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Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
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Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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My now ex-girlfriend (J), 20, and I had been seeing each other

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My now ex-girlfriend (J), 20, and I had been seeing each other for 6 months. Things became very deep during this time, particularly in the last few months. We went on an amazing holiday, lived together for a few weeks and spent every night together.
We regularly told one another "I love you", J would refer to me as her “soulmate", tell me that she wanted to spend her life with me, wishfully discussed our future children and said, in all seriousness, that she would want to move to Australia with me after university. She even stated that she would be uncertain about an abortion, given that it would be my child.
She would rarely show great enthusiasm and was extremely laid back. A typical evening might involve a luke-warm reception (no smile or hug unless instigated by me) and somewhat difficult conversation to which I would contribute the majority of the enthusiasm. Gradually, the level of intimacy and affection she would show would increase, eventually reaching the levels previously mentioned. If we parted the next visit would proceed similarly.
Now, I was already concerned about her suitability for a long-term relationship, given that she cheated on her ex-bf – she explained that they didn’t see one another frequently enough due to university separation, and that, after a year, she got bored and fell out of love with him. What compounded my doubts was her saying that she hadn’t felt guilty, because she didn't love him anymore. In addition to this, I was concerned by her love of male attention, even whilst in my company (perhaps attributable to insecurity over her weight – related to an eating disorder - and looks) She adored sex and admiration.
After 6 months together, we both departed for university, telling one another that we so wanted things to work. During our time apart, she spoke of her excitement over seeing me in the coming weeks and I received several drunken phone calls during which she stated that she was desperate for things to work, that she needed me to be there to reassure her that she could succeed on her degree, that she missed me a great deal and loved me more so still. But by around 3 weeks she had stopped making any effort to contact me and I would often not receive responses to messages/phone calls for 24 hours.
I visited her days later, only for her to ignore me the entire time, to show no enthusiasm for my presence (almost annoyance), to text her new friends and to say that she didn't have the emotional or time capacity to make a relationship work alongside her demanding course. She was dispassionate this entire time. When I turned up for this visit she was wearing his jumper, which he had apparently given her the night before, and told me excitedly about the movie they had watched whilst cuddling together (although omitted any mention of the context).
After some probing, she admitted that she had been invited back to another guy's house and slept in his bed, cuddling all night, but swore to me that nothing more intimate had happened and I do believe her (given my understanding of her tone of voice etc). She was, however, flirtatiously texting this guy in front of me the entire time I was there, even as we ended things, and only showed any measure of happiness when he responded. We discussed how the long-distance scenario wasn't going to work and broke up amidst a great many tears. She also asked me to reassure her that we could reinstate things at a later date and after some settling in time (not unreasonable, although odd given her earlier behaviours).
She seemed to be very loving and affectionate during the right moments i.e. watching a movie/in bed/after sex (particularly during the latter stages) but could also be disinterested and condescending. She could also be quite selfish - "forgetting her wallet", buying expensive items despite owing me money which I was in need of etc. She said that before she met me she found it very difficult to open up to people emotionally, even to her previous bf of 2 years, and had never discussed her previous issues surrounding eating disorders, her parents’ divorce and her issues with self-image.
In terms of family history, her mother and father divorced when she was young, under suspicion of his cheating. He then went on to cheat on his next wife (whom J liked very much) and to marry his mistress. Her mother has been with a partner, unmarried, for the last 12 years.
She frequently said that she wished we had met after university, due to her propensity to engage in "self-sabotaging behaviours" – cheating, promiscuity in younger days, drug taking and clubbing - and was scared of ruining our relationship. She also frequently said that she was afraid that I was going to meet someone at university.
When we ended she was a mess, saying that she wished we had met after university so we could have had a future/still wanted a future etc, so she surely still cared? But at the same time, she said she rarely thought of me or her "old" life whilst
Dr. Norman Brown :

If you didn't like my answers from before, then it would be unwise for me to present them again, or to try to find out how you disagreed with my help, so I could meet what your objections might be--because of course it's always possible I didn't know enough about your situation to complete the job. But all I know is that the question in which we were communicating has been closed by a moderator. So please let me know if you truly want me to not try to work with you towards the kind of understanding you want to have. If you were offended that I wrote that medical doctors have their own professional challenges to deal with that could make an ongoing relationship with that girl even less likely to endure, then I'm sorry. But at my age I expect that people who are concerned about the issues their partner might have can also benefit from considering the sorts of issues that might come with their own personal and professional choices in life. At any rate, I'm quite content to opt out of discussions with you if that's what you want. Just let me know.

