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Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
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Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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Hello! I have a question about the relationship. My boyfriend

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Hello! I have a question about the relationship. My boyfriend is older than me 13 years.. We have been almost 2 years, he is a strong person, but he loves me and cares for me, I can tell. We got fight sometimes but its not a problem. The thing is that he usually uses the "silent treatment" to me.
The problem: Seriously, for some reasons I could not get along with his family. I am not mean person, I want to be friendly with them, with everyone in the his family. My bf did not say anything that they did not like me, they wanted me to come there. However, I feel like I am just so lonely. And idk for some reasons, his mom seems not like me that much. I visited them on This Thursday and Saturday, this Sunday his brothers n sisters came back to Louisiana. After the church, they were out for lunch and i told him that I wanted to go home. He seemed angry and dropped me off at home w/o asking anything and used the "silent treatment" to me. I know that is his family, I respect them but I do not feel comfortable whenever hanging out with them. I am sorry but seriously, I could not keeping trying to be friendly like this. COuld you please help me, what should I do now?

Deardebra :

Thank you for your question.

Deardebra :

He is giving you the silent treatment because he is unable to express his emotions.

Deardebra :

He does not know how to tell you how he feels.

Deardebra :

When he gives you the silent treatment you need to ask him to tell you what is wrong. I feel it is not easy for him to tell you because he might not want to say the wrong thing.

Deardebra :

You are trying to fit in with his family but it sounds like they are not being very welcoming too you.

Deardebra :

This is very common that people have trouble accepting people into their family.

Deardebra :

He needs to be supportive and understand that you often feel uncomfortable.

Deardebra :

I want you to be honest about how you feel. You can be friendly but I want you to also be outspoken when you feel uncomfortable.


He usually used that silent treatment to me. Before we got fight over his ex, and he did keep silent to me 3 days , then i was the one who talked to me and waited him in front of his house... I know that maybe my action is not right, because he loves his family but I hope you can feel how I feel, he is smart and I think that he knows why I am not happy. I got mad since I was in the church and then I did not want to go out for lunch with them. I believed he thought that I was not right, I did not respect him and blah blah. If he was a man, he should ask or call me to see what was going wrong. But he did not, and like last time. He wanted me to call him and said sorry because I was wrong. I was the one who felt uncomfortable, I wanted to go home. Now you said me asked him, how could I pick up the phone to make a call? it should be so embrassing. he is old enough to know how I feel. I hope you understand and can help me out! Thanks so much.

Deardebra :

What usually makes him start talking again?

Deardebra :

If you did not want to go to lunch because you did not feel comfortable he should understand your feelings.

Deardebra :

He is comfortable and want to be with his family but he also need to understand that you want to be accepted and feel comfortable around his family. The only way to feel comfortable is to be yourself.

Deardebra :

Do not be afraid to say the wrong things. You want them to get to know the true you.

Deardebra :

When he gives you the silent treatment that is not helping you understand how he feels and you can not fix the problem.

Deardebra :

Communication is important in understanding each others wants and needs.

Deardebra :

You want to tell him how you feel. When you feel like you are to uncomfortable to do something tell him why. This will help him understand and maybe he can make you feel more comfortable.

Deardebra :

Right now he gets upset and does not tell you why. He needs to be more expressive and tell you what he is thinking.


I'm worried that if I call him now, i will be so annoying. Do u think so?


And I don't think he wants to see me again today lol

Deardebra :

You should call him.

Deardebra :

You want to do what comes natural too you, if you want to call him, call him because that is how you are feelings right now.

Deardebra :

even when he gives you the silent treatment I want you to text and tell him how you feel this way he will understand your actions. A lot of times in relationship people think about what the other is thinking. But what happens is some times people think the total opposite of what someone is really thinking, so this is why it is important even if someone is giving the silent treatment that he knows why you did not go to lunch.

