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Mother/son emeshment and codependency. How to make husband recognise it.

(27 Posts)
Ivedroppedtheball Thu 21-Sep-17 07:15:50

Dh and mil have a very enmeshed/codependant relationship. She leans on him heavily for emotional support, and has a kind of 'victim' thing going on where she always seems to be in the middle of a huge drama (that is never of her own making) that she makes no attempt to get out of.

In the many years we have been together, the majority of our fights have been about the amount of time and emotion he gives to her. Whenever she has something going on, it consumes him so he is emotionally unavailable to me and the dcs. He simply cannot see that the relationship is unhealthy and needs boundaries. He equates it to caring.

We have had yet another argument about this dynamic (there is more to it this time). I said some things in anger which I believe to be true and now he's not talking to me.

Is there any way I can help him to understand that this dynamic is unhealthy without him going on the defensive?

PurpleWithRed Thu 21-Sep-17 07:24:40

I doubt it. It predates you and the kids. Why would he change now?

Ivedroppedtheball Thu 21-Sep-17 08:17:49

Has nobody successfully freed themselves from an enmeshed relationship then?

There was a big furore before our wedding a few years ago (caised by mil) and I was ready to call the whole thing off because I had this vision of just vying for his attention for the rest of my life. He talked me down and things got better for a while but then started to slide again. We have had the same fight a few times since.

The thing is, apart from this, he is a wonderful husband and a great father. I just wish he could give his whole self to us.

When I had issues a few years back that were effecting our relationship, I went and got counselling and made the effort to change. Just can't see why he won't do the same sad

Kr1s Thu 21-Sep-17 08:45:32

Has nobody successfully freed themselves from an enmeshed relationship then?

Yes of course they have. It's not easy but it's possible with work and support.

However you are not taking about you freeing yourself from your relationship with your husband are you? You are talking about him and his mother. Why on earth would he - he's quite happy with things the way they are. YOU are the one who has a problem, not him.

Ivedroppedtheball Thu 21-Sep-17 09:04:43

kr1s so he has to recognise that there is a problem and want to change for himself? Is that it?

I think I'm so mixed up in the whole thing at this stage that I've lost perspective confused

ChaChaChaCh4nges Thu 21-Sep-17 09:12:48

I have to confess - as someone dealing with increasingly infirm parents - I think it's unrealistic of you to ever expect him to give all of himself to you and the DCs.

There will be times when you (the nuclear family) should be his priority, but there will also be times when it's right that he prioritises his mother. She hasn't stopped being family as a result of him marrying and creating a family with you.

Your starting premise is that their relationship as unhealthy, but without more detail I don't think anyone here can even conclude whether even this fundamental is correct or not, which makes it hard to advise.

Hoppinggreen Thu 21-Sep-17 09:14:53

Unless he recognises the issue you've no chance and I'm not sure how you wouid get him to after all this time
This is his " normal"

Ivedroppedtheball Thu 21-Sep-17 09:31:03

chacha you are right, of course there will be times when he needs to prioritise his mother, and the same goes for me and my own parents.

But the current dynamic is that they are both completely enmeshed with each other, so while she has one of her dramas going on (situations that she allows herself to get into that she completely refuses to help herself out of), she is either in constant contact, draining him emotionally, or else giving radio silence. So he is at home with us, worrying himself sick about her. He doesn't have any self identity seperate from her. It's hearbreaking to see sad

I think it's a difficult dynamic to explain unless you have witnessed such a relationship first hand yourself. Sorry if I'm not getting it across properly.

Kr1s Thu 21-Sep-17 11:20:07

You ARE getting it across properly . But you are right, unless he's sees it as a problem, he's not going to seek help.

And of course you are enmeshed it in, after all these years of supporting him and trying to be reasonable and understanding .

You might find the ' stately homes " threads on the relationship boards helpful.

smallmercys Thu 21-Sep-17 13:01:42

IME the only point the co-dependency was broken was when ExH's mother died.


