Q: Whenever we disagree on something, my husband takes his mother’s side rather than mine. I’m feeling rather left out, like a third wheel.
What should I do ?
A: Mother-in -law jokes are pervasive, and not without reason. The equation of a spouse + an in- law is complicated territory. A triangle is a tricky spot to be in! Your husband has loyalties to his mother who raised him, yet you are trying to build an intimate relationship in which you come first. Sometimes this may be at her expense. Making decisions when the two adored women in his life disagree is not a simple task for your husband! Your husband can be close to his mother and gain from her care and wisdom– until this connection begins getting in the way with his relationship with you. Your open communication around this issue is key in helping your husband understand your needs and prioritize them effectively.
Boundaries between family members
As children emerge into adolescence and adulthood, they grow their capacity for independent decision making, amongst other personality processes. This is a necessary process for stable adult functioning in the world. When this process is stumped and boundaries between family members are blurred, the individual loses their independence to an extent. Sometimes they are no longer able to identify their own needs or be assertive about them. If you find your husband unable to consider his own opinion or listen to yours, it’s possible that he is struggling to separate his sense of self from his mother’s influence.
Restoring Spousal Peace
There are several steps you can take to restore spousal peace and reduce in-law involvement. Conduct a conversation with your husband around boundaries. Discuss what decisions will be made between the couple without the influence of your mother-in-law. While advice may be welcome or helpful at times, discussions about big life decisions- finances, career, housing, and parenting- should be worked out between the couple. It would be unwise to include in-laws in the intimacies of the spousal relationship, particularly when there are disagreements. These should be dealt with between the couple, or if necessary, with professional help.
Should your husband come from a home in which he was over-indulged, do not give in to manipulative words or tactics that try to draft you into repeating that pattern. Stick to the boundaries you create for yourself. Assist your husband in developing these boundaries with his family. Adjusting time spent between your husband’s parents’ home and your home will create better balance and attention to both spouse and mother. Remember that in your efforts to create healthier boundaries and balance in your relationship, your husband’s relationship with his mother is still a valuable and precious asset. Your husband’s mother has raised him for many years and she can easily feel “replaced” and disengaged when he commits to another woman. This can raise the tension of her involvement.
As you focus on connecting and growing as a couple, see how the relationship can be preserved rather than disconnected. You can find space for your mother-in-law’s influence in your life in a healthy, boundaried way.
Faigy Parchi LMSW