Your dating relationship is rolling along smoothly and all is well – until you meet your boyfriend's mother, who seems to feel threatened by your relationship with her son. Kate Stone Lombardi, author of "The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger," says on npr.org that boys who have close relationships with their mothers grow up to enjoy healthier romantic relationships as adults. But a mother who hasn't successfully negotiated the "letting go" phase of parenting can be fearful of losing her special place in her son's life. Tact and diplomacy can help alleviate these fears and create a good outcome for all concerned.
Respect the Connection
The parent-child relationship is lifelong and significant. Acknowledging that fact is essential to overcoming the fears of an insecure mother. Showing an interest in your boyfriend’s childhood and family history, commenting on family photographs and asking appropriate questions about past events such as family vacations, are just a few ways to demonstrate an awareness of your boyfriend’s special connection to his family.
Kindness Trumps Hostility
It is possible to defuse hostile remarks or manipulative behavior without becoming the proverbial doormat. Simply treating the mother with respect and kindness, while still setting appropriate boundaries, can go a long way toward easing the mother's fear of losing her place in her son's life. Remembering birthdays, taking the mother out to dinner occasionally and offering to help with holiday preparations can help establish a relationship that will be rewarding for the mother, as well as for you and your boyfriend.
Avoid Power Struggles
It is all too easy to get pulled into battles in which the “prize” is the time and attention of your boyfriend. Avoiding such emotional tugs-of-war requires a delicate balance of awareness, thoughtfulness and assertiveness. A good rule of thumb is to give longstanding plans priority over spur-of-the-moment requests or demands. However, it is important to be willing to compromise from time to time when an important family event arises at the last moment.
Honest and Open Discussion
When kindness, sensitivity and compromise fail to assuage a mother's insecurities, a heart-to-heart talk could break the emotional logjam. Psychotherapist Lisa Brookes Kift recommends “active listening” as an effective communication technique, especially in awkward or difficult situations, in her article on nursetogether.com "Tips to Survive a Partner's Difficult Family." Make an effort to carefully listen to what the mother has to say and empathize with her feelings. Conversation that revolves around the mutual love of the son, along with the expressed desire to have a better relationship with the mother, will accomplish more than accusations or criticisms.
Letting It Rest
Sometimes, a romantic partner's mother refuses all attempts to establish a friendly relationship. In such cases, the most beneficial course of action might be to take no further action at all, except to continue to treat the mother with respect and kindness. It is also important to avoid dwelling on the problem or allowing it to create tension within the relationship.
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