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Spurred by the quarantine, girlfriend[27] and I[29] hastily moved in after two months of dating back in June. Around our three-month mark, her 12-year-old niece was subjected to serious trauma from her abusive mother and psychotic sister (professionally diagnosed). Having come from an abusive home, my heart broke in empathy for what this child was going through and so I immediately suggested to my girlfriend that if she wanted to take her niece in until they found psychiatric help for the older sister, I wouldn't be opposed. My girlfriend looked relieved that I brought it up and said she was glad I mentioned it because she wanted to take the niece in but wasn't sure how I'd feel.

Over the course of the next two months - to put a long story as short as I can - I took care of the child. Maybe it was a combination of being the eldest of my siblings contrasted with my girlfriend being the youngest, I did a significant portion of financially contributing to the niece, making sure the girl was fed, taking regular showers, having clean clothes, and although I didn't feel close enough to have serious talks with her, I encouraged my girlfriend to regularly check in with the girl to discuss how she was feeling and to overall just make sure she felt loved. Sadly my girlfriend was neglected as a child so she really doesn't know how to show affection with children (she does great with me and her dog).

When all was said and done, I felt like my girlfriend never acknowledge how much I stepped up and sacrificed during those two months. I can recall a tight hug and a heartfelt, "Thank you for helping take care of her, you're the best" but it felt no more weighty in gratitude than one might express to a lover after they microwaved a cup of soup for them as one lay bedridden with the flu.

I wasn't expecting her to be or feel indebted, but I guess I was expecting some form of acknowledgment that demonstrated she understood how much love I have for her and taking care of her family. I haven't actively stewed on this over the last seven months but I think it subconsciously really bothered me because those two months with her niece randomly came up today when my GF said, "Remember when we took care of my niece for those two months? God that was such a rough time" and I caught myself feeling bitter because I put in 90% of the care for her niece, never said a word, and the acknowledgment I received was displayed in less than 9 seconds. I feel guilty for feeling this way, but I feel like I want to discuss it with her.

How do I approach feeling unappreciated for taking care of my girlfriend's niece for two months?

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    Hey Taunoo. questions here work best if they include why they aren't simply answered with 'use your words'. How have you considered approaching this with your girlfriend, and why wouldn't e.g. the usual approach you use for bringing up difficult topics with her work? Have you had similar conversations before that went 'wrong'? What happened there? Also note that we can help you with the 'how', but not tell you what to say or what your arguments should be (see our help center), and we also don't tell you whether you can or not, that's something only you can judge. I've edited that out. – Tinkeringbell Mar 1 at 7:45
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Sadly my girlfriend was neglected as a child so she really doesn't know how to show affection with children

Sadly, I think you said it all, and have many clues to understand the problem. I know that answers need backup, but I can't disclose much on this one due to some people's privacy and intimacy. FWIW, having known some similar situation, it helped me find out some links once I had talked to health professionals. What I can say is that, many times, children repeat behaviours when they don't know there is (or have been taught) another way to deal with the "problem".

So, I'm not really surprised that your GF showed very little and demonstrative emotions. It must have been a real effort for her just to acknowledge you did a lot. Very often, people who haven't had a happy childhood can later behave either by:

  1. doing much more than mother/father/sister/brother do because they want to break the pattern
  2. doing less than "normal" people do, because they don't know they can express their feelings more.

It seems that your GF is less demonstrative. But she has done it! Show her you noticed, and be proud of her doing so, even if you feel underestimated. Why? Because it must have been difficult for her just to say "thank you".

I made the mistake of not talking about it when I had a chance, so I can tell you that ignoring isn't a solution. I can just recommend that you read about what this situation is all about emotionally, before you talk to your GF again. And discuss, and share, and, hopefully, heal a little.

As I've witnessed people inward-looking and having a hard time expressing gratitude, because they're shy and kind of introvert because of difficult childhood, my advice would be to talk to her, and listen to her, and show understanding and support (as you did when taking care of the kid). Don't let her curl up on herself, in her shell. She may not know how to express her feelings when it comes to family because of painful memories (as you mentioned it, she can succeed with you).

  1. long term consequences of child abuse and neglect
  2. abusive parenting styles can be inherited
  3. why do we repeat the same dysfunctional relationship patterns over and over?
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This may have been uncomfortable and hard for your GF because of her childhood experiences. However, you may also be feeling under-appreciated, and taking it hard and very personally, possibly not feel sufficiently validated, because of the experiences in your childhood.

I have two in-laws that had difficult childhoods. One is a bit more "cold" and often processes emotional ideas at a surface level. The other is very sensitive to the plights of others and empathizes extremely deeply, often sacrificing a lot to the detriment of herself and her family. Then she becomes disheartend when she doesn't feel she has been acknowledged enough for her sacrifices. We are often, at least partially, a product of our upbringing.

Having been with your GF for so long, you probably know how she reacts to stimuli. Try to think of it from her perspective. And, if you are comfortable with it, you might casually bring up, "it was a lot of work, but we did w, x, y, and z, and it has given her a better, safer, more nurturing childhood. I really love you and want to do a lot for you and your family." And just leave it at that and see where it goes, but don't expect much back and don't make it "a thing" if she doesn't want it to be a thing. It'll just potentially add tension. Based on your description, you might only get an "I love you too."

At the end of the day, unfortunately, you have to ask yourself the question, is this enough for you? Does it really make you internally precarious? Because, this could potentially be the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. It's hard to not be emotionally understanding on similar plains.

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