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I have realised that my DH is enmeshed with his mum(32 Posts)
We have been married almost 20 years. We are happily married and have an equal relationship. So it's taken me a long time to understand the dynamics of my DH and his mum. She definitely has serious issues but the focus I would prefer here is finding ways to help DH.
I have been doing a lot of reading and he is not as badly affected as some MEM (Mother Emeshed Men) who never leave home or never think their wife is good enough. DH is very successful in his career and we have had a very happy stable marriage with three kids who he has a good relationship with. Our problems have always involved his mum. Now I am recognizing why I have felt so invaded and found her "crazy-making" when she is around. It is because my DH is not able retain boundaries with her and unconsciously/consciously lets her cross the line into the realm of our relationship.
The penny finally dropped recently when she managed (with DH's) help to manufacture a way to have a visit to our new home before we had even unpacked because of a health "crisis". I was seriously concerned and agreed when it was hurriedly suggested by DH that he rush her to our home. When she arrived she was as snug as a bug. She got up early every morning, did her hair, called all her friends and family reporting on all our doings and everything about our new home in detail and then proceeded to shadow DH constantly every minute from morning to night - and me if he was unavailable. She was in no hurry to see the emergency dentist and instead told me smugly "sorry Francis I can't be seen for two weeks" and expected to stay with us indefinitely. She was in her element.
The behavior is so normal to DH- he is not allowed to say no. When I saw them interacting and making plans to disappear for the whole day without the rest of the family (as per usual when they are together) something finally clicked. DH is not acting normally, he never behaves like this except with his mum. And she is making him into a surrogate husband/dad/partner.
I feel like I have finally pieced together the story and realised it is a family system. I am not sure what is next, she was here a few weeks ago now but DH and I have still not sat down to have a chat. Not sure what I am here for except to breath out and think aloud.
It bothers me when it affects our marriage. Up to now I think I have felt very confused because I didn't realize there is a whole family system that I am interacting with and as I am the "outlaw" it was easy to make it my problem.
Something has really changed in me. For the first time I am stunned by the clarity I have about the behavior of DH and his rellies.
DH had been telling me for Christmas we were going to rent a house in a lovely location and MIl and SIL (both divorced) and SIL's kids would be coming and we would all be together for Christmas. I have realised very clearly that I do not want to spend 24/7 with them and I told him last week not a book a house as I would not be going. He was shocked and horrified, it was early morning and he had to run to work and me in the school run so we haven't talked more about it but I am sure it has caused uproar.
Nothing you have posted so far indicates that your DH is 'not allowed to say no to his Mum'.
He's clearly very close to her and enjoys her company.
That's not to say he shouldn't consider you and the kids as well as his mum though, but it's a bit weird to suddenly decide it's beyond your husband's control and to blame his mother for it all.
Just sit down like 2 adults and try to come to a compromise, instead of infantalising him.
My first thought was `bacon butty` ... MIL was up with me and the kids, when DH apears half asleep, she jumps up and offers him, in his own home tea and a bacon butty. What annoyed me was that he was capable of doing this himself, and that MiL was treating him as a kids. I told DH and he made breakfast. I think they all revert to kids round their moms.
Worra there is 20 years of history here and I am not infantalising him. At first I had so much concern and compassion for his mum when she would call in a state of hysteria saying she had no money and nothing to eat. I couldn't understand why DH was so cold and distant with her on the phone but after many, many years of volatile bahavior from MIL I am piecing it together. MIL wants DH to look after her and be responsible for her and if necessary she will try and force it to happen - hence constant crisis. She has a long history of broken relationships, screaming at people and sometimes physically fighting with them.
This year she stayed with us for six weeks in a row (we were living abroad) her youngest daughter came for two weeks and they had a huge blazing row and screaming match in the kitchen that terrified my kids who came running upstairs to where I was working.
They were staying in a guest apartment and actually damaged some of the furniture because they got into a physical fight, her daughter is 19.
I also don't think it's beyond my husband's control but I do think that this is normal for him and it's been ingrained for so long that it is unconscious to a certain extent. He obviously has tried to put some boundaries in place but much of the time his mum just rides right over the if she can.
I think it is perfectly possible to suddenly 'wake up' and see a situation with clarity, that you have previously not seen. It has happened to me. I think your mind allows you to see it, when you are ready to deal with it!
My advice would be to tell him he isn't to make arrangements for her to stay,or go on holiday with you, without prior agreement from you. I think I would stop all overnight visits. After the holiday behaviour, she wouldn't be staying with me and I eould be upfront in telling both dh and mil why.
Oh and def no buggering off for the day and leaving you to it! I would challenge all attempts to 'take over' in my house.
