THE PROBLEM: Hi, Christine. I’m Sarah. I met my fiancé Matthew three years ago, when we were both 31. His parents are well-off and he’s seriously good looking. We’re supposed to be getting married in September, but I feel miserable about our relationship and I’ve got no confidence about anything. He’s very controlling about the wedding arrangements. In fact I have no say in anything. For instance, when I plucked up courage to tell him I didn’t like the music he’d chosen, he just said: ‘Sweetie, you don’t have any taste.’
I’m sleeping badly. I’ve put on weight because I keep eating chocolate to cheer myself up, and I’m making mistakes at work.
This morning he got really nasty. I was crying, and he shouted at me to ‘get a grip’. He was so furious that I felt frightened. I feel I’m losing all sense of myself. But I also feel that I have no alternative but to go through with the wedding.
Christine: Sarah, what I’ve learned as a therapist over the years is that most people who come to me actually know the solution to their current problem. What they need help with is implementing it. And I suspect, deep down, you know the solution to yours.
Sarah: Well, my gut instinct tells me to break up with him. But it’s hard.
Christine: I’m sure it is. So, let me ask you this: were you lacking in confidence before you met Matthew?
Sarah: No. I felt happy and capable. People always said I was a very bubbly person. I’m not now, though.
Christine: OK, here’s another question: if a friend confided in you that her fiancé was a very controlling man, and that he could be really unpleasant, and that sometimes she didn’t feel safe around him, would you advise her to go ahead and marry him?
Sarah: Absolutely not.
Christine: And yet you’re still thinking of marrying Matthew. Why is that?
Sarah: Christine, you should see him. He’s gorgeous. I’m quite average looking. My parents think he’s a great catch.
Christine: Does everyone think he’s good for you?
Sarah: Well, no. My brother doesn’t like Matthew at all. He thinks he’s a control freak.
Christine: Do you value your brother’s opinion?
Sarah: Yes, We’re twins, and very close.
Christine: Does anyone else dislike Matthew?
Sarah: My two best girlfriends hate him. To be honest, Matthew is often rude to people I’m close to. I used to think it was because he loved me so much, he wanted me all to himself…
Christine: And what do you think now?
Sarah: I don’t know. Sometimes I feel it’s like he wants to keep me away from others who care for me.
Christine: Is that good? Do you feel wrapped in Matthew’s care and love, and as if you don’t need anyone else?
Sarah: Maybe I did to begin with. But not now – especially after this morning.
Christine: Is Matthew very controlling about things other than the wedding?
Sarah: Very. I like apple juice at breakfast but he always pours me orange juice. And if I change it, he sighs and rolls his eyes. It’s small but it gets to me.
Christine: Is that a loving way to behave?
Sarah: Not really.
Christine: Let me ask you this then? Do you think that he’ll stop being controlling after you’re married and that you’ll have a happy marriage together?
Sarah: Well, I think that he’s tense about the wedding and that when we’re together afterwards he might be so pleased to be married that he’ll be all romantic and lovely …
Christine: I wonder how much you really believe that. If you had to rate that belief out of 100 – with 100 meaning you’re certain he’ll be romantic and kind after your wedding and that you’ll live happily ever after – what figure would you put on that?
Sarah: Oh … I don’t know … 20 out of 100. No, less I think. Perhaps 15.
Christine: Are you saying that you feel it’s only 15 per cent likely that Matthew will be lovely and romantic to you, and a good husband, after the wedding?
Sarah: It doesn’t sound good, does it?
Christine: Looking at it another way, are you saying that it’s 85 per cent certain that he WON’T be nicer after the wedding?
Sarah: I guess I am saying that. I can’t really marry him, can I?
Christine: What do you think?
Sarah: I think that this relationship is bad for me.
Christine: Well, it doesn’t sound very mentally healthy does it?
Sarah: No. But how can I get out of it? He’s going to be angry. And people have bought presents …
Christine: Presents can be returned! Who could help you if you decide to call off the wedding?
Sarah: My brother and those two friends I told you about. They’ll be thrilled! And they’re all good organisers. They’d send the presents back.
Christine: Could you stay with one of them until all this blows over?
Sarah: Yes, and I’d like that. Do you think that I’ll ever be again the confident and bubbly person I was?
Christine: I see no reason why not. Of course, it’s a big thing to call off a wedding. You might feel rather emotional for a while, which is one reason you should stay with friends and let people who love you look after you. But maybe you’ll also feel a sense of relief …
Sarah: I think I already feel relieved. You know what you said about people knowing their own solution? Well I think I knew I had to break it off with him. But I kind of needed to talk it out and be sure. Does that make sense?
Sarah: Thanks, Christine. I need to get my own life back now, don’t I?
Christine: Yes, I think you do!
Christine Webber is a former TV news presenter. Since 1995, she has been an award-winning health writer. She is also a psychotherapist with a practice in Harley Street. She holds diplomas in integrative psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy. And she also has numerous coaching qualifications. Christine is the author of 12 self-help and therapy books. Find out more at christinewebber.com.
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