Teen Talk: Controlling boyfriend paving pathway to abuse

Dear Kelly: My boyfriend gets mad about really stupid things. It’s something different every week. This week, he was super mad because I turned off my “read receipt” on my phone, so now he can’t see if I read his messages. I tried to explain why I did it, but he got so mad at me.

It wasn’t even about him. It was about an old friend who keeps texting me, whom I don’t want to talk to or have anything to do with, so I don’t want her to see that I get all of her crazy texts. Now my BF gets so mad if I don’t respond within like two minutes and tell him I got his message.

He’s making such a big deal about this that I’m starting to get frustrated with him for being so weird about it. If I don’t text him right away, he gets mad and sends me mean texts about how he will just stop responding to my texts if I ignore him, or that maybe I don’t really want to be in a relationship because I if I can’t text him back right away, it means I don’t care about him.

That’s not the truth, and I try to tell him this, but he still makes me feel like a bad girlfriend when I don’t text right away, even if I’m doing something like sleeping or studying or eating dinner with my family. When I do finally text him, I’m always nervous he’s going to be mad at me.

Do you think I’m a bad girlfriend for doing this? How do I convince him that I love him but I don’t want him to always be mad at me for things I don’t even know that I’m doing? Should I just turn on my “read receipt” and make him happy? I feel like he’ll just get mad about something else.

– Erin

Dear Erin: Red flag.

Do I think that you are a bad girlfriend for not texting your boyfriend back right away? No. Do I think that your boyfriend sounds insecure and controlling? Yes. Will your turning on your “read receipt” make him happy and no longer angry with you? I seriously doubt it. If it’s not the read receipt, odds are he will find something else to be angry with you about.

Your boyfriend wants you to be tied to your cellphone so he can be tied to you. He is trying to make you feel bad for not communicating every moment he wants to communicate with you. Because he isn’t secure enough to know that you can both have other things in your lives besides each other, he is trying to manipulate you into feeling bad for having a life.

Does that sound like a healthy relationship you are in? Step back and look at how he makes you feel: bad, frustrated, guilty, upset, worried and nervous. Are those the words you want to describe your relationship?

It is normal to have times where you are upset or angry with your partner, but always being angry is his attempt to control you.

In simple terms, his anger puts him in the driver’s seat of the relationship, and it makes you feel like you are along for the ride and have little control over how things go.

Healthy relationships involve mutual respect and trust. They involve forgiveness and kindness toward each other. Your relationship is not healthy, and your boyfriend’s demands on you are toxic and dangerous.

Please be cautious of using the word “love.” I understand and respect that you feel strongly for your boyfriend and want to make it work. But love does not treat each other the way he treats you. You are living your young life on pins and needles to please someone else, and what are you getting back? His anger and his irrational expectations. Is it really worth all the stress and frustration when all you get from him is irritation and rage?

Does it feel like I’m coming down hard on him? Probably, but you need to open your eyes to what he is doing and how harmful his behaviors can be if you let them continue. Abusive relationships begin just the way you are describing your relationship.

Take a break from the relationship and take a few steps back. Look at how he is treating you and how he is making you feel. Don’t try to change him or save him. Do what you need to do for yourself and get some peace in your life.

Surround yourself with people who build you up, not break you down. This guy is not the guy to invest your time or energy with. Respect yourself and your future enough to walk away. If you need help or assistance with walking way, talk to your school counselor, your parents or a trusted adult. They can give you the guidance you need to make healthy and safe choices.

Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.