Dr. Norman Brown :

For at present I have no clear idea about why the moderator closed a question in which I thought we were seeing eye to eye.


I'm a touch confused also as I didn't ask for the question to be closed, so I'm sorry that it has been. It certainly did not have anything to do with your insights on the professional challenges of medical doctors. I do certainly have my concerns over my suitability for the career, given the rates of depression present in professionals - a condition by which I am already afflicted.


I am still trying to get my head around the factors which have influenced J's decision making and have included more details in the newly posted question, which was posted as a free question, with the aim of gaining as many opinions as possible. I understand that her parent's divorce may have resulted in a fear


of abandonment and that the decision to breakup on her part may have resulted from a need to control her emotional vulnerability. The quick establishment of a new relationship was presumably connected to low-self esteem and resulting need for attention/codependence. Still, I fail to understand how she could be so seemingly emotionless and remorseless whilst messaging this guy in front of me, in the content of the messages and even as we broke up.

Dr. Norman Brown :

Thanks, ***** ***** up somewhat. I'll copy and read the new details in your new writeup. But right now I'm colled to care for my 26 yr old daughter, and my wife is also very ill. By the way, I'm not prone to depression, though my mother was; I'm prone to hypomania. And I published a medical research article on low dose naltrexone with Jaak Panksepp, who led me to it almost 10 years ago. He recommends it as an antidepressant and it's a surprisingly effective endorphin and immune system potentiator, such that it prevents inflammation, arrests autoimmune diseases and prevents or retards many cancer cell lines. You can google the article under my name and naltrexone, or under his name. (He's now coauthoring a revision of a book The Emotional Dynamics of Love: Psychology, Neuroscience and the Experience, that I began in 2003 and we'll use it to build a bridge between Psychology & Neurosciences towards a unified science of the emotions.)

Dr. Norman Brown :

I bring this up because I forgot about your mention of depression as a vulnerability of yours. We've all got them one way or another.

Dr. Norman Brown :

Now I've also got a spyware on my computer, so I'll have to shut down without being able to read your writing carefully, and can't get it fixed (for the second time) until tomorrow. She acts like she's quite dependent on daily presence and sex, and she needs somebody to be her partner, and has no tolerance for being alone. Her relationship behavior is addictive, which fits with eating disorders, drugs and promiscuity.


Thank you for your answer and advice, Dr Brown. I shall look forward to hearing from you in the coming days. All the best to yourself and your family.

Hi Alex, Now I've lost your last response, which was short. I got my computer cleaned up again. She sure seems like a fair-weather bed-buddy with mental fantasy images that also have little to do with her behavior.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I understand that Jasmine's parents' divorce may have resulted in a fear of abandonment and that the decision to breakup on her part may have resulted from a need to control her emotional vulnerability. The quick establishment of a new relationship was presumably connected to low-self esteem and resulting need for attention/codependence.

Still, I fail to understand how she could be so seemingly emotionless and remorseless whilst messaging this guy in front of me, in the content of the messages and even as we broke up. She has spoken to me twice online since the breakup, albeit briefly and seemingly without much affection. To me, her cold behaviour is suggestive perhaps of a disorder and certainly of an incredible capacity for emotional coldness. What do you think?

I also hate to think of her as someone who simply adores the idea of love/a perfect relationship, as this suggests that she never truly felt for me...

