How To Avoid The Family Drama This Year


holiday fight
Does your relationship suffer at holiday time due to family tussles?

Using guilt, as Jason's mom did to control others in relationships, disregards boundaries and disrespects the other person's autonomy. This approach to relationships replaces mutuality and negotiation with greed and emotional blackmail, presuming a lack of faith that others would give of their own free will.

It is typically an unconscious process whereby the guilt-tripper feels self-righteous, entitled, and innocent of any misdeed. Emotional manipulation through guilt can be costly — breeding resentment, limiting authentic engagement, and hijacking initiative and genuine desire.


In cases such as Jason's, the lack of differentiation between mother and son is so complete and unconscious that the man may be unaware of the source of his resentment, easily displacing it onto his wife, usually a safer target than his mother. This pattern leads to unintended collusion with the mother, causing the marriage to become divided until the man "owns" his unexpressed conflict with his mom, and recognizes that she is the source of his anger.

An absence of anger toward his mother, or the inability to come forward with it, likely is a sign of re-experiencing a once adaptive, but now instinctual, response to danger experienced as a child for any such emotional separation from mother. 1 In 4 Kids In Divorce Becomes Parental Pawn

Jason needs to see what is really happening in order to disentangle himself from his mother's projections and find a space to think and feel for himself. Awareness of his internal conflict and anger over the emotional burden and manipulation he has had to bear will allow him the courage to set limits with his mom.

Standing up to his mom will reduce his fear and avoidance, creating a space for him to act of his own volition and desire and choose his wife as his primary loyalty and partner in life.

Tips for the Woman

  • Stay aligned with your husband.
  • Communicate feelings and requests clearly, without anger and without acting out.
  • Don't demonize or badmouth his mom.
  • Refrain from holding or playing out conflicts that reside between your husband and his mom.
  • Don't behave like his mother and try to control him.
  • Allow him needed autonomy.
  • Be mindful of the burden he has had to bear and that he is reacting to survival instinct.

Tips for the Man

  • Recognize that your primary allegiance is to your wife.
  • Set boundaries with your mom to protect your marriage. Learn to say no to your mother and not give in reflexively. Call your mom out on inappropriate behavior and demands.
  • Never collude with your mother's complaints about your wife or confide in your mother about your wife.
  • Present you and your wife as a united front that can't be split. 
This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by
Advanced Member

John M. Grohol


Dr. John Grohol is a mental health expert and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992.

Location: Newburyport, MA
Credentials: PsyD
Website: PsychCentral
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