You ask for ways to help your DH. However, he is not the one writing in here, is he? He doesn't want help. He isn't questioning his mum's behaviour, or trying to find tools to tackle it. On a very deep level, it suits him to have her appeal to him in her moments of (trumped up) crisis, and to be an us-against-the-world twosome.
It may weigh on him, but he likes it. It gives him sense and meaning, because that's the dynamic that the two of them developed over a lifetime, so by remaining enmeshed with her, he's just following the script that makes most sense to him.
You will get nowhere changing his behaviour until the day that he feels the need to distance himself from his mum. He's the one who needs a lightbulb moment about his relationship with his mum, not you.
If you try and point out the ways in which their relationship is unhealthy, you will immediately be branded a problem, and give them yet more justification for banding together.
The only relationships you can work on are your own: how you relate to your DH, how you relate to his mum... But there is exactly nothing you can do about how two other people relate to each other.
A lot of truth there RiceCrispie.
You need to have a serious talk with DH and see if he sees the problem and whether he wants changes.
So you think she takes over?
There is a way of not letting this happen.
1)Make sure you have your own plans for every important event and get in there first. Pick things that you know everyone in your imediate family will love.
2)Don't bring her up in conversation. If your DH does be busy / change the subject or be 'called away' even if you just desperately need the loo. This means less brain space is given over to her.
3)Build up your family life, maybe get into a time consuming hobby with your DH so there is less available time for her to take over.
4)Regarding staged 'emergencies' see if you can promptly deal with them, rather than your own DH. Take her to a doctor / dentist yourself if this is the problem - do it out of concern for her health.
This should help readdress the balance.
What Rice Crispie wrote in its entirety.
The sentence below is what he has to think and believe as of now but he at present prefers to be enmeshed (its easier too and after all he has had a lifetime of such conditioning):-
“I have the right to my own thoughts, feelings, and life.”
What he also needs to do is enter therapy with someone who has experience treating adult children of parents with narcissistic personality disorder.
I would also suggest you post on the "well we took you to Stately Homes" thread too re his mother as you may get more advice there too.
Thanks all. I think DH consciously or unconsciously has tried to put boundaries between them. We live in the U.S. and he told me when we got married that he did not want to live in the same city as his parents. We moved to another state 12 hours away from them. Then later in our marriage he decided to take a job offer in Europe and we lived outside the country for six years.
I am so grateful for these decisions looking back as I had no idea of the emotional expectations placed on him by most of his family but especially his mother. We have been able to create our relationship and family physically removed from everyone and it has been a God send. Our house is normally relaxed, no drama, no manipulation and an equal, balanced relationship.
However at the same time the patterns and expectations of a lifetime mean that DH is very susceptible to his mum's bahavior. He obviously does get rewards emotionally as he is the Golden Boy but it does come at a high cost in terms of Obligation and Guilt - I'm not sure about Fear except that the whole family is very paranoid and have an "us against the world mentality".
I just hadn't clearly seen why he and his family behave in certain ways. I probably will chat to him, unfortunately he is working day and night this weekend so it will have to be later. I do not want to focus on his mum but on his behavior and how it is affecting us.
The last visit was so sudden I barely had time to react. When she came and stayed for six weeks I had a plan and crucially she was not sleeping in our home but in an apartment close by and that gave us the privacy and mental space we needed.
It was presented as a sudden dental emergency (due to complete neglect of her health) and how she was getting an infection. Of course there was no reason way she could not have been treated in her own city and state but my DH was driving to her state for another reason and decided he should pick her up and bring her to ours. He did ask me but I was feeling really bad for her so agreed.
When she arrived I realised I had been "played" by the pair of them and rather than suffering she was acting as if she was on vacation. But mostly I saw finally how she and DH were so intertwined when she was here and his behavior changed to the point of putting her first, before anyone else in the family. He forgot it was our DD's birthday for example.
You will be glad to hear that after a week (and no dental appointment) I told DH she must go and he put her on a plane home. He paid for her treatment two days later in her home city.
Just in case you think I am so cruel to mother and son she spent two months with him in the summer- just the two of them when I moved back earlier with the kids to get them ready for school. He lasted about 48 hours without me and then flew her across the ocean. That is also something I am reading about with enmeshment. People who are enmeshed panic at physical departures and struggle being alone as they feel abandoned. That is definitely DH, I have realised he becomes extremely anxious if we are separated and will often go to great lengths to be together asap. I on the other hand enjoy my own company and am happy to have occasional time alone.
So he is ambivalent. He wants to be separate from his family of origin but at times he rushes to do this anxious bonding with them.
Oh dear seem to have killed my own thread with my mahoosive post!
Francis its probably more that people were having sunday lunch
It seems to me that you have taken a first step of recognising there is a problem - the next thing is what do you think your DH should do?