I know how you feel, because I'm very sensitive about wanting to be sure that my wife really loves ME and not an image of me that she has. Like that very cynical John Mayer song "I don't trust myself with lovin you" where he sang in the bridge: "Who do you love? Me, or the thought of me?"--he's an adult child of divorce too (I'm not, but I wasn't sure I knew what love was, except an undying urge for the one you love.)
But the truth is that Love is in the mind first, love is in the body second, and love is in the emotional interaction third--NOT in order of importance. The constructions we make in our minds of our partner and the symphony of our feelings that we listen to in our mental headsets are our own compositions. So one person's love-images & love-music is usually NOT the same as the other's. Because I'm an extraverted feeling (secondary Jungian type, with introverted intuition primary) I express my emotions outwardly more effusively than my wife, whose emotional life is introverted. The fact that love is in the mind allows people to keep it smoldering and warming them as long as they choose to--but some people are also very superficial with that mind flame and put it out or shift it to someone else as if we were all equally replaceable. It seems as if your Jasmine is like that.
The body-2-body love is a physical symphony that arises and subsides in the moment. So too, the emotional interaction is a symphony that is often cacaphony because our emotions run away with our energy, and can leave painful aftereffects for hours or days, and set up recurrent patterns that both strengthen and hinder our access to durable loving. While emotional interaction patterns can be tenacious, it's ultimately the love in our minds that can anchor the whole triad.
Obviously Jasmine thought you were the right guy for her to marry. But she's several years too young to be ready for what her mind knows would be good for her.
In my thirties I went through several 1-3 year long relationships, including cohabitations, in which I didn't love the woman enough in my mind to want to risk my future on marriage, so I ended up needing to end those relationships. I had made the mistake of settling for a partner who did not stimulate my thinking about the things that were most important to me--individually that's psychology, spiritual meaning and learning, politics and values, caring & helping professions. I thought I would have to do without a teacher-guide-stimulator for my quest for understanding & meaning; and I was wrong. The difference in levels and types of education (I have 2MAs & 2PhDs & my wife has 2MAs) is not as important as what my partner focuses her attention on, and there she has been ahead of me in some arenas and behind in others. But I don't assume that you or anybody else would need to have a partner match you in values or intellectual passions as I do. Right now your central suffering seems to be over not feeling the love-energy that once came from her--even though you mentioned your realization earlier that she would not be a good match for you in the long run anyway.
It is a pretty inevitable disappointment in intimate couplehood that the physical, mental and emotional matchup will not turn out to be very compatible in all 3 ways, because 2 people (esp male&female) just don't function in all the same ways. Especially when we hear words like "soul mate" we're encouraged to project that the other's feeling the same ways at the same times as we are--and heart/warmEmotion-synchronization + mind-reading/melding IS possible for short periods. [In fact couples sleeping together can naturally go into heart-rate variation synchronization(as sinus-wave) for half an hour, which provides unconscious communion like that of babies in the womb.) That's a different kind of body-love tho possibly also arising during cuddling after sex (& male petit-mort).
But when we're awake we've all got our feet of clay.
I think she loved you as well as she was able. But her neediness gets inthe way of integrity at present. You're probably going to have a pretty broad choice among women for partnership. But finding one who loves you for your uniqueness and frailties instead of prestige, profession and earning power means letting courship last at least 15 months. (Because it takes at least 6 months to run into irreconcilable differences and 12 (6 more) to find out if you can cope well with the adjustments to reducing their impact.)
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I suppose my prevailing concerns are that:

She has seemed to regain happiness so quickly, considering the nature of what we had. The need for attention, daily presence etc explains the breakup but the immediate recovery (I'm not even sure she has a partner but she's still loving her life) really hurts.

The idea of her looking back and thinking she overestimated her feelings/never really loved me.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I'm not sure if the last message got through, hoping it did.

