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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Relationships » Relationship trouble -- cultural and mental differences

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Author Topic: Relationship trouble -- cultural and mental differences
-Lauren-
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Hey, I'm having some relationship trouble and I hope you guys can help me out or somehow shed some light on it. Just lending an ear would be so appreciated.

My partner is a kind, generous person, and he makes an awesome friend. He's done a lot for me that I appreciate so much. The problem is that he's got some issues he won't work on, including cultural understanding and accommodating my mental issues. I'll try to dish out some examples:

He critizes my eating skills and raises a stink if I try to buy things from the store I "shouldn't eat" each and every time, claiming he worries for my health and wants to save money -- despite the fact I buy what I want with my own money, and he eats/drinks those things anyway. He gossips with his friends and family about how unhealthy I eat and shares with me their "shocked reactions" to things like me drinking cola daily. One time while enjoying a night out he "jokingly" said we wouldn't be going out to eat again until I learned how to eat with knife and fork like a civilized person. I laughed it off and asked if he was seriously embarassed, and when he said yes I tried so hard not to start crying.

He's insensitive and unreceptive to me asking for lenience in light of the pretty rotten time I've having with lingering PTSD/anxiety/depression. Constantly complaining about how filthy the place is, how I could "at least" do this or that, or (again jokingly) calling me a hypochondriac, lazy, or faking it. I've asked that he make requests of me in a clear, polite manner, not using hints and backhanded orders like "I wish you would" "You could at least" "You couldn't even", but he continues. I don't know how much of it is his first culture/language and how much of it is pure stubbornness/uncaring. I've made it very clear that this was a huge part of the psychological abuse I had in my old home, and that I really need him to work on it.

He demonizes or dramatizes actions I make no matter how I try to explain them, apologize for them, and give him advice as to how to avoid them happening. If I get depressed or cry, it's because it's his fault and I hate him. If I ask him to leave me alone for a bit so I can do something private (like email my sister) instead of cuddling, I hate him. If I dissociate (I do a LOT) and don't hear him or am unable to respond, I hate him, don't care, don't give a shit, or am purposefully "giving him the silent treatment". One time I sinked into a deep dissociative state while we were out eating (where he again made fun of my eating skills and called me "bitchy" for shyly sending an order back when it wasn't without cheese like I asked) and he flew into a mini-rage, told me I didn't give a ****, was freezing him out, was clearly telling him he'd ruined my evening, I hated his company, and he should just leave. So he got up and left, leaving me with a bill we'd agreed he'd pay and a big overage fee as a result.

I've tried to tell him I can't help it, that I want "out" when I'm "there" but that I simply can't. He sees it as a rejection no matter what I try to say.

Now, I don't want to make him sound like a massive jerk, even though he's acted like one. He's had an awful, abusive life too, with stranglings/beatings as a toddler, witnessing his mom nearly battered to death, bullying and being raped in high school. I know that he wants to feel loved and secure and that I can't provide that when I have my bad days. But on the other hand, he doesn't think he needs therapy.. he thinks nobody does, even me. So, what is there to do? How might I get through to him? This is really inhibiting my progress, especially when I can only have a therapy appointment every 2-3 weeks.

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Heather
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I'm between projects right now, so won't be back on the boards for a few hours, but when I come back and can respond, it'd be helpful for me to know what your therapist has said a) about you having intimate relationships right now overall, and b) about this relationship in particular.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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-Lauren-
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She actually hasn't said anything negative about it. I've told her that my relationship was basically my ticket in, and that I do feel good and loved most the time except when it comes to these conflicts. She thinks a good relationship will ultimately be good for me.

She's offered to have me bring him in for a dual session, which he'd agree to, but when we meet so rarely, I don't really want to spend my treatment time having to do the back and forth with him, you know? I'm thinking of starting the conversation about this by just printing this out and bringing it to our next session.

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Heather
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Okay.

I'm going to bypass any discussion of how this relationship was "your ticket in." If you were a political prisoner of some kind, or someone who left another country illegally or nonelectively, it'd make more sense to focus on that, but since neither are the case, I just don't think that's relevant.

I also don't think any of this has anything to do with cultural differences. At all. I know plenty of Norwegian folks, both from here and from northern Europe who do not have issues due to culture with the kinds of things you're talking about here, and have never heard any express these kinds of things as cultural for them. I'd say if he is, he's making excuses. If that's your perception, I'd suggest it's probably not an accurate one.

Rather, a good deal of what you are describing here sounds like it's emotionally abusive. You talk about verbal "teasing" that's not at all good-natured, about passive-aggressiveness, about a lot of verbal manipuation, and that incident with you two out eating is textbook emotionally abusive stuff. Textbook, which I think you know enough about abuse to know.

