When I got engaged, I remember so well when a friend of mine one day said to me, “Just so you know, there are ways that his mother can poison your relationship, even if she doesn’t mean to.”
I remember thinking, “Yeah, sure, but that won’t happen to us.” Boy, was I wrong.
Mother-in-laws aren’t inherently evil and have developed a bad rap. But I know that my mother-in-law did play a role in the health of my marriage and I wish I had known then what I know now!
Here are 5 ways his mother can poison your relationship — and how to solve the problem.
1. She has always done things “just so.”
Over the course of my ex-husband’s life, my mother-in-law did things “just so” but her “just so” didn’t match mine. And that definitely caused some friction in our relationship.
My ex-husband didn’t care how we did Christmas or birthday parties or when we turned the heat on — he would go along with whatever.
Unfortunately, often, his mom’s whatever and mine were quite different. And, of course, I wanted to do things my way, my mom’s way. And my mother-in-law wasn’t always happy about that.
What did my ex do? He tried to keep his head down and stay out of the conflict. As a result, my mother-in-law and I struggled in a big way over the first few years of my marriage. Did that poison my relationship with my husband? Definitely.
As the years went on, I learned to adapt. I learned to pick and choose what I wanted to do “just so” and let her have some wins on that one too.
It worked to keep the peace between us but my marriage was definitely damaged by the conflict that was present in the years before we worked things out.
2. They go way back.
Like it or not, your husband and his mother go waaaay back. At one point in his life, she was his everything, and he hers.
She taught him to walk and talk and eat and swim and read and drive. She was there for all of the milestones of his life and the sun rose and set on him!
I can tell you that my favorite man in the whole world is my son and he most likely always will be. (Sorry, boyfriend).
It’s hard for me to fathom that someday he will be with someone who he will love intensely, who he will turn to when he is sad, happy, excited, or overwhelmed. And that thought scares the hell out of me because that’s who I always was to him.
His mother was there first and her love for him is intense. And, you filling her shoes might be intensely painful.
If your man’s mother is causing conflict in your relationship, know that it might be based on this pain —– that losing her son to another woman is something that she has to get used to. Just be as kind and patient with her as you can —give her some time to get used to the new reality.
If you can be kind during this period of transition instead of angry and offended, I think you will find that your relationship with your partner will be stronger because of it.
3. He might have conflicted allegiances.
Your man has loved his mother his whole life and she’s always been there for him. He would do anything for her. I know that my son would do anything for me.
So, imagine what it must be like for him to have another woman in his life — another woman he loves intensely who he would do anything for. And imagine if both of those women were asking different things of him.
Men are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but one of their strong points is not managing conflict between women. Remember, women spend every minute of every day in their whole lives processing emotions. For us, we’re fluent in it.
But men, not so much. For them, conflict is a scary, scary thing and something to be avoided at all costs!
So, when your man is presented with having to choose between the needs of the two women he loves the most in the world, imagine how paralyzed he would be.
He, most likely, doesn’t have the skills that he needs to navigate what is happening between the two of you. So ,what does he do? He just doesn’t deal. And what does that do? It makes the conflict worse.
If you find that your man is really struggling between the wants and needs of the two women in his life, recognize it for what it is. Have some compassion. Help him work through the conflict in a meaningful way.
You are a couple after all — that’s what couples do.
4. You might be jealous.
Be honest with yourself. Are you just a little bit jealous of your guy’s mother? Are you perhaps jealous of all of their years together? Are you jealous that she knows him so well?
Are you jealous that he spends an hour every Sunday night on the phone with her, rearranging your schedules to do so?
If you are, don’t be hard on yourself. The jealousy is totally natural.
A man’s relationship with his mother can be very solid and it can be a very intimidating one to come into. And we often come into relationships with men who are close to their mothers thinking that we have to compete for time and attention.
Everyone has the capacity to love fully. Just because your man has big love for his mother, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have enough room in his heart to love you in a big way.
You don’t have to fight for a space in his heart — there’s plenty of room in there for all of you — even if there were others in there first.
As a result, his mother can poison your relationship actually has to do with you, not with her.
The last time you and your man got into a scuffle about a conflict with his mother, did you say to him, “If you loved me more, you would put me first”?
Or did you think to yourself that there’s no way he could possible really love you if he didn’t automatically choose you every time?
If the answer to either of those statements is “yes,” you’re sabotaging your relationship with your man, not his mother. You’re insisting that the amount that he loves you is reflected by whether or not he chooses you over her.
Your man can lovely you fully and completely and still struggle with the conflict between his mother and his partner. This conflict has nothing to do with his love for you — it has to do with the conflict itself and his difficulty in navigating it!
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5. You’re just two women in the world.
My father once said to me, “If we weren’t family, we wouldn’t be friends.” Lovely thing to hear from your father, no?
That being said, those words gave me pause — it really made me think about the difference between friends and family.
Your friends, you choose. Your family you are given.
So, another way his mother can poison your relationship is if the two of you don’t see eye to eye. If you most likely wouldn’t have been friends out in the real world, then being getting along in this familial relationship will be even more challenging.
Think about this: you and your partner’s mother are just plain different.
You might never be friends in the real world. If so, take that into this relationship. Just because you are now (somewhat) related that doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends.
Treat your man’s mother like you would a work colleague you didn’t really get along with. Be polite, unemotional, and non-confrontational. Know that, at the end of the day, you will go home with your partner and that she will go home to her house.
She doesn’t have to be your best friend — you already have plenty of those!
Relationships are complicated and none more so that the relationship of two women who love the same man.
Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based, certified life and love coach. Let her help you find, and keep, love in this crazy world in which we live. Email her at [email protected] and get started!
This article was originally published at Let Your Dreams Begin. Reprinted with permission from the author.