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Girlfriend lives in an extreme, controlling, manipulating, collectivist family


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I have no idea where to really start, so my apologies if I jump all over the place.



My 21 year old girlfriend has lived in the U.S. her entire life with her Vietnamese Mom and three brothers who are an extremely collectivist family. Everything they do has to be for the benefit of the family and family always comes first. This is just how the family was raised for generations in Vietnam. My girlfriend's Dad died three years ago to cancer and ever since then her mother is filling that void by treating her daughter like she's her late husband and has begun controlling ever aspect of her life.



My girlfriend has her own bed and her own bedroom to do homework in, but at night she is forced to sleep with her mom. She's not allowed to close the door to her own room either for privacy. If my girlfriend asks to sleep in her own room her mom guilt trips her with things like "You don't love me anymore. You don't care about the family." All of her brothers get their own rooms with locked doors. She also has to tell her mom everywhere she is going, who she's going to be with, and whether there will be a boy there, and gets upset if she takes too long. She also scolds her for staying up too late, even if she was simply swamped with homework. The mom makes her lunch, buys all of her clothes, treats her like a dress-up doll, and waves goodbye at the front door each day. It feels like the mom is trying to live vicariously through her daughter. She never did any of these things before the dad died.



My girlfriend is moving to Georgia to attend another University, and the mom forced her to take her with her. The mom then bought a new house in Georgia and forced my girlfriend to pony up 90% of her life savings (almost $27,000.) Their new house has three bedrooms, however the mom wants to rent out two of those rooms to strangers, and force my girlfriend to sleep in the moms bed again. My girlfriend is emptying her bank account and doesn't even get her own room. Hearing this made me so upset.



My girlfriend was also beaten and mentally abused her entire life by the middle brother which finally stopped around the age of 19. She thought it was something "normal" growing up but realized it wasn't as she got older. Now she has PTSD and depression which the University is helping her with. Her mom doesn't believe her and tells her to just get over it. But this makes it extremely hard for my girlfriend to stick up for herself during confrontations or when her mom tries to guilt trip her or manipulate her. To make matters worse her mom doesn't speak much English and my girlfriend doesn't speak much Vietnamese.



Upon finding out I was dating her daughter, her mom told her that she's not allowed to get married until she's 30, not allowed to have sex, not allowed to spend the night at my place (be home by 7pm), not allowed to drop out of school (we both agree her schooling is most important), and not allowed to get pregnant (neither of us wants to have children.) Last week she asked my girlfriend to sign a contract which stated all of the above and my girlfriend nearly had a panic attack. That moment was when I truly realized how toxic and unhealthy this parental relationship was.



My girlfriend knows full-well that her mom manipulates her, and explains away a lot of this mother behavior as a "collectivist culture." And even though this collectivist concept is rather foreign to me, it just seems so absolutely unfair and cruel. I asked my own mother for advice and she was shell-shocked. To put it nicely, she called my girlfriend's mom a horribly despicable person. And told me that my girlfriend could always stay with her as a last resort. And for my girlfriend to call the police if anyone ever abuses her again.



My girlfriend doesn't have the mental strength to deal with this by herself. However, if I try to get between her and her mother it could end in disaster for both of us. Neither of us are willing to wait 9 years (for her to turn 30) before we are "allowed" to start a serious relationship. But we're also feeling trapped by this unreasonable helicopter mom. My girlfriend loves her mom, and will take care of her when she gets older (instead of a nursing home), and I do believe her mother loves her as well. But she is trying to control every single aspect of my girlfriends life.



My girlfriend is an amazing woman with an incredibly bright future. And I will never do anything that will hold her back, even if we have to break up so she can go work a dream job somewhere out of my reach. And although I've supported her the best I can with all of these issues with her mother, I also know that I'm eventually going to have to slowly confront these issues as our relationship gets more serious and long-term. I don't know what to do.

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When you say the university is helping her with ptsd and issues, does that mean she has a therapist?


Your girlfriend needs to find a way to stand up to her mom with love. She can get guidelines or method from a therapist.

