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TherapistMaryAnn
TherapistMaryAnn, Counselor
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 1678
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues
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I want to leave someone whom I'm living with. We've been

Customer Question

I want to leave someone whom I'm living with. We've been together for three years. I'm afraid that she might hurt herself. I want to know whether to do it now, while she's home in China with the support of her friends and family, or wait until she gets back. I'm afraid being around her family might give her more stress, but also she doesn't really have any friends or anyone to talk to here in the US. Is there a councilor available who could answer (from experience) whether her (Chinese) family might make things better or worse.
Submitted: 10 months ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 10 months ago.

Your concerns are important, and there are more than just a few aspects to consider. Her age and yours, her legal status in your country (I can't see online where you are) and your cultural differences, and the commitments you have made with her up to the time she left for China, for starters. Three years is in fact a very normal time for a relationship crisis to develop, because the natural romantic chemistry of new love is likely to simmer down--because in the aeons before birth control any couple engaging in intercourse would have given birth to a baby, so the mother's emotional passions would naturally shift towards assuring the development of her infant and the man's passionate priorities would be more free to focus on assuring his family's social and financial security and success.

I'd like to reserve judgment until I hear more about your partner's sources of personal support and her career and financial goals in your country before I give more professional advice. But do you think she ha no hint that your relationship isn't satisfactory? [It is, however, also quite normal for couples to NOT develop the communication structures before the third year for bringing up aspects of their life that need change, because both people may be afraid of "rocking the boat" of the relationship and thus injecting difficult emotions & unpleasant days into what has been a low-conflict & high-pleasure life together. Yet the moderating of their romantic and sexual passion lowers their rewards for keeping silent, while the potential discomfort from unresolved problems looms larger.

So it makes sense to "throw in the towell" and assume that there's just too much that isn't working out, so one actually makes up his mind in advance, without trying to find out if anything can be done.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 10 months ago.

If your cultural differences are large, then I'd expect that you may believe that she is not able to deal with differences in "normal" expectations about how relationships are conducted and repaired in the ways that you view as possible & productive. So you may have already concluded that seeing a counselor or pastor or other intermediary would not help. But I need to wait until I've heard more about how you've arrived at your decision to break up. If you don't want to discuss that or consider possible approaches to repairing your relationship, then (until I learn what you want to tell me about my questions above) I would Guess that it MIGHT be better to communicate your concerns about the relationship and hesitations about continuing it while she is home with her family as a support system around her, so she can find people to discuss her reactions with. Or do you have reason to assume that her family might be unsupportive, because of possible culture-based attitudes about it being HER fault and failure if you're not satisfied with her as a love partner? Are you perhaps also concerned that her family might just insist that she drop her connection with you like a hot potato to withdraw from the shame of a failed partnership?

These are speculations since I don't know exactly what your own culture is and hence can't get enough background to make intelligent extrapolations about your differences in your relationship. If I knew YOUR culture and your expectations about love, and more about HER expectations about where she wants to live and work, then I could advise you more carefully. We have at least a week to discuss your concerns, so tell me a much as you want.

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
We talk about our relationship all the time. We've argued and fought a lot about lots of little things and she insists that it's because we care about each other, but really it's because I can't handle all the lifestyle things she insists on. In the end, I always give in. There's a lot of details I'm intentionally leaving out at the moment, including one particularly important one I don't want to leave in writing. In any case, she has a tendency to pick people at random (at least to me it seems random) who she absolutely doesn't like or is afraid of. This includes friends and family and it makes it very difficult for us to have any kind of a friendship with anyone outside the two of us, because the longer we're around someone, the more likely they'll say something that she thinks is actually a veiled insult. She never wants to see or speak to my parents, but she's agreed to thanksgiving dinner once every two years (maybe every year), and although she says it's okay for me to visit them, she's very uncomfortable whenever I do. She's told me to stay away from workmates and college friends (both guys and girls) who she perceives as being jealos of, condescending, or disrespectful towards her. There are lots of rules about what I can and can't say to my parents (Okay, you can tell them we went to the movies, but don't tell them what movie we saw...). These are all things I've talked about with her before. I even unsuccessfully tried to leave her once. It was terrible. She was depressed. I didn't know what she was going to do. She has no one she's close to here in the US besides me. She has a couple sort-of close friends back in Canada (Edmonton) where we moved from together a year ago. Now she wants to move back to Canada (this time to Waterloo. She says it will make her less nervous all the time... because she feels we live too close to my mother who lives only about an hour-and-a-half drive away).
The truth is, although I still worry and care about her, I can't stand to be around her any longer. It's too much pressure and pain, and no amount of talking is going to change that. I'm not uncertain on this point. What I really want is to talk to someone who I could give what details I know about her family and who would be able to tell me whether she'll be more comfortable to have them around or whether I should wait until she gets back so I can do it in person. I know what would make me more comfortable, but I'm not her. And this is one point where I can't predict how she'll react. However I'm uncomfortable giving these details (especially in writing) since I promised to keep them private. If it were on the phone, at least there wouldn't be a record of it. Do you know anything about Chinese family or parents? If not, could you transfer me to someone who does? And I could speak to them by phone?
Customer: replied 10 months ago.
I want to clarify that a lot of this is just her. It's not a Chinese cultural thing. She can be very, very paranoid to the point of worrying whether certain people who I can't mention here would poison her food, thinking that the apartment manager is trying to secretly insult her whenever anyone's not looking so that everyone will think she's crazy. That's why sometimes when I hear some of the incredible stories about neighbors and friends and family doing horrible, selfish, and despicable things, some of it is just her perception and inflated rumors.
Customer: replied 10 months ago.
Honestly, I'm not too concerned with what she thinks of me at this point. I just want to make sure she feels okay about herself in the end. That she's able to move on and doesn't do something drastic to herself. Since she doesn't have a job and had an awful supervisor who basically forced her to drop out of her PhD program, she might think of herself as a failure if I leave her (and I realize, the stuff I'm saying right now doesn't help, but obviously I won't say it that way to her). And that's probably the main reason why I'm so afraid of what she might do.
Customer: replied 10 months ago.
the PhD thing happened a year ago by the way. It's not recent)
Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 10 months ago.

