Your husband’s strong relationship with his mom and family might have won you over when you were dating. But now you realize that you might be married to a mama’s boy—and it could destroy your relationship. Between your husband, who turns to his mother for everything and displays signs of immaturity, and your mother-in-law, who is keen on remaining the number one woman in her son’s life, you’re about ready to tear your hair out. But before you kick your mama’s boy-husband and mother-in-law to the curb, you might try understanding their relationship and showing your husband that you should now be his number one priority.
Signs That Your Husband is a Full-fledged Mama’s Boy
Look for these behaviors to determine if you have a mama's boy on your hands:
- His mom’s wish is his command. If his mother wants him to run an errand, take her to the doctor, eat with her, etc., he always obliges no matter what you would like to do.
- He wants daily contact or nearly daily contact with his mom either via phone or in person.
- He always chooses his mom over his wife and children.
- He never moved far away from his mom, or he still lives with her (and now so do you).
- He has trouble making decisions without his mom and might expect you to baby him.
- He might have financial ties to his mom, which keep him on a short leash with her.
Once you have established that you are indeed married to a mama’s boy, you have to determine what behavior is tolerable and what is not for you personally. For instance, you might be alright with your husband talking to your mother-in-law once or twice a day, as long as it doesn’t infringe on your time together. But you might not like it if he turns to her with problems that he should be discussing with you. You might be fine with your in-laws living the next town over, but you might not like it if your husband insists you live in the same house with them.
A big mistake many partners make is blurting their feelings out to their husband or mother-in-law in anger without thinking.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Herb Goldberg is the author of What Men Still Don’t Know About Women, Relationships, and Love. He also served as professor emeritus of psychology at California State University.
Herb Goldberg says women (or partners) need to keep the peace and not make an issue of their husband’s relationship with his mom, even if it crosses a line. Instead, he says it's important to develop a strong, personal identity, set limits with their husband and not their mother-in-law, and stand firm.
Your relationship with your husband should not take center stage in your life. You should be your top priority. So be a little selfish. Work, get a hobby, and have interests and relationships with friends and family outside of the one with your husband. He must recognize that you’re independent, and you could leave if he continues to neglect you and ignore your needs, says Goldberg.
Avoid nagging your husband about spending more time with you or choosing you over his mother. You will just hurt him by putting down his mom and his role as a husband. These hurt feelings can turn into resentment, which is poison to a marriage.
Meet the Expert
Diana Kirschner is a clinical psychologist in New York and author of Love In 90 Days. She successfully ran the 90 Day Love Challenge on the Fox Morning Show, frequently appeared on The Today Show as well as Oprah, Good Morning America, Nightline and Access Hollywood.
“You must give guidance and set limits in a loving way,” says Diana Kirschner. She adds that even when done in a loving way, setting limits can be stormy, but you must remain firm without getting angry. If he wants you to attend the fifth family dinner with the in-laws in the last three weeks, Kirschner says, you have to say something like, “You can go, but I will not. I have already attended many family functions recently, and now I need my space.” Then, you have to stick to your guns and not attend the event, even if your mother-in-law makes you feel guilty or your husband argues with you.
Often, there is tension and jealousy between the mothers of mama’s boys and those who marry their sons. Being the bigger person with your mother-in-law, as difficult as it might be, will always work to your advantage. All the experts agree that remaining cordial and respectful to your mother-in-law is the only solution. “Don’t try to straighten out the mother,” says Kirschner. “You’ll never win.”
Don’t try to straighten out the mother ... You’ll never win.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be with your mother-in-law all the time or talk to her as much as your husband does, nor do you have to be treated badly by her. You can maintain some distance. Let your husband—and children, if you have them—have a relationship with her, but you can see her, and the rest of your husband’s family of origin, less often. This should be up to you, and you should decide based on your comfort level.
Cutting the Cord
Ultimately, your husband will be the deciding factor in whether his attachment to his mom breaks your marriage. He might not notice it yet, but making you his main priority, growing up, and breaking away from his family of origin is good for him, too. “You can’t happily be both a husband and a mama’s boy because you’re always torn in two directions,” says Kirschner. If he accepts your limits and starts to put you first, then you can continue to work on developing your own family. If he doesn’t, you have to be willing to walk away because, say the experts, that is often when mama’s boys start to get their act together and straighten out.
Still, you can’t do the work for him. He has to be the one to cut the cord, adds Kirschner.
“He has to form a boundary between his new family and the family of origin or be torn and miserable for the rest of his married life,” Kirschner says. Or at least until his wife says good-bye and leaves him alone with his mommy.
Birditt KS, Wan WH, Orbuch TL, Antonucci TC. The Development of Marital Tension: Implications for Divorce Among Married Couples. Dev Psychol. 2017;53(10):1995-2006. doi:10.1037/dev0000379