Deardebra :

You want to explain it also in a way he can relate. Like explaining that has he even felt uncomfortable and didn't want to do something, but really wanted to but just couldn't. He needs to look at your side in order to understand how you feel.

Deardebra :

The reason why he was upset and didn't say anything was because he was disappointed because he wanted you to go. When you love someone you want to share your life with them. You want them to be there . That was something he wanted you to do, but you did not want to go, so I feel he was disappointed that he could not spend that time with you and his family. But he should have told you he was disappointed and he also needed to understand that you might go another time, but you just felt that you needed to go home.

Deardebra :

He think if he goes you the silent treatment you might change your mind. But he needs to express his feelings so you know how he is thinking. He doesn't realize that if he tell you, you might think differently next time. If he said too you it would mean so much if you would go to lunch will you go for me. You might have gone. But he did not say anything.

Deardebra :

This is why I feel in this relationship you need to tell him how you feel and explain thing in detail. This will help him and he might open up as well if you begin to show him that you are willing to express your feelings.


This is not the 1st time he uses silent treatment to me... It has been many times and I always the one who picked up the phone and asked for his feelings. I just feel so sad why he is not the one, eventhough I am wrong. But thank you anyways for your advice, its really helpful!


I told him many times before that please, do not use the silent treatment to me. He was allright at that times, but it keeps happen again and again. I know that this time I might wrong, but I do not know if it is really a serious thing. How can I stop him from using the silent treatment on me?

I'm going to differ with DearDebra because I've been a man for my whole life and also led men's groups for around 35 years as well as done marriage therapy for 30+ years. She's right that men don't try to express their feelings because they don't know how and don't want to say the wrong thing; but saying that they should express their feelings doesn't make much difference.


Awkwardness is a mild form of shame, embarrassment is stronger. You can reduce shame by doing your communication of reactions by email instead of by telephone or face to face. And you don't have to call feelings "feelings." You can call them "thoughts" because thoughts are just feeling-colored words. First I suggest that you accept that you're usually going to have to open up a subject that he's avoiding, and, as Debra says, NOT find fault with him for not starting the conversation himself. At least 2/3 of relationship emotional issues are pursued by women with the men preferring to back off and avoid issues, even avoid being conscious of what's bothering them, so that they will not "rock the boat" of the relationship. If you take that as a given, and assume that your boyfriend is going to keep his distance from subjects that you might not have the same attitudes towards, then you might get quite a bit more conversation with him if you make your overtures about a ticklish subject by email (not text messaging, because that's too brief, and there are usually habitual expectations in relationships for how soon the other person is supposed to respond, as well as the possibility of knowing exactly when the other person has read your text. You need to allow the greater freedom of email, so that you're not building up resentment over the length of time your boyfriend needs to figure out what he feels comfortable enough to say. But your comfort will increase if you don't criticize him for what he says or doesn't say.


Now I have not addressed yet the exact words I'd advise you to use to invite a more revealing "thoughts" response about anything you have been bothered about, because it's too late at night for me to examine them carefully enough.

Here's one more background piece: Many boys grew up in families where it was No-No to "hurt mother," so they learned to NOT say anything that would bother her. And that leads to a cramped/awkward/silent kind of "gentlemanliness" that makes it impossible to express any differences to a woman--so withdrawing is the natural second option. And that's what you call "silent treatment." And it's not aimed AT you, it's his retreat from a "damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't" situation.