She can start with asserting herself in saying that both of her parents wanted her here in the US, not Vietnam. That for her to he successful and able to support mom when elderly, she needs to live as a US person. She is 21 and free to make choices.

If she really wants to get the mom out of her bed, she should tell the mom that in the US, parents sleeping with children appears as sexually or mentally abusive and that did her it is causing depression and she will not be able to he successful sleeping with her mom. Also, she can tell her mom (no matter if this is not true) that two adult women sleeping in the same bed gives a lesbian appearance. That neither of them want that.

Also she should be able to tell her mother that she knows she is lonely since dad passed, and that is normal. But she cannot give up her life to fill in for dad. If the mom forces it further then it will be as if her daughter died too.

Try those things.

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The mom then bought a new house in Georgia and forced my girlfriend to pony up 90% of her life savings (almost $27,000.)


Well--- This is not all the mother to blame. Mom cannot take money without the daughter giving it to her. At her age, she can no longer be "forced." She cannot be forced into a legal contract. if her name is on the house, she can sell it. Or she can decide to drop out of school/only go part time and work full time and live elsewhere away from mom. She is making the choices she wants to make. If you don't like the set up, then move on to someone else. Nothing will change until she is ready to make a change.

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She's not amazing or even has a bright future because she isn't mature enough to cut the apron strings of her mother. She is codependent, manipulated emotionally, brainwashed, whatever you want to call it. She ain't adult enough to simply stand on her own two feet. Obviously you can't convince her any different...what make you think we can? We can sit here all day and say she can't fill the void for her mother, she needs to be on her own, blah blah. The key thing here is that, she is making the choice to obey her mother. You can't tel her any different. This is something she will have to figure out on her own. If you don't like it...too bad so sad. You can't rescue her. You have two choices here. Accept her choice to do whatever to make her mom happy and support her, or take a walk, take a break, and seek her out 2 years from now and see where she's at if you haven't moved on already.

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OP, thanks for sharing. My wife is from another Asian country and some characteristics are similar. Her mother now live with us most year but the difference is that my wife went abroad, and then «reintegrated» her mother. Her mother was always dependant on either her older sim lungs, parents or late husband. Since her husband passed away, she out the whole emotional pressure on her four daughter. At the beginning they had to take her with them whenever they were going (including visiting friends). After 25 years it is going better. Problem is that ladies in such culture are not really Independant, and focus their life on their family and expect a lot in return.

By another family member, although both parents are away, the mother take her daughter with her everything (and the mother pays for everything) and the daughter (who is very successful her career) probably won’t be able to get married. In this case the fetter/husband is slide but the mother prefer spending time with the daughter!

One question for you: does the mother have her own friends and is a in done way integrated in US?

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As long as she's afraid of being cut off from her family, she's going to do whatever her mother demands and you, as a boyfriend with no legal interest in anything, really have nothing to do with that.


Your options:


1. find a way to deal with this and be quiet and content with her


2. marry her well before 30


3. dump her and find someone who doesn't allow their family to rule their life like she does.


We can't tell you how to make your girlfriend be someone she isn't; or from the looks of things, doesn't want to be.

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Sorry to hear this. It sounds like you are totally incompatible. You can not inflict your and your family's values on this gf. You are not her social worker and she is not your project. These values (right or wrong) run deep and are culturally ingrained in your gf and you simply do not accept her, her family or their values and culture. It would be best for both of you to break up so she can pursue her future and her family values as she sees fit and you can pursue yours without trying to do a total overhaul of her, her family, her culture etc, to suit yours.

My girlfriend knows full-well that her mom manipulates her, and explains away a lot of this mother behavior as a "collectivist culture." My girlfriend loves her mom, and will take care of her when she gets older.I will never do anything that will hold her back, even if we have to break up so she can go work a dream job somewhere out of my reach.

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My 21 year old girlfriend has lived


Key word being age '21,' your GF is an adult and is making her own decisions to conform to her family's wishes.


You can either respect GF's choices or not, but they are hers to make. You get to decide whether you're in or out, but if you try to strongarm GF into substituting her own judgment with yours, then you're just transferring the bully role she faces from her family to yourself.

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