Don't really know. I just feel so relaxed and calm as I have finally figured out what is going on. For so long I felt so stressed and oppressed around his fam but just couldn't put it all together.
I know I can't change anyone else. I think I just want to clearly explain that the lack of boundaries in his relationship with his mum means he is not recognizing that he does not have boundaries up around our marriage. I think I would like us to come up with ways we would both agree with which would enforce some boundaries. If he baulks there are some things I can do myself. I realize I do not want to be staying overnight with them anywhere - we need to always have a completely separate place - whether hotel or whatever.
I have actually been very good at keeping boundaries in place and I do wonder if DH chose me because of that.
Only thing is his family never talk opening about anything, so by even asking for a sit down chat that could feel really scary for him. In fact just the other day I said "You know you are avoiding having a chat with me right?" Because a couple of times I suggested we talk. I think I want to reassure him that it's OK that he wants to be his own person and he needs to choose what he wants to do freely and not fell pressured by his mum or me or anyone else. But I will be doing (or not doing) certain things for my own sanity and to protect the kids and our marriage.
There is also a ton our denial in the family. MIL has done some seriously horrible things to me during our marriage. But she never apologizes or even acknowledges it. It fact she claims to not remember them although their were witnesses.
So I think DH and SIL somehow just "pretend" that their mum has never done anything disturbing or it is just put in a box officially called "The Past" and they live in denial it ever happened. At the same time they acknowledge to each other that their mother is "crazy". It's a strange family system that has somehow worked as it has survived but I just cannot buy into it anymore.
you are right that she is taking advantage as an emergency dentist wd see her that day. I'd call her bluff and make an appointment for asap they work on sundays too.You have a much bigger problem to deal with than this as she will obv continue as long as she can fool you all. I know what you mean about the penny dropping calming you down! Sounds like you are the right person to put her in her place and keep her there. How upfront can you be with dh ? He sounds like he wants you to do this job for him , but he has to chime in and not buckle under at the very least. Get right on it as xmas is coming!
Yep, I am starting to wonder what my role is in this system? I am wondering if it is so much easier if I am the one who puts my foot down for DH because for him it would cause so much guilt. But I won't engage at the level of MIL vs. Me (which I think MIL actually likes as then the focus is on her). I just want to focus on our marriage and kids.
I think you
are overthinking some of this for a start.
I'd forget about using terms like 'enmeshed' and labelling people. It's not really helpful.
You are in the US you said, so some things like medical care will be different .
What you need to do is talk to your DH more about this. I think what you are saying is that your MIL is manipulative and tries to impose herself on you for less than genuine reasons. Your DH may well be aware of this but the point is, you and he should be able to talk about it and decide on a way forward. He has to be the one to talk to his mother about her demands. But bluntly he has a right to invite his mum to stay as and when he likes. If you feel her visits are too long then agree with him in advance how long she is staying. Tell him he needs to talk to you before he agrees anything with her. He's either just being thoughtless or he's a mummy's boy who is still under her thumb and can't refuse her. You need to make it clear that now he has a wife, you are a team and he has to include you in any plans.
Yes Polly I agree with you, mostly. I don't agree that he can invite his mum to stay whenever he likes as we respect each other and talk about plans. She would also love to walk in and never leave. She has wanted to do this our entire marriage. She is always in financial chaos and we help her a lot. She was calling my husband complaining about her teeth and he kept telling me about it so I said he should really help her if it was that bad (it's weird though that he didn't just take care of it. He actually resents spending money on her problems). I assumed that meant sending her to a local dentist but their solution was to drive for 12+ hours so really it was a rous to get into our new home asap.
In our last home she wanted to take a picture of every single room in our house to share with various family members but DH said no. She really doesn't have boundaries.
I may be overthinking and using this thread to vent. I need to as his family want to be very over-involved in our lives.
I have actually been very patient and understanding for a long time. Maybe too long and this is why it is spilling out now.
The point is my wants and needs or our children's are not taken into account. For 20 years they have never asked anything about my family or background. It is as if I dropped for the sky.
Oh my - this could so be my post !!!
I've decided to turn the situation to my advantage and have let them organise a week together before Christmas - while I jet off for some winter sunshine !!! I figure after a week he'll miss and appreciate me a bit more ! And I get to spend a week of bliss on a sandy beach instead of the usual pre Christmas madness !!! I've downloaded some books and told him there's no wifi so I'm off grid for a week... After a week of being at his mothers back and call and all her dramatics - he will maybe see it too !
I don't think you are over thinking, I think you have some very good insights into a complex system. The first step is that you are observing what is going on, then you can notice when the system starts clicking into place and disrupt it or step out. I don't think you can explain it to your dh in these terms but you can point out when she is being selfish or stepping over boundaries.
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