As an experienced couples and woman's therapist, I can identify with your situation and feelings about as well as I can identify with his, so I'm not taking his side. I'm trying to open up some insight into how he may function, so that it will be easier to figure out how to start a little bit more revealing "thoughts" sharing at a safer-than-immediate-response distance. Then you can choose which currently stuck-spot in relationship-rectifying that you want him to express himself about. And, Debra has suggested that you go ahead and tell him some things you haven't explained yet, which I agree with. I'm saying do it in email, so he's not caught off-guard and gets time to think over what you write before needing to respond. My wife and I still have LOTS of occasions when it takes us hours or even a day to bring up something that was uncomfortable to each other, though we rarely do it by email--and we're both licensed therapists who've been married for 27.5 years.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Thank you so much for your advice. This is helpful. But you know what, everything you told me, I did before. "Not calling or texting but emailing him". There was 2 times I did that... After 3 days not hearing from him, I emailed him. And now, this is the 3rd time. I know that he gets mad but I don't deserve to be treated like this. Will you still want me to email him AGAIN? It has been 3 days we did not talk to each other. He gives me his love, he cares for me and so do I. I just can't understand why I always am the one who comfort him, open up with him. After the last two times, I did have a talk to him how it was hurt me since he treated me by silence, if he was not ready, we could talk after we calmed down. " please do not let me wait too long"! - that was I convinced him, he said ok. And now, the thing happened the same. I'm saying this not because I want to convince I'm right or wrong, I just want to express to you how I feel about his personality. He is a good person and I love him, I don't want because of small problem, we have to break up, you know. The thing is if I do the same way like last times, the problem will b solved. Then next time, won't it happen AGAIN like a cycle as a personality? And I'm always always the one who open 1st. In love, I don't care who is right or wrong but if keep doing this, it's really hurt me. I don't want to make any difficulties. But I'm lost, that's why I need your advice or solution to help me get out of this cycle of abusive physical and mental! If this problem is solved right now, will you sure it's not gonna happen again? Personality can't change!

Pertsonality CAN change. But you can't change him unless he wants to change. Withdrawal is his fallback position when he's 1. disappointed, 2. awkward, 3. hurt, and 4. mad. All of these are responses to the Shame family of emotions, which includes awkward, shy, embarrassed, disappointed, hurt, guilty, humiliated. Have you thought about how he deals with the women in his own family? esp mother & aunts & grandmothers? Do you think any of those women criticize him regularly? Is it possible that your decision to not stay for lunch after church might have led to his family members gossiping about you to him, of course disapprovingly? That would make any man choose between two responses: 1. LEAVE IMMEDIATELY to demonstrate his refusal to allow you to be put down, or 2. shut up, give up on defending you, and withdraw inside himself under what would feel like heapings of criticism falling on his head and shoulders. Did it ever occur to you that his (female side of) family might be a problem for him too? That he can't/won't solve, because he doesn't realize he has a right to leave them behind if they won't raespect his own choices and thoughts in life?


Was he ever married before? If not, why do you think he hasn't been able to get married at his age (I'm guessing 35-50)? If his (female side of) family has kept him tied to them as I'm guessing, then they've probably "disapproved" of every woman he's ever dated, and perhaps they've even kept him on staff as a caretaker-maler in part because his father divorced and fled the family, so he's been tasked with remaining loyal and helpful to prove he's not the "bad guy" that his father was? Guys like that are called "soft males" because they'll bend over backward to take care of poor disappointed&mistrated momma, so they're very nice to women: But they can't develop a backbone unless they can say NO to mom and the other family women.


In fact no man is ready to marry until he can visibly prioritize his girlfriend above his mother and other relatives MOST of the time. If most of the dominant powers in his family are the matriarchs like mom, aunts and grandmothers, (as they are in most East Indian and African American families, then any "girlfriend" that wants to marry into the family has to demonstrate her submission to the matriarchs by giving up her own feelings-power to act pleasing to her man's mother and others. That implied demand for submission might be what makes you not want to spend much time with them, because you can feel that your identity and willpower has vanished under social pressure. If you were also brought up to assume that family always comes first, then you may feel driven to prove yourself to them; but your guardian angel won't let you cave in.


