On this Mother’s Day you’re not alone if you’re wondering if your partner’s relationship to his mother is the cause of the disconnection between the two of you.
To help you be part of the solution, not part of the problem, in your relationship, here are three things to keep in mind about how to deal with mother-in-law issues:
1) The kind of relationship he has with his mom is serving a purpose. Get curious about what it is.
Regina feels that Tiago and his mother are too close. He confides details about his life more readily to his mother than to her. Last year he had a biopsy that was cancerous and Regina only found out about it when his mother phoned her from the hospital saying he was going to need to stay overnight for a procedure.
Regina feels that Tiago is “enmeshed” with his mother. Enmeshment is a term that psychologists use to describe a parent-child relationship in which the parent uses the child to meet his or her own developmental needs. It wouldn’t be uncommon for an American psychotherapist to diagnose a relationship like Tiago and his mother’s as enmeshed, but keep in mind that outside of America it is normal for families-of-origin like Tiago’s to be much more involved in each other’s personal affairs, even as adults.
The more critical Regina is of Tiago’s relationship with his mother, the less open Tiago is likely to be to any critique of his behavior. Her best bet is to leverage the power of her own vulnerability by fundamentally accepting that there is a good reason for Tiago’s closeness to his mom. This strategy removes Regina from the position of adversary and frees her up to relate to Tiago as an ally and friend.
2) Get a hold of your own insecurity that could be making you jealous
What are you afraid would happen if you were to be more accepting of the relationship your partner has with his mother?
Most people would say they are afraid that the problem would get worse, and feel justified to take up an adversarial or negative attitude about the issue. But if you fight negativity with negativity the only sure result is that you will wind up with more negativity. Therefore, you have to go deeper and peel back an extra layer to really get clear what your subconscious motivation and fears are. Only when you have a grasp of the true nature of your fears will you become effective at dealing with the stubborn, entrenched behavior of anyone else.
So let’s go deeper. If the problem of his mother’s invasiveness in your partner’s life got worse, how would you feel?
Underneath your anger, perhaps you’d feel left out.
You might feel inadequate as a mother yourself.
You might feel disrespected and small.
Your partner’s mother might have a boundary issue and needs to give you and him more space, but you’ll never get her to respect your needs if you interact with her while feeling disrespected and small. Most people don’t know it (because we are a very poor judge of how others perceive us), but our insecurities stand out like a neon sign to the people in our life who have the same insecurities, and they often treat us accordingly.
When you become more accepting of your own insecurities you won’t have knee-jerk reactions that get you tangled up into knots with other people issues. I’m not suggesting that you decide to start loving that you feel disrespected around his mother. But if you’re not going to love the part of you that feels disrespected, she certainly isn’t going to love it.
3. Slow down and take the bigger perspective.
What does it mean to “love the part of you that feels disrespected?”
I have serious appreciation for people who get annoyed by psychobabble phrases like these. And yet, as a professional psychobabbilist, I keep on using them because, although these kind of statements may be annoying, they are profoundly true.
In my mindfulness course 21-Day Marriage Tranformation: The SIMPLE Antidote to Relationship Conflict and Negativity, I explain the scientific reason for psychobabble advice like “love the part of you that feels disrespected.”
It turns out that a phrase like “love the part of you that feels disrespected,” puts a demand on your brain to process the meaning of the sentence non-literally. I am grossly oversimplifying to say this, but your brain’s non-literal, metaphorical, and poetic intelligence is directly linked to your relational I.Q. Therefore, by reflecting on the meaning of this kind of phrase you can literally carve out a better ability to handle tricky relationships around you.
Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying you have to not care about right and wrong and that you need to just disassociate and totally zone out into your own “happy place” when your mother-in-law is pushing your buttons. But you do need to shift your point of reference for where you are going to get your power from to change your relationship with her. Don’t expect to get respect from her until you know how to give her respect in a way that she subjectively feels as respectful, to her.
And just exactly where, in the meantime, should you get respect from when your partner or his mother isn’t dishing it out?
A higher power.
A role model in your life that you look up to.
A friend who isn’t going to simply take your side.
The point is you can’t build a more positive relationship with your mother-in-law unless you can have the imagination to believe it’s possible in the first place. Most of us can’t do this alone but those that are successful usually rely on a mental habit that makes them successful. Like prayer, I’ve found mindfulness skills to be like a quiver full of arrows when it comes to tangling with difficult-to-love people in my life.