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Enmeshed Mother-in-Law: Is His Mother Ruining Your Marriage?

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Leah is a happily married mother of two young sons, who are her pride and joy.

Is your mother-in-law ruining your marriage?

Is your mother-in-law ruining your marriage?

What Defines a Meddling Mother-in-Law?

In short, a meddling or enmeshed mother-in-law can be defined as someone who constantly violates conventional boundaries.

Notice that I chose to use the phrase "violates boundaries" instead of using the more gentle phrase "crosses boundaries." Someone who violates boundaries does so willfully and without remorse. This MIL does not gently tiptoe an inch over the invisible boundary line by sheer accident; this mother-in-law gets into her invisible monster truck and speeds miles over the invisible boundary line, leaving a trail of emotional disaster in her wake.

She can be found calling your husband several times during the day and long into the night. She can be found sitting in your living room with an interior decorating book, picking out all new furniture and décor. She can be found in your kitchen cooking her son's favorite meals, although she knows that you have legitimate food allergies to these same ingredients.

Why Isn't This Type of Behavior Benign?

This type of behavior is not benign because a third party is immediately added to your marriage.

Why Does Your Mother-in-Law Act This Way?

Your mother-in-law acts this way because, whether she realizes it or not, she has made herself emotionally dependent on her son and looks to him as a type of surrogate spouse. She is usually not getting her own needs for companionship or attachment met in her own marriage or through relationships with peers.

Usually, this type of enmeshment that your mother-in-law forces on her son is not new to your husband. This pattern of behavior, on the part of your mother-in-law, usually began when her son (your husband) was still a young child.

Even if your mother-in-law realizes what she is doing, she will probably not be the one to stop this pattern of behavior since she is comfortable having this type of relationship with her son.

Why Can This Dynamic Ruin a Marriage?

A couple cannot have a happy marriage unless they cleave to each other and only each other.

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If a husband is expected to be a spouse to his wife as well as a surrogate spouse to his mother, this dynamic will create a lot of rage in your husband, whether he realizes it or not.

Further, on a day-to-day level, there will be a constant power struggle between you and his mother on how to run the household, how to raise your children, what political views to have, and a million other things. Your husband will be forced to make a choice between what you (his wife) want for the family and what his meddling mother wants. I have witnessed this type of dynamic send the most compatible marriages to divorce court if it is allowed to continue.

Boundary-Setting With a Meddling Mother-in-Law

Boundaries must be set with a MIL in these situations and they must be set by both the husband and the wife in the couple. However, the burden falls on the husband to be the absolute enforcer of the boundaries in terms of his mother. Therefore, he must be the one to have the difficult conversations with his mother, and he must be the one who communicates the new set of expectations to his mother.

The husband must communicate to his mother that his primary relationship is with his wife and that this new family takes precedence in his life. He must reassure his mother that he loves her but that the relationship needs to change.

A Book Recommendation

I would like to make a book recommendation that I believe is essential for all married couples in this situation to read.

Susan Forward, PhD., has written a wonderful book called Toxic In-Laws, Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage. Forward's book describes the different types of meddlers and how to set appropriate and effective boundaries with them.

The Power of Guilt

Finally, I would like to conclude this article with a small word of advice.

If your husband has a meddling mother, do not underestimate the degree of guilt that he will feel once he begins to establish appropriate boundaries with her.

Therefore, adopt a non-judgmental stance toward his mother during this time and try to empathize with his feelings. Let him know that you realize how difficult it is to enter into a new phase of autonomy in his life and reassure him that he is doing the right thing.

Therefore, allow him to have feelings of discomfort during this process and be supportive of him. But, at the same time, remain firm in your resolve to redefine the boundaries with your mother-in-law.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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