While I'm not going back on my earlier advice that you are in the same fix as the majority of coupled women, because your men won't "express their feelings" because they're supposed to, no matter how many female advice givers tell them they should. But I am taking your experience as evidence that he has a hard time being more loyal to you than to his family of origin, and that they probably don't pay good attention to you because they secretly wish you'd just keep your hands and heart off of their son and go away. What do you know about his relationship history? How long have you been dating? Are you in the early stage of showing his family that you're "good enough" for their son, or has this been going on for months already, so you don't see any progress?


Let me know to what extent you think these power dynamics are present in a tug-o-war between you and his "family" (which presumably means some woman or women). If I'm wrong (which I often AM, because I'm just trying to get close enough to the real underlying issues so that whatever action you do take has a chance of making a sighnificant difference), tell me how, so we can get to work on where the key issues are.


Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Hi Dr.Brown! Hope you are doing well. Firstly, I really appreciate your help. And you are such an expert with the most right guesses. I do not know if I can have your personal email or not because I might need your help not only now but in the future. And I'm willing to give you an excellent service and so on...
Now I'm getting into a problem. I'm a 24 years ago girl, working part time job in an office ( cosmetology college) and going to university ( will graduate this december) who is living with mom. I was an independent girl who could say that the one who took care of family (mom and myself). I met my boyfriend at the same work place ( he is an instructor in the cosmetology). He is 36. At first, we were coworkers and started having feelings for each other. We were in relationship for 3 months then broke up because he said he could not feel the love from me. Then, we came back after 2 months break until now is almost 2 years relationship. We can say that we love each other, he always makes my mom happy and she loves him. He is a good guy. And never married. We both are Vietnamese traditional people. He takes care of me like a father and he pays the rent for me, which can say that I might be dependent on him now.(that's my weakness).
He has 2 brothers and 2 sisters. He is the 3rd in family. It's a traditional family, really traditional and he loves his parents and siblings. I can tell he is the best child in the family.
About his personality: like I told you, I did not care about age or something but I'm not that blind in love. I came to him because he could give me the thing I want ( be honest) and vice versa. Fortunately, it becomes love and we care for each other. Because of that, whenever have the problem I don't care if m right or wrong, I'm always the person who open up first. (Well, sometimes he did) but I never try to give him any silence. In his family, everyone is scared since he did not say anything or became cold ( even his mother). They sacred when he was sad and so on, they want to make him happy because they love him the most.
Remember once, his mom invited me to the lunch, then she was so cold to me w/o reasons, that made him not talking to her. That's why I love him and think that he will always be my side.
But later on, everything is changing....
Once time, when we fought over his ex, he did not explain anything to me that it was misunderstanding and kept silence till 3 days, I missed Him so bad and decided to send email to him => problem solved.
There was one time happened again, I was the one opening up 1st=> problem solved.
Now, it happened again. And it has been 3 or 4 days we are not talking to each other. Yes, I believed that his family would gossip about me since I was not going. But I don't want to think it further! ( I don't want to judge ppl wrong). He loves his family and I believed the way I did not go is considered that I did not respect him (from his view). He is very nice to women ( and its bothering me too), I told him many times about that but it's not changed too much (but he is not that bad guy in meaning lol).
We are also thinking Bout so far that buying a house, I have to learn to become catholic (I'm Buddhist) and get married. But seem like, with personality like this, what will happen if we get married?
I heard that before, I knew a girl for over 10 years and the they broke up. And he was hang out the a girl that his mom did not like, they broke up. I can tell even though, his family did not involve too much to his decisions but it affects him. I don't ask him to choose anyone because family is important to anyone, eventho me or him.
There was one time, his mom told me, he could break up to a 10 year relationship woman, so I don't expect too much since I jus knew him for a short time.
If telling, there are a lot of things to tell, you know.
But the thing is me and him did have a talk over the behavior that he treat me, I told him that I did not like it, and that I could not be the one who always opening up. Like I told you, might be wrong in this situation but my view is not that serious, and he is a gentleman! I don't mind if I will be the one who open up and talk to him again but I feel like I'm in his control. Might be I'm too young and he thinks that I'm a kid? Maybe because I'm dependent on him too much? And so on! I don't want this problem to be solved and It will happen in the future. I want it to be stop. It's hurt my proud. I'm thinking of him go but I really don't want to because I love him and want a future with him.
I'm trying to be strong, what I'm doing now is that I'm not taking any move, I will pay for my rent and be independent again. I don't think I deserve for that treatment. I do not know if I'm doing this is right or wrong but I want to save me from the abuse of physical and mental. I want to be happy and respected in the future, not just right now, you know. I don't want just to get into marriage and divorce. Be honestly, I'm really hurt, I miss him a lot but I don't want to let my proud down this time ( bad thing is we are in the same work place but I try to make distance from him as much as I can).
I believe that you have a lot of experiences and you are a man also. I don't know what he is thinking and he will let me go or not. Yes, accepting that I don't want to loose him but if its his choice, I will accept. Anyways, thinking too much will make it wrong!
I really need your help to find a good solution for both of us. I don't want to make any move yet because it might not right. I want to hear from you, your view and your solution, if you were me, how will you make a move?
Once again, thank you so much ! And hope to hear from you soon.
(My name is Isabella)

