigid person. Even worse, based on how you describe her personality, I am inclined to assume that she is also passive-aggressive.

For her, you are the ultimate match. You present as an easygoing person in a relationship with an inflexible type. When you dare to speak your mind or insist that something should be your way, she either gets mad or ignores you in a very harsh manner. And how do you react? You go running over to apologize to her, thereby empowering her and enabling her bad behavior. Why do you apologize for something that you didn’t do wrong?

Are you a natural-born peacemaker, and since you don’t like conflict of any kind, especially power struggles, you just give in to whatever tantrum she throws? Do you know what happens in relationships such as yours? Exactly what you are doing now. You are expressing your resentment even though you like the other aspects about her. However, deep down you know that you cannot live with such a woman, and that is why you are holding off on the l’chaim where your engagement will become official.

While on the topic of your proposal, why exactly did you even propose to her in the first place? From what you are saying, she always acted out in the same way. Why didn’t you just say goodbye to her before the relationship progressed to this degree? Were the red flags not waving at eye-level to you, or were you afraid that you would never find anyone else in your life?

It’s interesting to note that you ended your letter by stressing that she is caring towards you. It is almost as if you are making excuses for her behavior. Please understand that in relationships where one party does not treat the other one right, there is usually at least one characteristic that keeps the mistreated person there.

This girl is showing concern for you, as long as you play by her rules. What would happen if you would one day decide to go against her rules and not give in to her tantrums? From what I have seen, it can go either way. She might get scared that she will lose you and perhaps change her ways for a very short while. Or she might lose interest in you, because you will no longer be what she needs, a passive, subservient spouse.

If you go through with the engagement and marry her, you will most likely discover that not only will her behavior deteriorate to a poorer quality, but that it is in fact impossible to live with a person who behaves like a dictator.

I sense that you are trying to do what needs to be done in order to save this relationship. I admire your strong sense of self-worth in recognizing that you deserve to be treated better. That is not something to be taken lightly. You should be very proud that you are taking the time to figure things out and realize that what you are used to witnessing in your own family is something that you do not want repeating with you.

There is another aspect to this situation that I need to draw attention to. Although you did not elaborate too much on it, other than blocking your number, what else has she done when she gets mad? Do you think that she has anger-management issues? Such people set up their own justice system with rules and regulations that they expect others to live by, and heaven help those who veer from those guidelines. Do you really want to live a life where you will feel intimidated by your wife?

If it seems that my response to her getting mad at you might be overdramatizing the situation, since she is so nice at other times, bear in mind that such people are clever enough to be charming when they need to be.

Here is the way I see this going for you. For the time being, she is charming to you when times are good. She also senses that you are attracted to her and very taken by the qualities that initially drew you to her. Because of the way you react to her by giving in all the time, she perceives you as fearing that you will lose her, and she maximizes that to her advantage.

Marriage is an equal partnership, not a dictatorship. A married couple does not always have to agree on everything; it is perfectly OK to agree to disagree and meet in the middle. Each spouse has the right to express his or her opinion without fear of consequence. No person in a healthy relationship should ever feel that he or she is walking on eggshells and that the spouse will leave if they do not give in to his or her ways. Nor should either spouse feel that he or she will be punished.

I don’t know what type of household this girl was raised in and what she saw regarding her parents interacting with one another. But whatever she is doing to you is not healthy. From what you are describing, should you go ahead and marry this girl, you might be setting yourself up for emotional abuse that may progress to verbal abuse, and no one can predict what else.

To set your mind at ease and give you the confidence that you are doing everything that you need to be doing, I would suggest that you go with her to a therapist who specializes in couples’ therapy. I am not so sure that she will be amenable to the idea, and she may even try to convince you that you’re the one who needs therapy. If that happens, then you need to muster up the strength to walk away from this relationship.

Hold off on making that l’chaim until you feel emotionally safe and happy to be with her. I recommend that you see a therapist yourself so that you can begin to understand why you stayed with her as long as you have, and, going forward, how to recognize a relationship that has the makings of dysfunction. 

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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