InDubiousBattle Thu 21-Sep-17 13:10:19

Can you give more examples/detail op? From what you've said it's hard to appreciate the problem. I'm very close to my dad and my sister, there have been times when I've taken 'our family' to be with them. Similarly dp has, on occasion prioritised his family, although tbh we've been together for so long we see each others families as 'ours'.

Apileofballyhoo Thu 21-Sep-17 14:36:27

My DH really only saw it when I had a miscarriage. He phoned to tell her and she hung up because she was cooking dinner. Then she said miscarriages were nothing and finally she blamed him for it (mother's words are very powerful and he still thinks he somehow caused the miscarriage and all the logic in the world won't change his mind). Anyhow he called her out on it and there were weeks of terrible rows and upset which were all about her, her childhood/family/mental health. He gave up trying to help her after that and took a major backseat, and she stopped running to him with problems.

It's a great pity it took the loss of our baby for him to see it.

ElspethFlashman Thu 21-Sep-17 14:44:39

Only death cures this. Either that or going no contact, which could cause him far too much distress.

You can't retrain the subconscious of two people. Not even a team of psychiatrists would be able to promise you any success.

If he's being a shit father, point it out. But that should a completely seperate issue from his mother's needs. in other words, if he can satisfy his mother's emotional needs and also be a good Dad and husband, then he should be allowed to crack on, dysfunctional though you may perceive it to be.

But if he's being shit Dad and Husband, then that's his fault, not his mother's. And so don't bring his mother into the argument at all. More like "I'm upset you didn't ask DS about his match" "Oh I'm just so upset about Mum" "I'm not talking about your Mum, I'm talking about your SON". And don't get sidetracked into yet another argument about Mum.

Aquamarine1029 Thu 21-Sep-17 15:15:05

Your MIL has her emotionally charged talons so deep into your husband that he most likely will never free himself. This dynamic as been ingrained since he was a boy, and unless he has a massive awakening to what's really going on, he will never change. You and your kids will always take a back seat to your MIL's emotional terrorism.

spangleknickers Thu 21-Sep-17 19:23:57

All I can say is that I feel for you. I am there. It's very difficult. I have always been second place and I resent it terribly. So much so that my relationship is over. You sound as if you really love your husband, care about him and what this toxic relationship does to him. Good luck - it may work out x

Mumfun Thu 21-Sep-17 23:22:58

Sorry it took divorce to get free of it. After the divorce he moved in with her for 7 years.

His life hasn't gone well the last few years and he finally did see the issue. But it took a crisis to see it.

Codependency is a tough thing to see when you get praised for your good relationship with your mother and being kind to her - very very few other people can see clearly what is going on. In society a man being kind to his mother is seen for a very positive thing.

One friend eventually described it as non sexual incest.

SandyY2K Fri 22-Sep-17 00:46:11

As someone who is close to their family, I'm wondering if you're being unrealistic.

There have been times when my parents have had issues/sickness or other crisis and I don't hesitate to be with them 100%.

I can leave DH and the DC to sort themselves out during that time free of guilt.

That's the benefit of having a partner. If he tried to complain about it, I wouldn't be impressed.

womanbehavingbadly Fri 22-Sep-17 00:58:12

Been there, done that, had the break-up
(All my fault apparently)
Amazingly his DM has also hated the next 3 women he was with. What are the chances?

In all seriousness though, if he already has a relationship of that intensity with her, nothing is going to come between them.

Sorry, it’s a horrible situation to be in.

What’s your relationship with MIL like most of the time?

Ivedroppedtheball Fri 22-Sep-17 07:43:23

I have to say, my relationship with mil is good and on the surface, she is a nice person. She does tend to always be the victim though (of everything and everyone).

The comment about non-sexual incest is interesting. I've seen it described as emotional incest too. Basically mil uses dh for the emotional support that she should be getting from her own husband. She goes to dh first. I remember one time when she weng on holiday with fil and wasn't really enjoying it. We had a newborn at the time. Yet she rang dh every night when we wete in bed at around 1030pm to cry down the phone about how much she hated the resort etc hmm

It's been like this since dh was a child and he sees it as normal. Sad to think that he had a lonely childhood because of it sad It wouldn't be so bad if it were a 2 way street, but from what I can see, he gives her everything and doesn't get much in return.