Dear Isabella (beautiful island) I'm only guessing to move our conversation along despite not being able to have it in real time, and I appreciate your understanding that I'm not a psychic beyond what my experience & intuition would give me. There is one easy way to get in conctact, and that is by looking up a medical research review article on the Internet by typing in low dose naltrexone and norman brown. Low dose naltrexone prevents inflammation, so arrests the development of most or all autoimmune diseases, like arthritis (which is stopped in me for 8 years already), Crohn's Disease, MS, fibromyalgia,chronic fatigue syndrome (to the extent that these 2 are autoimmune in origin, which my daughter's is not), chronic migraines, Parkinsons (perhaps), and many cancers, including gastrointestinal & sexual-organ-targeting--but it's hardly studied because it's been off patent since 1984 so its use is dirtcheap and BigPharma knows about it but won't study it because of profits from Humira, Enbrel, Remicade and all those other patented drugs that suppress the immune system (while low dose naltrexone optimizes the immune system via potentiating the endorphin system. At the bottom of p 1 of that article is my corresponding-author email, tho I'm no longer at the university where I taught at the time of the article. If you reach me privately you can pay the same and I'll get twice as much, so that's highly desirable.

Back to your issues. I understand much better now that you've explained both cultural and family issues. I'm curious that you didn't mention his father. Is he deceased?

You have Catholicism vs Buddhism, and apparently you will have to submit to becoming a Catholic. You also have a Vietnamese/American cultural difference, in which Vietnamese culture probably operates with shame-rules by which many nontraditional family situations are not talked about, versus American-expressive rules by which "honest" communication is supposed to be the proper cure for every problem that arises. I say "honest" communication, because you can't be "honest" about what you think, if you "don't know what you think" because all you know is what you are supposed to think, or if there are no traditional guidelines for what you are supposed to think, then you are confused, so you don't open your mouth until one of your familiar rules for what you're supposed to think finally comes to mind to point you in the "right" direction.

Now I'm guessing that he contributes substantially to the financial support of his sisters, mother, and perhaps brothers, that he is the blatant family favorite because he has shouldered the burden previously belonging to his father of being apillar of family support. He's adopted the same patriarchal role with you, by paying your rent. So the issue of who has higher priority in his mind is NOT solved in a Caucasian-American modernist way, because he does not have the choice of leaving his Vietnamese family support functions behind unless he leaves Vietnames culture behind, and that's not possible without tremendous distance, and it's UNthinkable by his own standards. So my American-modernist-psycho-logicis useless. You are obligated to fit into his family as the equivalent to a sister, BENEATH his mother and him, even though it's his mother that's pulling his moral-duty strings. So, unless I am very WRONG about the financial structure of his family, he will NOT marry you unless you accept that position relative to him and his mother and sisters.