The fact that he grew up in abuse doesn't excuse his behavior. It may tell us some things about where he may have learned some of these behaviors, but he's still responsible for learning different ways of behaving in relationships, and if he isn't there yet, responsible for opting out of relationships until he is.

All things considered, while I don't feel like this sounds like a healthy relationship to be in, if you are going to choose to stay in it, I feel his getting therapy of his own and both of you having it together, as well, needs to be an absolute requirement. I also think his acknowledging these behaviors ARE abusive and need to be changes ASAP is, too. if both those things don't happen, at best I see things continuing like this, and at worst, escalating to more or other kinds of abuse.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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-Lauren-
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(If it helps, I meant that in terms of cohabitating being my only means of being allowed to stay legally, therefore I meant that she knows that leaving the relationship would mean returning to my family, thus why she may focus on the "ifs" of me being single less/not at all.)

Thank you for your perspective, I appreciate it a ton. I do think that there is a bit of cultural stuff factoring into this, but I agree that it's not pervasive enough for him to make as big a deal about it. I've observed that people have different table manners and keep cleaner houses than I do, and I do my best to conform as well as I can.

I'm trying to wrap my head around this being abusive.. I guess I just tried to excuse it away by him being stressed out by/not understanding my mental problems and all the zoning out I do. I know now that something has to be done. All this has happened over the course of 6 months or so, but that's still too frequently for me.

Do you or anyone else have any ideas as to pushing him towards therapy? He would benefit from it even more than I would (I see my therapist so rarely because she's the only one in the city who practices talk-therapy in English), but he seems to think it's all a load of crap and won't help him. He has other issues too, like an eating disorder or something.. well, does serial body-building/muscle obsession count as that? Anyway, I think he needs it a lot, I just can't get him to realize it. I think I'll just take my post to my session and see what the psychologist thinks.

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Heather
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Since you're a legal adult, your only options are NOT being with this person or being with your family. You have other options, even if they have been limited by choosing to emigrate in this way.

I don't think different table manners or household-keeping styles is about culture.

I don't think there is much we can do to "push" a partner into therapy. I think you can certainly create firm limits around this and make clear that you cannot continue this relationship if he does not do so, though. You can make clear this isn't simply about helping him: it's about you not being in an unhealthy and abusive relationship. I'd suggest you not, even in your own head, make this primarily about what HE needs: this is about you, coming from you, so I'd make it about you.

For sure, you can also mention you imagine he'd be happier if he wasn't being abusive, and that healthier ways of interrelating would probably make him feel better about himself, too, but since you're the one asking for this, I'd not make that the focus. This is about what YOU need, and if this person is earnestly a partner to you, that should matter just as much as what he may need.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Beckylein
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I'm sorry you're in this situation, Lauren. I can add a bit of insight to the cultural differences, having lived in Europe for a while, though I think that his behaviour is abusive and goes way beyond any cultural differences.

When I first arrived in Europe, I, too, got made fun of for how I held my fork, how I ate, how I cut my food, ... For the most part, it was all good-natured teasing and didn't really bother me. I did learn how to hold my utensils like they do, though.

What he said to you, though? Utterly and completely RUDE and inappropriate. Not cool. He's making a mountain out of a molehill, and there are much better ways to go about something like that.

I disagree that table manners and household-keeping styles aren't about culture. They are. It varies from family to family, of course, but those are small elements of a big "whole" that makes up a culture. Our perception of culture is very different coming from North America because what people do varies SO much. It's a lot more...homogeneous over there, at least where I was. To some people, those things are a huge deal. To my host mother, those things were an enormous deal, and she made sure that I knew that they were important to her. Out of respect, I made them important to me, BUT, she was not abusive and there was mutual respect surrounding the cultural issues.

All that said, the way he's treating you is not appropriate or part of a good and loving relationship. I cannot even imagine my partner saying those things to me. He knows I'd leave him if he did, no matter how nice he was the time before (or after, for that matter). If it were me, I would not be in a relationship with him until BOTH of us could deal with our issues.

I don't know what the circumstances are around your stay in the country, but there are surely other opportunities and possibilities. I know several friends who have been aupairs in Europe, and I could get you information if that's something you'd be interested in.

--------------------
"Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt; sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth." ~Mark Twain

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Heather
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Just to be clear, when I said this wasn't about cultural differences, I was saying that even people from any one cultural group vary in how they do things like keep house.

For example, both sides of my parent's families were European immigrants, yet their styles with things like housekeeping or the way people ate varied radically. It's also not like all North Americans, or all NAs in any one city do these things the same way: growing up in a very urban, mixed city, my experience was that people all varied widely in these things.

Regardless, I think in THIS case, with THIS guy and this relationship, this isn't about culture. It's about maltreatment.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Ecofem
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I want to agree with Heather here. As someone who lived abroad for a number of years and who has dated and/or had relationships with numerous people from various European countries and cultures, I can say that what Lauren's describing is maltreatment.

