She deserves love and respect, but not at your expense.
As the mother of four sons, I can proudly testify that I am raising mama’s boys. They are cuddly and affectionate. They tell me about their day and they cry to me about their problems.
I love it! I feel acknowledged and needed, and my inner demand for worthiness is deeply satisfied.
But at the same time, whenever my husband picks up the phone to call his mother, I take it as the ultimate act of betrayal. Suddenly, I need him in the kitchen, or the garage must be cleaned. Right now!
Now, I have to say that after twenty-eight years of marriage I’m able to handle these calls and visits to his mama way better, but I still get butt-hurt and jealous. I want to be the only one, the center of his attention.
I remember when we were dating and getting serious and my future husband brought me home to meet his parents.
That’s when his mother pulled me aside and said proudly:
“My son was raised so that he didn’t know where the refrigerator was in the kitchen. I always took care of him. Now, let’s see if you can carry on.”
After an awkward dinner during which she asked me many direct and personal questions, she announced loudly:
“Sweetie, honey (addressing her then 24-year-old son). Your favorite TV show is about to start! Let’s go watch it while Katya cleans up the kitchen.”
She thrust her cheek next to his face — a mandate for a kiss — then officially released him. And off went her ‘sweetie-honey,’ leaving me all by myself in the midst of a messy, foreign kitchen. Looking guilty, his dad, who’d been nodding quietly to everything she said, followed them out of the room.
Being only 18, and raised in a household where the young must respect their elders, I bit my tongue and turned on the faucet. When I was done, I quietly snuck out of the apartment with tears of humiliation and betrayal running down my face (I really liked this guy). I ran to my grandma’s house (she lived close by), fell into her arms, and burst into tears. Between hiccupping and nose-blowing, I filled her in on what had happened.
And here’s what my wise grandma said:
“You need to understand, Katya, that his mother has been his only true love from the day he was born. What he did by listening to her is natural to him, not an act of betrayal toward you. He’s only known you for a few months. If you decide to stay together, you won’t have to compete with this woman — she will never be superior to you. Each of you will play different roles in his life, but what you can give him — intimacy, romance, children — she can never do.”
“But Grandma,” I said as I raised my puffy face to hers, “I want him to choose me over his mommy, I want to be his priority.”
To which my grandma smiled and responded: “And you will. Gradually, in time. As you get closer as a couple it will happen naturally.”
Now, years later, I see that what she said was essentially true. However, it took some effort on my part to get there. So here is what I realized ...
But wait. First, let me tell you how that horrific night ended.
By the time I arrived home, he was already there, waiting for me. My parents had let him in. With wide, innocent eyes, he rushed toward me:
“Katya, why did you leave? What happened? What did I do wrong?”
Still influenced by my grandma’s wisdom, I explained without judgment, cursing, or blaming, just how bad what had happened made me feel, letting him know that I didn’t want to feel like that ever again. And at that moment, it didn’t matter to me if he got it or not, because I got it — and that’s what was most important.
What has worked for me since then is understanding why he ran to his mommy that night. I now see that he was satisfying some deep emotional need for the familiar. Just like you, your guy needs to feel safe, comfortable and loved — that’s what he really craves from his mom. After all, she was the first person who provided these things for him (or at least she tried, based on her personal level of awareness).
Once he begins getting these needs met by you, Mom transforms into the woman he adores and respects, rather than his primary source of emotional fulfillment. And so, in time, I began providing the things my husband had been getting from his mom, beginning with the basics.
Here are my eight best recommendations for how you can do the same:
1. Don’t live with your in-laws.
Get your own place — even if it’s tiny, it’s worth it. You must connect with each other and establish yourselves as a unit.
2. Choose each other first.
Over kids, parents, and friends. Because if your relationship is ill and you’re unhappy, you can’t enrich anyone else’s life.
And then, do what his mom does ...
3. Listen without judgment.
Or at the very least, allow him to be heard.
4. Be on his side and reassure him.
Make him feel capable and powerful.
5. Believe in him and praise him.
Notice and appreciate all the good that he’s doing.
6. Spoil him.
Cooking his favorite dish and serving it in front of TV. (You'll add an extra thrill if you're wearing a lacy apron … Just a thought.)
7. Lead him to believe that he’s right and in control of the situation.
At least some of the time.
8. When visiting his family, expect that he’s going to act like a mama’s boy when he’s around her.
That’s normal. It doesn’t mean that he loves her more than you, or that you’re not worthy or important. All it means is that his childhood behavior is getting triggered. Understand and allow it. Give him space and be patient and mature.
If she’s rude to you, tell her to stop; and establish such healthy boundaries right away. Your guy may not be able to do this, but it’s not because he doesn’t love you or doesn’t care. If he’s weak around his mother, it’s for his own subconscious reasons that have nothing to do with you, so you must step in.
In my own situation, it actually turns out that it was never really about him or his mom, but all about me instead.
Because in my pursuit of monopolizing him, I had to face and tame all my ‘girly’ insecurities, becoming wiser and stronger until I finally realized that there’s nothing I can share with others until I feel secure within myself. And guess what? The more confident, happy and fulfilled YOU become, the more interested your man will be in you. When that happens, your connection becomes unbreakable, and no other woman — not even his mom — can disrupt that.
So when it comes to my boys, when the time comes I’ll gladly pass the torch of love and affection onto my daughters-in-law, doing the best I can to share my wisdom with them while addressing my own fears and anxieties.
Because I know that this is the best thing I can do for myself and for my family’s happiness and well-being.
Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D., is a Medical Hypnotherapist and Holistic Consultant. She is the author of Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family. Call her for an office or phone consultation to attain mental-emotional alignment and close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.