It's particularly instructive that he broke up with you at 3 months because "he said he could not feel the love from you." For that suggests to me that there were some forms of expression and action that he expected from you, without letting you know what they were; so he blamed and shamed you and pushed you away for not loving him well enough. So it's likely that he exchanges his community prestige and ongoing financial contributions for blatant public expressions and signs of affection from his family members, and you are no exception. You are experiencing wounded pride, because his implicit rules of "love me MY way or else you're not good enough" is an ongoing relationship guideline that is maintained by shame and threat of rejection. I'm not assuming that he's aware that he's doing that.

So I'd like to know about how his father fits into this family dynamics story.

What will you be moving towards in worldly work when you graduate from university? For it's possible that either 1. you will be in a position to negotiate more equal-power relationship guidelines when you can pay your own rent, and he will have a real (rather than imaginary) power of his own love for you to reset his behavior into more humane treatment, rather than smoothely polite&rigidly cut-off, or 2. he will be uninterested in you once you are no longer financially dependent on him, so you won't continue following the relating guidelines that are working for him with everyone else in his family that needs him.

So give me some idea about the role of his father and his financial success, and I might be ready with more intelligent guidance. [Please note that I have naturally concluded that since your pride is wounded, he has been shaming you, by distancing from you, or you wouldn't feel that way. Those emotional dynamics aren't "right" or "wrong," but they are quite reliable for human beings.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.
He has a good father. And my bf has most of his dad's characteristics or personality. Everyone respects him. He is more knowledgable than my gf's mom. He is retired and stays at home. He doesn't involve too much in his relationship. ( idk if I'm right) . I like to talk to him. I can say its a traditional family. Eventho I was born in a Vietnamese family too but we are much more easier than his. My dad has another wife and he is not that good father. Mayb for some ppl, they see that I'm very good and intelligent girl since I experience too many bad things but still going and almost finishing w university ( loving and caring mommy), his mom does not see that ( idk if the whole family), they worry that I'm way too young, and I'm not catholic, I will leave him one day and have one more step ( I guess).
About his financial: actually no one in his family has a good education as him. Even though he graduated university in Vietnam, he was nothing and started from beginning in the US. He did not go to school in US. Because he is smart and nice guy, so he could get a job at cosmetology school ( instructor), he was an operator before. If saying about education, of course, not that I expected. He earns an medium salary and not that rich person. He can help me right now but honestly, can't support me in the future for a long term. I'm saying that does not mean he is not my type. He can buy for me sth that I need right now ( cuz I'm still a student eventho I can support for myself but not fancy things). Be honestly, every girl ( I'm not an exception) always want a fancy thing! But you know, I'm an understandable girl, I never ask for him anything, he wants to buy for me... And I love him at first cuz of that, but later one, I truly love him, wanna satisfied everything to make him happy eventho my proud, like you see. Me n him thinking about the future, I try to graduate, find a job n be with him to create a family. He knows that I'm not gold digger girl. I have my proud, independent girl and educated. He does not support his family a lot, but he is a good child, he is sweet and caring, that's y everyone loves him. It's just sometimes his personality is kinda women's lol. But it makes me feel tired.
It has been 4 days we haven't talked and idk when we can talk again. If we break up cuz of this reason, it's gonna be so funny. If I come to talk to him, put my proud down one more time, yes I know how my future is, and if his family knows unpurposely how he treats me, me and my mom won be respected.
I'm really confused now! Which is the best way to deal?
He likes since ppl always give him compliments, he is confident, he never scared of loosing me ( I guess lol eventho some ppl say yes), what in saying is that he's confident, loves compliments and when he gets mad, everyone has to talk to him first.
( I will follow your guide to search Internet so i can get ur email)
Thank you Dr. Brown and hope you have a great day!

