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?

  • 1
    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, 2021 at 7:45

3 Answers 3


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?

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.


So, this has raised a very interesting and probably important point in your relationship. I'm no counselor, so I can't offer any professional advice, but for what it's worth, the things that spring to mind are these (based on a lifetime's struggles with various similar sorts of situations):

  1. The underlying problem may be your girlfriend's, but the immediate one is yours. You don't feel appreciated. Well, you can't change anyone but yourself, as the old saying goes, so you're not going to get anywhere expecting more from your girlfriend than she has already given. Maybe in time she will manage to give more, but not now - and trying to make her express appreciation (even if she feels it) may spawn further problems. My wife reacts very strongly to pressure, even over things she would otherwise be very positive about. Are you confident that your girlfriend would react calmly to any perceived pressure to "appreciate you"? You've been dating her for about 5 months (and living together for only about 3) - how well have you come to know her? How well does she know you? Do you trust her? Does she trust you? After 5 months, my last girlfriend and I still were only beginning to learn about each other - we barely knew each other well enough to have quarrels over things, let alone have serious discussions about things that bothered us. You've clearly gone much further along that road than we did (although we have gone a long way in the past 35 years), but it's early days on the journey yet.
  2. You got a hug and a thanks - what more do you want? Well, clearly more than that, but there have been times I would have welcomed even that. Luckily, my old Boy Scout training ("expect neither recognition nor reward for your good turns") has helped me navigate the pitfalls of relationships and then marriage, and that leads me to the next question. Does your girlfriend thank you in non-verbal ways for the things you do that she appreciates? Does she thank you by trusting you? Does she thank you by appreciating you? Does she do things for you that you appreciate? There are lots of give-and-take ways we all have of expressing appreciation and thanks, and just as with fights, they may not be obviously connected to the thing that triggered them. That took me a long time to understand.
  3. While talking with your girlfriend is both necessary and desirable, it may not be the best way to deal with this particular situation. In her place, I might feel attacked by this demand to show appreciation (and I know for a fact that my wife would - because she did). The problem here is in you, I think, just as my problems turned out mainly to be in me. And the solution that I suggest is the one that I found most useful to me: talk about it - but talk to a professional. Find a therapist or counselor that you can talk about this with. Believe me; if this relationship goes down the road, and changes into a marriage, this is only the first of many such problems that will arise. We're all different, and bring different sets of psychological and emotional time bombs into any relationship, and expecting these to be defused by one or both of you is just asking for trouble. Maybe you can do it, and maybe she can do it, and maybe both of you working together can do it, but that's asking an awful lot. For now, I'd suggest you talk to someone on your own. If the time comes and the circumstances suggest that perhaps you should go to couples counseling to work on something together, than you will have a basis for bringing that up, and some reason to suggest it ("counseling really helped me, as you know..").
  4. Finally, it has been my experience and my observation, that relationships are neither equal nor symmetrical. It may even out over time, but in any particular period, one partner or the other (or both) is going to feel a bit short-changed and overburdened. In my marriage, for the first twenty years, I knew I was putting most of the effort in, and getting damn little back. What I didn't realize was just how much she was carrying me while I was carrying her. It turns out it was the same way with her. It may be a pretty common human failing to not see what is right in front of us because we're so focused on our own pain. We adjust, if we give it time and we make the effort to adjust.

I've learned many things from my relationship that turned into marriage. It was quite literally the only time in my life that I refused to take "no" for an answer and just kept on asking her to marry me until she finally said "yes" about a year and a half later. We've had lots and lots of struggles - some very serious, some potentially serious, some pretty minor that caused serious problems - and I quickly learned that the best approach to most relationship things is to be patient and persistent. Something like you describe is a big flashing red light to me; it's one of those "pretty minor [things] that cause serious problems", and I strongly recommend you look into it and try to find out why it hits you so strongly. Otherwise, especially with your girlfriend as you describe, this is likely to be something that comes up again and again, in various forms. Good luck!

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