I was welcomed into many households and have never EVER been criticized for how I eat... and the friends certainly weren't whispering about me with their families and then telling me how rude and crappy they think I was... if that truly was the case, they'd just not invite me back to their house or speak to me directly with their concerns.

So, while I do agree that there are certainly international and domestic differences when it comes to table manners and what not, this particular situation is about something else.

[Lauren, I have to do some work now but I definitely will be back this weekend to write more. I'll be thinking of you! [Smile] ]

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Beckylein
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Oh, for sure it's maltreatment. I never said it wasn't. I agree that in this case, it's not about culture.

I was merely pointing out that I think those are cultural issues (this is what Heather said: "I don't think different table manners or household-keeping styles is about culture" just to refresh). It varies from family to family and from country to country, but as a general culture? You could expect to see many similarities from house to house. It differed widely from the experiences my South American, Asian and American friends had in their homes. Everybody I know from Europe ate differently than the North American kids (who ate differently from the SA kids who ate differently from the Asian kids). We liked to look for differences; makes good conversation fodder for exchangees.

All of this is beside the point, though, because, in this particular case, I think we all agree that it isn't about culture.

--------------------
"Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt; sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth." ~Mark Twain

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-Lauren-
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Thanks so much for your input, everyone. Can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

I thought long and hard about it, and realized that I've sort of just let this all pile up without telling him consistently how upset it makes me. Granted, he should know better anyway, but I've been trying to laugh it off and ignore it so as to not rock the boat. I've realized that needs to stop, and that I really need to put me foot down and say that those kinds of jokes are hurtful and not funny, and not allow him to speak to me disrespectfully no matter how good-natured he tries to make it sound.

But the problem still remains that there are things he says that are true per me not working/going to school, not often having the energy to clean up, etc and he doesn't seem to "get" that I have various medical problems that actually inhibit me.. he thinks it's just an excuse and that if I can do _____ (get out of bed each day, watch TV, browse the internet, etc) I can do ________ (work to earn money, keep the house while he's gone, etc). Do you think my therapist would be a good resource when it comes to talking to him about my limitations and coping skills for both of us?

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Ecofem
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Hey Lauren,

I'm back with a longer response. I hope you've had a good weekend. [Smile]

quote:
Originally posted by -Lauren-:
My partner is a kind, generous person, and he makes an awesome friend. He's done a lot for me that I appreciate so much. The problem is that he's got some issues he won't work on, including cultural understanding and accommodating my mental issues. I'll try to dish out some examples:

As Heather mentioned, I don't consider this stuff to be cultural differences as much as unkind, immature, and/or abusive behavior. I would not want to be in a relationship where these things were present but I know the choice is yours and that while you do have options, that being in this relationship and staying in-country is what you're wanting right now.

quote:
He critizes my eating skills and raises a stink if I try to buy things from the store I "shouldn't eat" each and every time, claiming he worries for my health and wants to save money -- despite the fact I buy what I want with my own money, and he eats/drinks those things anyway. He gossips with his friends and family about how unhealthy I eat and shares with me their "shocked reactions" to things like me drinking cola daily. One time while enjoying a night out he "jokingly" said we wouldn't be going out to eat again until I learned how to eat with knife and fork like a civilized person. I laughed it off and asked if he was seriously embarassed, and when he said yes I tried so hard not to start crying.
As I said before, in all my time abroad, I've never been criticized for eating using American manners... the only time I ever got any feedback is when I asked people and they answered my questions but also always followed up with "but how you eat now is just fine! Don't worry about it!" I can now eat both the European way (although there are differences between countries, too, and regions/households) but generally mix it up. (In fact, the reason Americans eat the way we do is because, back in the day when America was young, the Americans colonists would often be criticized by people from the Old Country for eating like so-called "savages." Therefore, it is my understanding that the more complicated, put-your-knife-down-while-eating method was created; ironically, it seems ridiculous or just odd to many Europeans, so you really can't win either way, right? That said, I think it's not such a big deal to most people but, as Beckylein mentioned, it can be to some.)

However, this isn't about how one holds a fork but respect and communication, I believe, as well as what a partnership/marriage should look like. His gossiping to friends, complaining to "Mommy" is extremely immature and unkind. I believe that such a partnership is being on a team; one can certainly go to outside sources for advice and feedback but it's inappropriate to air one's issues like he is... additionally, as a foreigner, he and they really need to acting more like a support team, not "them" versus "you." It's one thing to say, "Hey, it's a big deal here to eat a certain way. I know it's foreign to you and while it shouldn't matter really, it is a big deal to me and I'd like to show you how to do it for cultural reasons." The food comments are just cruel and inappropriate it seems, especially if he's scarfing down the same; if a parent were to do it to that extreme, it'd be seen as emotional abuse. There are ways to bring this stuff up but these are not the right ways.