I have some difficulty in understanding what you're writing. idk must be an Internet code, perhaps "I'd like it?" or "I don't know?" and not just a mistake in typing. I guess ;it's "I don't know. " His father "doesn't involve too much in his relationship?" Does that mean his father's not much involved with his mother? or not much involved with his relationship to you? I'm still trying to evaluate why his mother doesn't like you, aside from being you and not Catholic; because I suspect that she doesn't want her son to give his heart to anyone outside the family--since apparently he's abandoned at least one other long term relationship before this one with you. And I agree with you that his way of dealing with women seems womanly.


If his father is retired and not much involved, it's possible that your most prestigious, most beloved bf has been "spousified" by his mother; that is, she's getting some valuable partnership experience with him that she doesn't get from her husband, she might be more proud of him than of her husband, so she doesn't want any other woman to take him away from her, even though that attitude is unconscious. If that's happening, then he's probably unconsciously aware of it somewhat, so he uses his importance to her to seek his own goals by withdrawing and refusing to talk.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Firstly, I apologize for typing.. I should write it more clearly so you can understand, and because I use the iPad so might make some mistakes. Yes, you are right. His dad doesn't not involve in to his life so much. Mostly is his mom! He loves his mom but he is still know which is right and which is wrong so he is not on her sides whenever she is doing someone wrong! But family is important to him!
He is a traditional Vietnamese guy! Confident and wants his wife or girlfriend has to obey him! (All women in his family love and really into and obey their husbands)!
Everything you said was right! So, can you please tell me what should I do whenever we have a talk?
Thank you Dr. Brown!
(I did send a message to your email, I don't know if its yours? Have you received it)

I just lost a huge response online. You have a culture clash--perhaps in part because it didn't do either YOU or YOUR MOTHER any good to obey your father. So you're guilty of UnVietnamese Activities when you do not obey your boyfriend, also known as Americanization or "Women's Lib." For a traditional man, when a woman disobeys him he could argue with her. But it's well known among men that women are far better at ARGUING than men are, in fact QUARRELSOMENESS is the most common complaint of husbands about their wives in cultures in many parts of the world.

Since I've been able to sneak up on many men who were discussing this widespread problem, I've learned that these are the main issues involved in such couple
relationships: If a man gets into an argument with a woman over something she's
done that he considers disobedient and thus WRONG, she should not defend herself. But if she does defend herself, she frequently pays no attention to the logical arguments against her action, because emotions are not logical, unless he, the man, actually feels the same thing, or quickly realizes that he would feel the same thing in the same situation. But women don't care whether their arguments are logical or not, that is logical with the logic that the man involved would be using at the same time. But they don't give up, and don't stop feeling their own emotions just because a man says they shouldn't feel what they feel. If they persist in emotional arguments, their intensity will become INFECTIOUS and the man will get intensely upset.


If this INFECTION is beginning to cause a fever in the man, he has only 2 choices:
1. beat her up in order to make her shut up-but that's illegal in USA, and far too many women know it; and 2. withdraw his energy from the relationship and punish her that way for her misdeeds. This way has the tremendous advantage of relieving him of the necessity of convincing her by his own logic (which, unfortunately, is based on his own emotional issues in the situation and has little to do with HER emotional issues). So he doesn't have to argue with her, since his withdrawal and silence passes the judgment that she's WRONG and has disobeyed him. Now he has a chance to recover his normal polite face, while she knows that she's being punished, so she flipflops back and forth between anger that he's avoiding her, and sorrow that she can't be with him with the light of his "so-friendly-to-women-eyes" shining onto her like an admiring mother, and even fear that maybe this time he won't want to take her back.

But you've written that each time you initiate contact, and apparently propose a
resolution, the problem gets solved. So apparently when he's had time to get over his own (womanly) emotions, he's willing to understand what moved you and make some short-form resolution-statement so both of you can resume being together.

