Thursday, March 29, 2012

Overbearing Mothers

Around this time last year, my dear friend Upsi-pants sent me the following article from Psychology Today, thinking that it might give DH and I some more insight into why he behaves the way he does. The article was both informative and humorous, and when I recently revisited it, I thought it might be helpful to some of my readers as well. In particular, I know that I have some readers who are in a position similar to the one I am in: we're just the crazy and manipulative daughters-in-law, right? Three cheers for the controlling DIL Club! All members welcome!

If you're wondering how your dear husband's years as his mother's emotional cheerleader have effected him as an adult, read on to discover the answer.

Does He Have An Overbearing Mother?
Loving A Man Who Has Spent His Growing-Up Years Meeting His Mother's Wants
Published on March 8, 2011 by John R. Buri, Ph.D. in Love Bytes

There are many ways in which a mother's needs, wants, and desires can become overbearing in a family.

Ted grew up with a mother who was a master at the guilt trip. Anytime Ted did not do what his mother wanted, he was hit with a litany of shame-based comments:
-What have I done wrong that my own son won't love me enough to do what I want him to do?
-I am so disappointed in you.
-I expected so much more from you. How could you have let me down like this?

Ted spent his growing-up years conforming to the wishes of his mother.

Jerry's mother lived with the disappointment of having married a man who used her, then abused her, and ultimately discarded her for a younger model. Jerry ended up trying to make up for his father's shortcomings.

Jerry spent his growing-up years trying to be the man for his mother that his father had failed to be.

Jake's mother struggled with depression throughout his years at home. He learned at an early age that he should put aside his needs and wants so that he could tend to those of his mother.

Jake spent his growing-up years trying desperately to make his mother happy.

The specific circumstances for Ted, Jerry, and Jake were different, but in each case, these men had spent the early years of their lives denying their own needs, wants, and desires in an effort to meet those of the most important woman in their lives. [By the way: Show me a family in which the needs, wants, and desires of the mother dominate, and I will show you a partner who is either peace-at-all-costs (he does not want to rock the boat) or else absent (either physically or emotionally).]

So what happens to the Teds, Jerrys, and Jakes of the world once they fall in love? Once there is a new most-important-woman in their lives, how do their growing-up years play themselves out? Generally, not so well. Here are the patterns that one can predictably anticipate when a man has grown up with a mother whose needs and wants have ruled the roost:

1. Weak And Wimpy - Having never learned how to hold his own with the important woman in his life, he lacks a backbone with the woman he loves.
2. Peace-At-All-Costs - Having spent years keeping the peace with the important woman in his life, he now acquiesces over and over again with the woman he loves.
3. Passive-Aggressive - Having lost himself in meeting the needs of the important woman in his life, he does not want to lose himself again, but he also can't stand the thought of disappointing the woman he loves - so he gives her lip service, but seldom follows through.
4. The Dictator - Having found that the important woman in a man's life is going to be someone who wants to rule him, he is determined to never be ruled by a woman again - instead, he is intent on being in charge with the woman he loves.
5. Absent (Either Physically Or Emotionally) - Having learned that getting close to the important woman in your life necessitates meeting her wants and needs (often to the neglect of your own), he is ruled by the maxim that it is best not to get too close to the woman you love.

So is a man who has grown up with an overbearing mother helpless in the wake of his growing-up years? Is his hope for a healthy love relationship doomed forever?


But this is a conditional no. It is based on two conditions:

1st - He has to realize that:
- Weak people make poor love partners
- Keeping the peace may appear to produce unity, but it never does
- Love requires that your yes be yes
- Dictators may be obeyed, but they are seldom loved
- Love is impossible without allowing yourself to get close to the one you love.
2nd - He needs to check his shorts. Often when a man grows up with an overbearing mother, his testicles get misplaced. If he is ever going to have a healthy love relationship, he is going to have to find them again.

My DH falls into the first three categories: Weak and Wimpy, Peace-at-all-Costs, and Passive-Aggressive. As our relationship has progressed however, and he continues to work at becoming a more assertive individual, some of his old thought-patterns and behaviors are starting to fall away, making way for new and healthy ones. He often describes a feeling of discomfort whenever he needs to present himself assertively, or when he has to say "no" to someone, but the point is that HE CAN DO IT, and that the intense training he received over a lifetime of having an overbearing mother is something that can be overcome.

My husband is not the pussy they think he is, and they have far underestimated his inner-strengths and abilities. Pity for them. Because each string they pull, and every game they've played has done nothing but make him stronger and brought us closer together. I can hear them rooting for our demise: and that makes me want to fight that much harder to ensure that we succeed.


  1. My father had a malignant, manipulative, overbearing narcissistic mother and was most often the Dictator to my mother and myself and now is one to his girlfriend, but he has been known to be Absent, Passive-Aggressive, and Peace-at-all-costs as well. A good read, thanks!

  2. Wow. I guess I need to check my shorts too. Probably I'm not the only woman here who struggles with these mama's-boy problems.

    I've written and erased a lot more about realizing that I grew up trying to be the kind of man my mother wished she had married. But that's a whole other subject.

    - GKA

  3. Thanks for the article. Gives me a lot to think about.

  4. My husbands mother is all of the above, overbearing, manipulative, guilt tripping him all the time, competitive with me & a professional interrogator.
    He just wants to be left alone. He can't handle any stress or things out of routine. She calls & calls. We delete her messages as soon as we hear her voice. It makes me really sad that he can't experience true happiness & freedom. We even moved 8 hours away but we still can not escape her. She is a nice women, she means well, but she pushes him further away. I am starting to feel like it's not worth it & I want to leave the whole family for my own sanity.

  5. My mother in law hated me from day one downed me too him and my children. He was my soul mate for 22yrs legal ,live as,4 beautiful kids. Because of her he seeked someone else. Make a long story short he ended up bipolar and committed suicide. All he wanted to do was love me .

    1. I have a friend that is over powered by his mother with mone and convences him that she has everything he needs. She even went to the point to tell him, "She can't give you what I can",

      ow do you compeat with that?

    2. Anon - There's pretty much nothing you can do about it. It's your friend's life - his mother, his problems. He should be the one seeking help for it. If he is so easily convinced by his mother that "she has everything he needs" then he'll probably just keep doing whatever she wants.

      As for competing? You just don't. If you don't compete, your opponent doesn't have a game worth playing.

  6. I just left relationship and honestly I'm still not sure what the whole story was about. Now I'm thinking he was vey narcissistic. I lived with him for about 5 years..well with him and his family. His aunt, grandmother, and then later his mom and his dad who unfortunately had a stroke and had to move in with the rest of the family. My now exe's life revolved around his work because he was and still is the primary provider for his family, including his 23 year old brother. I did get out, but it wasn't easy.