I've not done enough cross-cultural counseling with Chinese/Canadian or Chinese/American couples to be sure of what to expect from her family--and how they could be affecting her. Tho it's pretty impressive that she may prefer emigrating to Canada over returning to live close to family in China. I'm not sure if there is anyone else among the relationship experts who has more of that knowledge than I do. I know some aspects of Asian female relationship style. And my landlord where I live north of Atlanta, GA is Chinese (doesn't even speak English) and their son is bicultural--so I can interview him (and I've dealt with a variety of other cross-cultural couples.

If you can reasonably guess that she does NOT want to stay in China with her parents, then she'd be better off if you found a Chinese- of Japanese-American counselor in your part of the US to preside over the dissolution of your relationship. Because even if she's going to move back to Waterloo (who's there to make her feel safe?) she's probably going to need some Westernizing of her emotional habits for dealing with her grief & shame (That she "might hurt herself" means depression capped by shame, so you're absolutely RIGHT to realize that she may not have the behavioral coping strategies needed to cope with relationship loss.

I'm pretty skilled with the components of grief, which DOES include shame (that's SO large in many Asian societies, esp where personal psychological struggles are always kept secret. You may be guessing correctly that she wouldn't even want her closest family to know of any problems in her partnership with you--in that case she may [just got your latest communication about her PhD "failure"--do you think she could resume and finish a degree somewhere else IF she developed enough Westernized psychological self-supportive capabilities thru grief therapy with a woman she could identify with and trust?

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
We picked Waterloo together. In fact she often talks about how much her parents want her to move back to China to be close to them (it's a point of contention with her sister who thinks it's her responsibility to be nearby so she can take care of them). The main reason we don't move to China is because she says (and I happily contend) that I wouldn't be able to survive there because there's too much I don't understand about the culture and about how to build relations with people. She sometimes cries because she's afraid for her parents. They don't really speak Mandarin very well (only a local dialect) and she's afraid that they have trouble getting along. The impression I get is that she cares a lot about them and often misses them. But she might also be afraid to disappoint them. That's the point I'm not sure about. We picked Waterloo of all places because my company has an fairly nice office there I could transfer to and the rent is fairly cheap, not because she has any friends or support there. She doesn't.
Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 10 months ago.

It's actually possible that her habit of keeping so much about herself secret from everyone could lead directly (psychodynamically) to the paranoid characteristics you've observed: it could be a form of psychic Implosion resulting from her clash with the pseudo-extraversion of North American culture.

I'll mention now also another key aspect of an East-Asian female approach to coupling: That it's her job to "know" intuitively what you want and what pleases you, so she can keep you happy (food, sex & praise, the big 3 and deference)--yet when that doesn't work, her life doesn't add up, and failure is not an option. So shame roars in, and she'd be withdrawn, depressed, and/or angry at you as a result. This may be only approximately accurate--and you've already been showered with quite a bit of the nittygritty of family-nightmares.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 10 months ago.

It's 4:30am my EST, but I have to go put my cooked yoghurt into the refrigerator before going to bed. What do you think about my suggestion that you COULD keep the emigration potential open for her (if her visa situation is secure) by waiting until she returns and inviting her into couple counseling with an Asian-American woman (that you'd have to locate in person in your area--I've not seen an Asian-American name among other relationship experts here)? That way she wouldn't just collapse into her home environment because you've brought up relationship problems in writing and her family convinces her to stay with them.

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
I think I definitely need to talk on the phone. There are some important factors I think I need to tell you, but I need to sleep on it all first (also read up on what psychodynamically and psychic implosion mean).
Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 10 months ago.

Psychodynamics is a modern umbrella word for the psychoanalytic school (Freud, Jung etc) that observes the effects of mental&emotional forces in us that combine, accumulate and influence our experience & behavior without being controllable by our conscious thoughts & intentions, like underground rivers. And psychic Implosion is a metaphorical description of a cumulative effect from keeping emotional issues inside: such that her numerous paranoid ideas may actually be projections outward onto malevolent other people of her own overzealous efforts to keep her own anxiety & feelings inside so they can't be seen (and be held against her as unseemly & improper) by others. In a communal culture like the Chinese society, everyone would know everyone else's business unless everyone does their utmost to keep inner reactions from showing (must be "inscrutable"). so proper external behavior is a psychic strait-jacket that actually makes most people likely to suffer from inadequate self-expression (by Western standards), and also from Shame when any expression or action that "shouldn't be broadcast" or known gets known (like any "failure.") This is why I think that a bicultural Asian/NAmerican counselor would be able to help her learn how to bridge her culture-clash and possibly greatly reduce her paranoid thinking, which may be driven to exaggeration by being both culturally isolated and living with too much culturally defined "failure."

I'm willing to arrange a time to talk on the phone with you--via "Offer Additional Services"--or to offer up your question to anyone who knows Chinese culture better than I do. However, it sounds to me like her parents educational level is pretty unsophisticated, so it may just boil down to the question of whether she wants to give up her provincial roots for a Western success-style--which is a big loss, and a step toward world-citizenship if she chooses it. Yet you also seem to be saying you DON'T want to play a role in helping her make that transition without you, because you don't want to be her mate anymore. (Which brings us back to the world-wide biologically based 3 year relationship cycle.)

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