So try this: Make a list of "the problem" that was the conflict each time when he
withdrew and waited until you pushed the communication open again. You sense
when he's too "irrational" ("womanly") to be able to discuss a resolution, and
that's when you feel abandoned, because you don't feel like pushing against his


Now the value of long term relationships is that you get to keep revisiting the same problems over and over again, so you can get a little better at reaching acceptable resolutions, and YOU CAN GET USED TO BEING UNCOMFORTABLE FOR A WHILE BEFORE MAKING THE BRIDGE BACK INTO COMFORT AND HARMONY.

So forget for the time being that you're trying to outlaw his withdrawal time, or
force him to be the one to reopen communication first at least ONCE, to show
you that he won't hold back until you slip the note under his door first EVERY

Make a 4 column list with "the problem" or "the trigger for his withdrawal" in each incident so far in column one. In the second column, list what you did to move towards resolution; in the third column, what the resolution was: his contribution; fourth column, your contribution.

Each cycle of conflict could be setting a precedent for later issues. What precedents have you set so far? What precedents has he set? You can write to me by my other address and attach the list with the columns. Once you have the list with its precedents, you can write him an email that lists the progress you have made so far on the relationship problems you've run into that make him upset enough to pull back into withdrawal and Silence. I'll help you.

Then you can write him also, that you can sense how upset he must be to pull back
into silence, and how you hold back from calling or writing him at those times because you don't want to hurt his feelings even more and you don't want him to
lash out or just remain silent and hurt your feelings even more than his Silence is already hurting your feelings. So one GIFT he could give you that would be every bit as wonderful as anything he has ever bought for you would be for him to write to you FIRST and explain a little of what he was thinking when he pulled back and didn't say anything to you. Explain that you always end up speaking or writing to him first, in spite of being afraid that he's going to bite your head off for intruding when he's not ready to communicate, because you miss him so much, and knowing that he still cares about you is WAY more important than who was right or wrong in the conflict that drove you apart. So you're still willing to write FIRST most of the time to explain what made you do what obviously bothered him; but you'd love to have him surprise you by writing first ONCE, because you'd be overjoyed to think that maybe he misses you as much as you miss him.

[In actual fact, he might be slower to write you NOT JUST because he doesn't have
much practice at knowing what to say or write, but also because he has so many
more people in his life that want his attention, including not only family but also many many students-so he isn't alone in his person-to-person relationships anywhere near as much as you are. When you're a teacher, you have so many other people (and in his case a mother too) approaching YOU that want relating from you, that you don't have to learn how to approach the people you want to relate to-so you'll naturally want them to do most of the approaching just as everybody else approaches you when they need something.]


So you see, what I'm saying here is NOT that it's awful that you have had to write him first 3 times, because in my 29 year relationship I've had to write or speak first maybe 25-50 times and my wife's had to write or speak first a whole lot of times too (of course we're both Americans, so pretty likely to commit Americanized Activities). And your boyfriend's split loyalties between your need for closeness and harmony with him and his mother's need for closeness and harmony from him are not going to resolve 100% in your favor either, though 90% would be a desirable goal for an American man and 75% for a Vietnamese man. By getting a clear summary of what the conflicts have been and what the steps and compromises in resolution have been, you can show yourself and then him that the goal of long term relationship is not a rigid obedience to rules system (sorry Vietnam) but an acceptance of some discomfort and recognition of what each of you wants and mutual rejoicing that you are slowly making some progress towards better ways of dealing with these differences that don't have to be hidden, denied or eliminated for you to be happy with each other.

Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 1200
Experience: Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
Dr. Norman Brown and other Relationship Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

It is an awesome help! Thank you so much for everything and I will for sure need more help from you in the future!

Hope you have a wonderful day!


Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Hello Dr. Brown! As of right now, I do not have any more questions yet but of course, in the future. I have rated you as an excellent service.
Thank you and you have a wonderful day!
Thank you It's been instructive to me.

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