Posted by: Dr. Carolyn Edwards | January 7, 2012

Ask Dr. E – Torn

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Dear Dr. E, I recently married my childhood sweetheart and am very much in love.  November 5th was our 1 year anniversary. He loves me and I can be myself completely. I am very happy. My mother isn’t though. She complains everyday about her relationship and wants me to chime in. I don’t because I just try to listen. She has been separated from her husband since about 2005 but is still married and dating!

Here is my dilemma; my mother has on several occasions been very rude and disrespectful towards my husband. This hurts my feelings too! She makes remarks about my ex’s, has called my husband my ex’s name, has thrown his things on the floor and is making things very hard for me. I want to talk with her but every time I do it ends in an argument or her hanging up. I want help and ways to approach this. My husband’s feelings are hurt and he feels that I am not protecting or speaking up for him. I do, and I try but I am left exhausted. Please give me some advice and ways to approach this. HELP!

Dear Torn:

It is admirable that you want to keep the peace within the family and it is hard to be put in the middle of your husband and mother. However when we marry, we are to make a union with our spouse and therefore put the needs of our immediate family first.  Since you didn’t tell me about any past issues before you married, I can only speak to what is happening now. There seems to be quite a few things going on in your situation. When people are unhappy, that unhappy energy is brought into otherwise healthy relationships, whether knowingly or unknowingly. So mom’s unhappiness with her marital situation could be a catalyst to poor behavior when your husband is around. Also there could be some jealousy and sharing issues by both your mom and your husband. Your mom might want things the way they used to be when you gave her all of you time and attention before your husband came along and your husband might also feel that he wants you to himself because you are newlyweds.

Marriage is a big step and this step requires change for all parties involved. You must determine new relationship limits and priorities and redefine how you and your mother will relate as adult married women. She will always be your mother, but you need to set limits. Communicate your needs and boundaries with your mom. Tell her that disrespecting and throwing your husband’s possessions on the floor will not be tolerated. Let your husband know that you are dedicated and committed to the marriage and that he is your number one priority, however discuss how much you love your mother and what actions you both can take to ensure you maintain healthy relationships and happy encounters when you all are together.

There are only 24 hours in a day so determine how they will be spent.  You can’t be a great wife or daughter if you are exhausted therefore make sure to schedule time in the day to care for yourself. Maybe you will no longer see your mom every day or talk on the phone but set aside some quality time when you can spend with her alone, schedule time when she can come to visit you or when you and or your spouse visit her.  If she can’t be nice and respectful by not bringing up past relationships and getting your husband’s name right, then you will have to limit time with mom until she respects you, your spouse and your marriage.

Remember marital problems with your husband should be discussed in the marriage. Don’t make mom privy to negative information about your spouse, and then expect her to forget it later. Moms remember how people treat their children. We teach people how to treat us by what we allow them to say and do to us and in our presence. Base your life on healthy relationships and allow those in your space that honor and respect you.

Congratulations on the marriage and in defining a new, mature and happy relationship with mom!

Posts are edited for clarity.


Dr. Carolyn Edwards is an author, life/career management coach and graduate management professor.

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