Anyhow, we're still not really talking. I tried last night but he wasn't willing to open up. He says my actions show that I don't care. Sigh. I guess it's a 'protect the queen bee at all costs' mentality.

My own family have had issues and at times, I have had to set boundaries. I am close to my parents and 1 sibling. My own parents have had lots of problems in the past and I have helped them where possible, yet dh always tries to push me to do more (even though I've done as much as I can practically and emotionally).

In the past, dh has defended it saying that he is just close with his family. But I'm close with my parents and I know my own mother would never put the same emotional burden on me.

Not sure where to go from here tbh. Love him so much but I'm not willing to sweep it under the carpet again.

WhoPoppedMyBalloon Fri 22-Sep-17 08:45:22

Read up on "covert incest" - this is when a parent uses a child of either sex like a partner, minus the sex; they expect the child to meet all their emotional needs. Its real thing, and really quite scary.

WhoPoppedMyBalloon Fri 22-Sep-17 08:49:07

TiramisuQueenoftheFaeries Fri 22-Sep-17 08:51:36

Honestly you can either live with it, or you might as well leave him now. Sure, people have freed themselves from enmeshed relationships. Key word there being "themselves". They knew it was unhealthy, they wanted out, and they were willing to do the hard, painful work.

You can't make him see what you see. All you can do is decide where your line is and act accordingly.

Mumfun Fri 22-Sep-17 08:55:58

Yes Ivedropped. That's exactly it. They use their child for the emotional support they should be getting from their spouse - and also fail to use the wider family in my case when that was available. It is all focussed on the child. Really unhealthy.

And I felt and was second in my exH priorities. And was guilt tripped and even went to counselling re it. And had endless conversations about it. He was trying to rescue her and eventually wanted me to rescue her. And thats when the really bad behaviour started when I wouldnt rescue her.

I do actually know someone who did successfully deal with it. But her MIL wasnt quite as obsessed . And some of her behaviour could be seen by outsiders as clearly obsessive.

And as a couple they sat down and agreed the amount of time and weekends etc that would be spent with her . And how often visits would happen. And they have successfully negotiated it. It partly helped that the FIL is absolutely lovely and everyone likes him.

Ivedroppedtheball Fri 22-Sep-17 10:42:38

Thanks for all the advice. It's good to know that I'm not going crazy. Dh often deflects when I call him out on it, and either counteracts it with something bad I have done or else says that he should be able to talk to me about his mother's issues and that I shouldn't jump down his throat about it. And if they had a normal relationship I wouldn't. But it's not just a matter of him lending an ear to his mother, he takes on her sadness and pain as his own.

Tbh, because I have a good relationship with mil and she is genuinely a nice person, if it weren't for the constant drama I wouldn't be too bothered. But the drama is there, all the time. Since I've been with dh it's been one major drama after the other. Even when there is a lull in the big events, she will call dh upset because she thinks that one of her friends is being off with her.

I don't agree with all of the points in the covert incest article but a few of them really ring a bell. I'm very thankful for mumsnet as it was here under a different username that someone pointed out that it was a codependent/enmeshed relationship and it was like a lightbulb moment. I really thought I was going mad until then.

Anyway. Time to figure out what to do from here. I wonder if couples counselling would help? Even if it was only to get someone else to point out that their relationship isn't normal and lacks boundaries.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 22-Sep-17 11:46:42

Hi ball,

re your comment:-
"Tbh, because I have a good relationship with mil and she is genuinely a nice person"

I do not think you actually have this at all. You do not really have a healthy or a good relationship with his mother and she is NOT a nice person at all. Emotionally healthy people do not act like she has done here to her son. She has in effect abused him mentally from childhood. His own inertia when it comes to his mother simply hurts him as well as you.

is also a good link to read on this subject

Unfortunately unless he does see this for his own self you cannot make him see.

Counselling for your own self will be helpful in the (perhaps likely) event he does refuse to go to any counselling or therapy sessions.

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