I admire your persistence in focusing on what really hurts the most. for you can make more progress when you know exactly where you are stuck in your grieving process. It's normal to assume, unconsciously, that your partner's emotions are the same as your own, especially if she's using words like "soul-mate" with you. But your Jasmine doesn't manage her emotions the way you manage yours. She doesn't want what you want at her tender age of 20--and she admitted that she wasn't ready for a durable commitment when she's consumed with the challenge of college. She knows she can't do both a growing-towards-engagement-relationship (which frightens adult children of divorce TOO much anyway!) and her passionate commitment to school and acting at the same time. Loving and career-education&building are both high energy devotions (usually for a woman), so she has shut off her loving to protect her independence and career development.
She doesn't want to feel depressed and miss you. So she's managing her feelings by distraction and superficial replacement strategies, which men do even more frequently than women. Eros, or the energy of loving a person is the same as the energy of passionate engagement with a political or compassionate cause, with educational challenges, with creative projects, or for developing new personality facets or new friendships. I wonder how long you're used to feeling down and missing the companionship you've had with a beloved; for it's certainly normal to feel the big hole in your life for two or three months after a breakup from a 6-month startup, that cast forward a long net of expectations.
But you COULD find some other direction in which to focus your self-engagement energies: It's a chance to grow new branches on your personality and new blossoms on those branches. Are you really enthusiastic about medicine? Or is there some other arena of personal endeavor that has emotional power for you, whether it's a potential career or an avocation, or a spiritual or creative practice. It's a fundamental existential challenge for people with depressive chemistry to find creative or socially useful uses for their energies to keep their lives meaningful. Perhaps love is not a path you've taken often, so it's a harder pain to relinquish.
But here's another way to understand your disappointment that Jasmine seems to have downgraded her feelings for you so readily: Not only is love in your own mind and heart, but YOUR loving is your OWN personal achievement, not HER magic evocation from you. It's YOUR ability to love that may have matured more in your own being this time than ever before. And you don't need to lose THAT ability to love just because the girl you lavished it on wasn't in the right circumstances to continue it--and may have not had a similar ability with her feelings to give you as good quality caring as she was getting. You can tend to your quality of loving by devoting your energies to other new or reliably fulfilling activities (or friendships). And you could also get involved in psychotherapy as a commitment to expanding your capacities for self-care and personality expansion, which are. Perhaps the persistence of this particular relationship wound is offering you an opportunity to deepen your commitment to yourself as the best person you'll ever get to live and love with.
That's not a used-car salespitch. I got into therapy before and during my first and second greatest loves, as well as other times, and I wouldn't trade the personal enrichment I got for anything I know of. Anyone who's had a few years of personal development meetings with a really good therapist would usually agree that life never looks the same again afterwards. "A mind, once stretched beyond its habitual limits, rarely ever returns to where it was before."
Dr. Norman Brown and other Relationship Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for your response, Dr Brown, you have helped to shed new light on the situation and hopefully I shall be able to employ your advice and progress in more positive directions - I am trying to engage in a number of activities to ascertain whether I would be more suited to an alternative career - given my psychology. What do you think?

If possible, I would also just like to summarise our conclusions from the following variables.

  • J appears to show a liking for daily attention/physical presence of a partner (contradicting this, however, is the fact that she was away from her ex-bf for a year before cheating)

    • This could be attributable to low self-esteem (although she didn't seem to be struggling with self-image when we spoke)

    • A pathological need for attention (although again drawn into question by the ex-bf scenario)

    • A need for a constant support structure (which would explain the ex-bf, given that she was still at home and with friends rather than at college.

    • Also contradictory are her periods of being without a partner and her fierce need to create the impression that she is independent.

  • J seemed to forget about her old life/not think about me often within days of starting university

    • Suggestive of need for ever-present partner

    • Causes - borderline personality disorder? (going cold on partners when not present)

    • Not feeling love to the same extent as "normal" individuals - able to switch off her affection - is this attributable to a personality disorder?

    • As an adult child of divorce, J did not trust the relationship to last at distance - scared of making mistakes or me meeting an alternative partner.

  • Being young, J wants independence.

    • Despite expressing such strong emotions, she also once exclaimed "one half of me sees you as the love of my life, but on the other hand I wonder "what if there is something even more?""

    • Wants to engage in college life fully and without the distraction of a bf (although her new partner confuses this impression)

    • Fear of a growing towards engagement relationship.

  • Risk taking behaviours - drugs & promiscuity

  • Divorce of her parents may have resulted in a fear of abandonment - the decision to breakup may have resulted from a need to control her emotional vulnerability.

  • The quick establishment of a new relationship

    • Maybe connected to low-self esteem and resulting need for attention/codependence

    • Maybe a distraction technique (although she did not seem affected by my presence in particular when i visited, which seems odd if the relationship meant so much that she feared depression as a result of its ending)

  • J shut off her love for me to focus on her career, as she felt unable to combine this with a growing towards engagement relationship.

Can we form a summary out of these conclusion so that I may remind myself of it.... I am scarily low at present and NEED to understand this. Thanks very much.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

The final confusing aspect on top of all of the aforementioned is the fact that Jasmine and her ex-bf were together for 2 years, and for the entire time he was at university... they only say one another once a month, except for Summer, and yet she stayed with him and stayed faithful.

Our relationship only survived three weeks of separation! Yet she told me about all of the negative aspects of their relationship, said that she doubted she ever truly loved him and that she had never loved anyone as much as she loved me.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that, whilst they were together, she was at home with a familiar support network - family, long term friends - but with us she has moved away to university - new environment, new city, new challenges, new people etc. i.e. removal of the support network so heightened need for a partner - does this truly make sense though given the extremely short term that our partnership survived?!