I’m a European expatriate stationed in Asia who, as of the last 6 months, lives with my girlfriend of 3 years. Apart from a few conquerable problems we’ve had a good relationship that started shortly after I started my foreign assignment. I love her and I know she loves me. We both planned to spend the rest of our lives together.
Then we ran into some serious problems when my mother recently visited for two weeks. My girlfriend met my parents 2 years earlier for a few days, when we traveled to my home country, and the meeting went fairly well. I’ve only met her parents shortly one time. This time however, my girlfriend-for a number of reasons-got the feeling that my mother doesn’t like her. Moreover, and more importantly, she was shocked by the way my mother touched me.
My mother has always been one to hug, caress, and touch me and my brother, or any child for that matter, extensively and she continued with that even as we grew old. Specifically there was one event-which perhaps was a bit extreme even for my mother-where my mother stroked my leg and fiddled with my neck while my girlfriend sat next to me.
I, who are used to the touching, did not react strongly to this and when my girlfriend thought it sick I initially brushed it away by saying, “Just ignore it. My mother treats me like a child. That’s just how she is.”
That did not help, of course. My girlfriend believes the touching might be sexual and the problem is that I don’t see it, or take it seriously enough. I had a hard time doing that since my father (mother and father are divorced since my birth), brother, and I guess close family have seen this touching without ever commenting on it. In my family it is not strange, which then of course becomes a problem. Also I don’t see how it could have any real effect on my life, especially since I’m not the one doing it.
However, since I no way want to hurt my girlfriend, who is the most important person in my life, I changed my defensive stance and agreed to never let my mother touch me like that again. I also told this to my family, but my mother was not really willing to accept it, even if I think she will in time. She thinks it important for people to touch each other.
How that situation will play out I don’t know, since I only meet my mother about once per year, and my girlfriend meets her even less.
My girlfriend still wants to break up with me though, since she feels I have not changed my attitude enough, or understood the depth of this problem. She also thinks I care more about my mother than her, because of this, and perhaps that I should be more angry with my mother.
I’ve tried to show my girlfriend that she is the one I care about and I also thought that came natural since I’m spending my life with her. It hurts her tremendously that I cannot see the seriousness of the situation. She also thinks I’m too nice to my mother and that my mother depends too much on me. I am nice to my mother and to my whole family, I will not refute that, and my mother does depend on me to some extent since she lives alone in a big house and sometimes needs help. But honestly I have a hard time understanding what impact this can have on my relationship, especially when I meet her rarely. She calls me about once per week for 15-30min and my girlfriend now thinks those phonecalls come too often and are too long. She believes I need to distance myself even more from my mother, at least until there is a change.
I love my girlfriend and I care first about her and me, but because of these events she has lost faith in me. I’ve hurt her so much that she cannot believe me anymore.
Now I don’t know what to do. I would do anything to fix my relationship, but shutting out my mother and with that the rest of my family doesn’t seem like a healthy solution. Also I still, to some extent, fail to see how this could break a relationship.