Your guy’s mother: good friend or does she drive you nuts?
To say my relationship with my ex-mother-in-law was not the best is the understatement of the year. There was always tension, my ex and I would constantly argue whenever her name came up. Eventually, it became a big part of the demise of my marriage.
I wish I could say that my ex-mother-in-law was a complete nightmare and that the reason we couldn’t get along was all her fault, but that’s not true. Looking back, there were a lot of things I did and said that I regret. Had I been a little smarter, and handled things with her (and with my ex) with a little more maturity, we probably could have had a better relationship.
So, the other day I was talking to my dear friend and extremely smart life coach, Sylvia Friedman about this subject. She gave me some great insight into the complicated triangle of: mother-in-law, son and girlfriend/wife.
“A mother has a powerful influence on her son,” says Sylvia, “And if she’s a controlling mother, she gives orders and opinions and judges. And the son grows up thinking he can’t say no to the mother or to anyone because the mother was so controlling.”
Sylvia says controlling moms immediately feel threatened and jealous by the son’s girl.
“The mother is used to having control, so when her son meets a significant other, she still wants the control. And if the wife or girlfriend has a different opinion on something, she can’t handle that. And the son is caught in the middle. He doesn’t know who he should side with.”
According to Sylvia, dominant mothers usually don’t change, and so it’s up to the son and his significant other to set boundaries to minimize the mother’s involvement when it comes to decision-making.
Other characteristics of the controlling mom: “She tells her son what he should be, the job he should have, and she rarely tells him she’s proud of him.”
So, what about the good mother-in-laws? Sylvia says they’re out there. They are the ones who “butt out” of things and allow their son and daughter-in-law to make their own decisions. They give advice only when asked.
“She welcomes the girl into the home and into the family,” Sylvia says of the ideal mother-in-law.
According to Sylvia, if a man grew up with a controlling mother, he could end up with a controlling girlfriend or wife.
“If a son picks a woman who is like his mother, who is controlling and judgmental, he’s used to that and he thinks he can depend on you for everything. So, the spouse never had a chance because the husband is already coming into the marriage with that mother syndrome.”
She says that most men who have controlling moms don’t like women in general and that they view women as the enemy. So, they’re in turn, not very strong.
So, what can the son do to iron things out with his mom and his girl?
Sylvia says he has to realize that his mother is controlling. If he doesn’t, the relationship with his girlfriend or wife is doomed.
“He should say, ‘Mother, I love you, but I cannot have you control my life anymore. I have a wife, I have a family, and we will make our decisions as we see fit.’” She says he should say it in an adult tone, very calmly and without anger, and say it several times if needed.
“Don’t be a victim and don’t be afraid of confrontation! Most women don’t want to make waves, but if you say nothing, you are living a lie. It’s not healthy.”
That’s what Sylvia has to say about women who think “leaving things as they are” with their guy’s mom is the right thing to do. She says women also have a very hard time talking to their mother-in-law because they’re angry that she’s interfering.
“If anger takes over, you’ll never have a sensible discussion. Resentment is there and you can’t have an intelligent, rational conversation.”
Here’s her advice for women on how to handle the mother.
“Say, ‘I am your son’s wife. We have to come to an understanding of what we are so we can all get along.’”
Sylvia says you might have to say this quite a few times before it sinks in.
“Say ‘We talked about this before…’ and then reiterate that she cannot control you or her son.”
Not being chummy with your guy’s mom can really cause stress in your relationship, especially if the guy fears his mother. So, here is Sylvia’s advice on what to say to your guy if things aren’t peachy with his mom. Again, she stresses to say it rationally and calmly, without anger or hostility.
“Say, ‘You are married to me. You should support ME. Your mother’s influence on you is stronger than our relationship and that needs to change. I want us to have a happy marriage.’”
Sylvia is the best. She gave us some great tips. But I can’t resist giving my own advice, based on my past and the mistakes I made.
I think there are so many issues and things to deal with in a relationship, and the mother-in-law part of it is so unnecessary. In other words, it’s one of the issues that can easily be dealt with if you know how. So, listen to Sylvia, but also, don’t make it such a big deal.
If your mother-in-law is controlling, let her make some decisions that aren’t that important to you. So what if she wants to choose your child’s Halloween costume, or host Christmas at her house this year instead of yours. Is it so bad that you don’t have to host? Choose your battles. And let her think she’s having the control she needs.
Next, let her spend time with your son (and even your kids) alone, meaning without YOU from time to time. It will make her happy and you can have some alone time! In other words, don’t feel like you are obligated to join them every time they get together.
And lastly, make the mother-in-law feel important. Do something nice for her from time to time, like buy her some spices you saw at the flea market, or call her and have your three year old get on the phone and say hi. As much as she drives you crazy, she did give birth to the man you adore, so you have to love her for that, if nothing else.
To learn more about Sylvia: www.sylviafriedman.com