My girlfriend self-harms. I don’t know if I want to bring her to live abroad

Tell Me About It: I love her but I don’t know if I can deal with such complications

PROBLEM: Approximately one year ago, I met a gorgeous girl online and we started dating. The three months that followed was the most intense and overwhelming experience of my life, and we moved in together very quickly. I am in my early thirties and have had loads of girlfriends, but never had a proper relationship. So my friends who had dubbed me “Mr Ice” were really taken aback.

Before we moved in I did start to recognise that she had some problems in her past and over the course of time she opened up to me about some horrific experiences which resulted in her once being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I also started to realise that she had very low self-worth. It made me feel very sad that this vibrant and talented human being could think so little of herself.

After a short time living together I started to become more aware that the small cuts and bruises on her arms and legs were not accidental but deliberate. She has been very frank about her periods of deliberate self harm, which have escalated over the past four months. I have spent several nights with her in Accident and Emergency as she inflicted deep wounds on herself, usually after a stressful day or a mild altercation with someone.

I find all this very difficult to deal with. But I love her.

I am self-employed and at a really good place in my career. I am currently tendering for contract work in the Far East, which if I am successful will mean that I will need to spend the majority of my time over the next two years travelling around Asia. My partner is very excited about this prospect and with the level of talent that she has, combined with the area that she works in, she will have no difficulty in finding a job. She is also starting to talk about beginning a family. This contract would potentially bring my career to a level that I had not expected and would make sure that I was financially comfortable for quite a while. 

But I don’t know if I want to bring my girlfriend to live so far away from her family and her health services. I also am worried that I would feel very vulnerable living with such complications when I was away from my own family and friends who are very supportive to me.

ADVICE: This decision is really at the crux of your relationship – it is pushing you both into a very serious decision at a time that is perhaps too early in your relationship. That you are in love is clear, but spending two years in Asia is likely to add pressures to an already delicate situation.

When you are in a relationship with someone with mental/emotional health difficulties the best option is that you include a mental health professional in your considerations. This means that there is always an objective voice in the decision-making process and the care of both people is taken into account. I wonder if your girlfriend has a professional that she has been working with so that this decision can be taken with the best information and knowledge available. If she has not found someone to work with and she continues to be at risk (four times at A&E in the recent past is a serious situation) then it would be in her best interests to have this established and functioning before any transfer of care could be made to the Far East.

If she is planning to spend her life with you and have a family with you, then there you both have time to set solid foundations for your future and your girlfriend’s mental health is enormously worth investing in, even if it means that you have to be apart for a number of months.

There is a danger that if you go abroad without establishing a care package for your girlfriend, you become her sole support and instead of being her lover, you become her counsellor and care-taker. You will also be under a lot of pressure to perform to a very high standard in your new position and you might find yourself torn between the needs of the relationship and of your career, therefore some time apart while you both address your life’s needs might be the best option.

You sound worried both about your girlfriend’s self-harming and your capacity to respond to it and at this early stage in your experience of dealing with such issues, it would be beneficial for you to seek help for yourself as well as for her. What can happen is that the partner becomes exhausted and burnt-out from constant vigilance and worry and this is of no benefit to the relationship.

Having some counselling for yourself (even through Skype while you are abroad) can mean that you are contributing to the overall health of the relationship, even if you are apart for a while.