Howdy folks! In my years of being both a participant and leader of therapy groups, public speaking engagements, etc. I’ve learned that, if one person has a question, chances are, others in the group have the same (or similar) question. If that question never gets asked, then no one gets the benefit of learning from it! It is for this reason I’ve decided to experiment with something a little different.
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten so many great questions via “Ask The Shrink,” that I’ve decided to publish them here on the blog. The question below is one I recently received from a reader and, given the frequency with which the topic comes up in my therapy and counseling practice, I couldn’t wait to share it with the rest of you!
So, if you’ve got a question, click here to ask it and you may just see your question answered in a future blog post! Of course, all identifying information will be omitted to protect your anonymity.
Hi Dr. Gross,
I have a problem with my boyfriend's mother. My boyfriend and I have been dating about two years. We are both in our late 20's. My boyfriend's mother has a history of not liking her other children's "significant others." However, it really bothers me that his mother is so standoffish and judgmental towards me. Her tone and eyes are cold and she rarely offers positive affirmations of my life happenings. It makes me feel insecure and sad. My boyfriend is sad about it too. He talks to his dad who is also uncomfortable with his wife's behavior. I want to have a happy relationship with her. It is especially scary to imagine marrying my boyfriend and having her for a mother-in-law. Not sure what to do...
I look forward to hopefully reading guidance you may have.
First of all, thank you for broaching this topic! Learning how to relate to a partner’s family can be quite complex, particularly when members of that family seem reluctant to engage.
When I read your letter, the first thought I had was that your boyfriend’s mother feels exactly the way her actions make you feel: sad and insecure (scared).
Parenthood is a complicated stew of emotions: we want our children close yet we must also accept that they do eventually grow up. I think your partner's mother is grappling with this very issue and, rather than acknowledging the fear and sadness it often evokes, she is taking it out on the poor, unsuspecting partners of her now-adult children. In this case, that unsuspecting partner is you.
You feel sad and insecure for a good reason: no one wants to be pushed away by a member of their beloved's family!
If there is anything to be said or done about this, your boyfriend is the best candidate for the job. Assuming he hasn’t already done so, I would encourage him to talk with his mother and say something like, “Mom, I love you and my girlfriend so much. Nothing would make me happier than for all of us to be close and have fun together. How do you think this can happen?” This question states your boyfriend’s wishes clearly while enlisting his mother to be part of the solution. Win-win!
If your boyfriend’s mother denies her behavior or gets defensive, he gets to decide the best way to set appropriate boundaries with his mother while protecting his allegiance to you. Then, the two of you get to decide on your own how much time you choose to spend with someone whose actions leave you feeling sad, insecure, or both.
The fact that her son is ready to start a life and family of his own is a testament to what a good job his mother has done...she just doesn't know this yet.
Keep in mind that time and consistent kindness can thaw even the iciest conditions. Though things may be a bit frosty right now, if your boyfriend’s mother continues to witness how happy you make her son, she may eventually conclude that the best way to honor him is to accept the person he is choosing to spend his life with.
Thank you again for entrusting this community with your question. Best wishes to you as you navigate this challenging situation!
Yours in health,
Speaking of community, have any of you successfully worked through in-law issues? We would all benefit from knowing how you did it! Please share your story in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share this post with anyone who may be asking their own version of this question!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer whose therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of Seattle, Washington. She has been providing counseling and dating consultation services since 2000.