Victoria Stokes finds out how to handle his mama drama without blowing a gasket.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate when it comes to boyfriends’ mums. Other than the frankly hilarious moment when an ex’s mum asked me to sit next to her at the kitchen table and read the (very detailed) erotic story she’d written on our first meeting (yes, this actually happened) my relationships with potential mother-in-laws have always been mind-numbingly normal.
He couldn’t take money out of his account without his mum’s signature
I thought this experience was nothing out of the ordinary… until I reached out on Twitter to find women who’d encountered monster-in-laws and was inundated with responses. One woman told me about a guy who could only take money out of his account with his mum’s signature, another recalled being marched downstairs and given a firm telling off by her boyfriend’s mum after she’d caught the pair of them in bed together. They were both aged 19 and in a steady relationship. Yet another told me about the time her ex-boyfriend bought her the same perfume his mum wore because he loved the smell. Eek.
Sarah, 27, told me about an ex’s mother who searched for her family on a police database. “She was a Garda reserve and my dad had been investigated for a white collar crime years ago,” Sarah explained. “His mum made a veiled comment about it to me and I was too young to ask her ‘what the f*ck are you on about?’ I was in shock. I should have dumped him for various reasons, but the fact he never told her to shut up or apologised for that is something I will always resent.”
She did all of his washing and tidying
Just like Sarah, Florence, 21, tells me that she also encountered interference from a guy’s mum. “She was very overbearing. She would drive him everywhere, pay for everything for him and she did all of his washing and tidying,” she explains. “She also wanted to be involved in any arguments we had, always trying to make me see his side and defending his incredibly short temper.”
Perhaps the most eye-opening account though comes from Nadine, 31. After five years together and plans to marry, she eventually had to call it quits because her partner’s mum was involved in every detail of their relationship. “She implemented a rule whereby he couldn’t come over to my house more than three times a week,” Nadine recalls. “If she knew we were planning a date, she’d invite me over to dinner instead so we couldn’t be alone together. She’d also read his emails and when he went on holiday with my family he had to ring home to her everyday.”
The final straw came when Nadine and her boyfriend’s mother exchanged some fiery words over the phone. “He called me later that night to tell me that he would no longer be able to see me unless I came over to their house and formally apologised to her,” she recollects. “Furthermore, I’d need to have an in-depth conversation about our relationship and where it was headed with both of his parents. I asked him to intervene because I wasn’t sorry for the things I’d said, but he wouldn’t, and that was it: after five years together, it was over because of her meddling.”
Some mothers struggle greatly to detach from their children’s lives
While Nadine’s experience may seem extreme, psychotherapist Karina Melvin reckons it’s not uncommon for mothers to struggle when it comes to allowing their adult sons adequate independence, and sons who are overly dependent are just as much to blame. “Ideally a mother has a deep and significant attachment to her children and as they grow older this bond should loosen, with the mother’s role shifting from being omnipresent to respecting and encouraging their freedom,” Karina notes.
“Unfortunately some mothers struggle greatly to detach from their children’s lives, as they find it difficult to allow them to have autonomy,” and tellingly, it’s often the son’s significant other that takes the heat of this transition. As the mother’s role as his primary caregiver becomes more and more obsolete, it’s possible she’ll experience jealous feelings towards the woman who in essence is replacing her.
And it can work both ways. Some of us gals are incredibly close to our mums and dads, to the point where potential partners could feel intimidated or significant others pushed out. Of course, emotions that feel so intense in the here and now can often lessen over time, and that’s why Karina advises speaking to your partner first about any interference, before picking a fight with his mother. She may be slowly loosening her grip on him and adapting to her less involved role, so it’s best to remain calm instead of potentially lashing out and burning your bridges.
It’s possible that your partner doesn’t want to replace his mother’s position in his life
It’s important to remember that your partner is playing a part in this problematic relationship too. “Perhaps he doesn’t realise the extent of her influence,” Karina suggests. “Let him know how it makes you feel and carve out time for activities, holidays and weekend time without his family. As your bond grows as a couple, your partner should naturally loosen his attachment and dependency on his mother,” she notes, but in the mean time be sure to agree on some boundaries, like how much time you’ll spend with each other’s families, or how often you’ll turn to them for advice in making important decisions.
Crucially though, Karina warns that if their mutual dependency doesn’t lessen over time you may need to rethink the relationship. “It’s possible that your partner doesn’t want to replace his mother’s position in his life with a partner and then you may consider if this is the right person for you.”
Until then though, the advice is clear: give your relationship with her a little wiggle room. Distill any resentful feelings she has towards you by planning a weekly date with just the two of you (if he’s allowed, that is) and set aside a regular slot for her to spend with you and your other half, and give the transition a some leeway. Room to adapt may be all that’s needed, but if not? Well, at least he’ll never ask you to do his washing.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s September issue. Our October issue is on shelves now for €1.95! Want to subscribe? Click here.
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