Likewise, I know it's your money, too. Do you two have a budget? If not, I'd work on that so you can figure out expenses and then also have a budget, however big or small, for personal expenses that are entirely your choice.

quote:
He's insensitive and unreceptive to me asking for lenience in light of the pretty rotten time I've having with lingering PTSD/anxiety/depression. Constantly complaining about how filthy the place is, how I could "at least" do this or that, or (again jokingly) calling me a hypochondriac, lazy, or faking it. I've asked that he make requests of me in a clear, polite manner, not using hints and backhanded orders like "I wish you would" "You could at least" "You couldn't even", but he continues. I don't know how much of it is his first culture/language and how much of it is pure stubbornness/uncaring. I've made it very clear that this was a huge part of the psychological abuse I had in my old home, and that I really need him to work on it.
I don't think this is about language because even if his language ability were limited, there are ways to express ourselves in other forms and being caring shines through. I find his statements incredibly hurtful and really undermine your relationship; it seems like he doesn't trust or respect you when he says these things.

That said, for your own sake, I'd work on finding strategies to start empowering yourself more. You don't have to jump up and power through the day, but slowly add to what you do. Set little goals, like "Today I'm going to wash the dishes after breakfast." I'd also work on getting out more and continuing your own classes/training... I totally understand that this is so hard right now and I don't think your not doing so is lazy or what have you but I do believe that taking a more proactive role in your life will make you feel better about options... I know it may not be an immediate thing, but little steps do add up because right now I see you feeling stuck, and that makes me sad.

quote:
He demonizes or dramatizes actions I make no matter how I try to explain them, apologize for them, and give him advice as to how to avoid them happening. If I get depressed or cry, it's because it's his fault and I hate him. If I ask him to leave me alone for a bit so I can do something private (like email my sister) instead of cuddling, I hate him. If I dissociate (I do a LOT) and don't hear him or am unable to respond, I hate him, don't care, don't give a shit, or am purposefully "giving him the silent treatment". One time I sinked into a deep dissociative state while we were out eating (where he again made fun of my eating skills and called me "bitchy" for shyly sending an order back when it wasn't without cheese like I asked) and he flew into a mini-rage, told me I didn't give a ****, was freezing him out, was clearly telling him he'd ruined my evening, I hated his company, and he should just leave. So he got up and left, leaving me with a bill we'd agreed he'd pay and a big overage fee as a result.
I consider the restaurant event to just be inexcusable, having had a bill-paying spat once myself that ending in, well, the friendship ending. The idea of someone trying to force me to cuddle or hug when I don't want to makes me cringe and want to push the person back even more. I think he doesn't understand what a healthy relationship looks like: it's not about controlling someone and forcing them to love you (like he seems to believe now as you wrote above) and limiting their contact to the outside world but knowing that the freedom one "gives" balanced by support will result in a positive relationship basis. I see fear on his part, which is ok to have but his actions are not ok to do.

I've tried to tell him I can't help it, that I want "out" when I'm "there" but that I simply can't. He sees it as a rejection no matter what I try to say.

quote:
Now, I don't want to make him sound like a massive jerk, even though he's acted like one. He's had an awful, abusive life too, with stranglings/beatings as a toddler, witnessing his mom nearly battered to death, bullying and being raped in high school. I know that he wants to feel loved and secure and that I can't provide that when I have my bad days. But on the other hand, he doesn't think he needs therapy.. he thinks nobody does, even me. So, what is there to do? How might I get through to him? This is really inhibiting my progress, especially when I can only have a therapy appointment every 2-3 weeks.
I agree that the horrible things in his life are reasons for how he is but also not excuses; like Heather said, he needs to be aware and admit his actions and then seek the change. Being so anti-therapy, especially when you're in it, is so, as I said, disrespectful of you and bad for him. I do think that doing a session together would be a great start; I think he has years of stuff to unpack, based on what you've typed here, but a start is important. I see his actions and your relationship being such a big part of your recovery and future, so I see it being an essential way for the relationship to grow and continue in a positive way. Because he's willing to try, I say absolutely go for it and see how that first sessions goes! [Smile]
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-Lauren-
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Hey, just updating this to thank you once again for the in-depth insight, especially yours, Ecofem. I'll be getting back to you when I have my next appointment to let you know how things go. I was supposed to go Monday, but I got hit with honest-to-crap swine flu and got rescheduled for near the end of the month.

In the meantime, I've tried to exercise being more assertive. I know the onus is on him to not say crappy things, but I know that my laying low and taking it hasn't been helping things. I've been correcting him more often and working on voicing more clearly/less cryptically when something upsets me and why. He seems to be improving somewhat, but it's still only with constant reminders. I hope I can learn some better tools at my next session and maybe ask about doing an education-session with him so she can fill him in what to expect from someone with mental problems, etc, and how to work around those.

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