What do you do when you have a great relationship with your partner, but struggle to get along with their mom? Maybe it's that she asks you one too many personal questions or is constantly butting in with unwanted advice— or maybe it's just that you're both vying for your partner's time and attention so much that it's creating a rift between you. In any case, if you're worried that conflict with her could wind up affecting your relationship, it's time to come up with some boundaries to set with your partner’s mom.
I spoke with Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship expert in Los Angeles, to find out why setting boundaries with your partner's mom is so important, how to talk to your partner about your relationship with their mom, and what sorts of boundaries you should be setting in the first place.
The most important thing to remember through all of it? You and your partner need to be on the same page — and if an issue arises, your partner needs to be willing to mediate the situation and talk to their mom if things get out of hand. But still, you want to keep things as positive as possible.
Dr. Brown tells Elite Daily that when broaching the subject of how your partner's mom makes you feel, you should find positive things to say about her as well, and avoid calling her names. You should also let your partner know that if they have issues with your parents, you're open to listening and working on those things together, too. The conversation shouldn't be about badmouthing each other's families, but rather, it should put the focus on what you both want out of your relationship.
"You guys get to decide how you want to define your relationship based upon your must-haves and your have-nots," Dr. Brown says.
"[Ask yourselves], 'What's our vision of our relationship? What's our vision of a relationship that's fulfilling?' And more than likely, that's not going to include an overbearing family member, or anybody else for that matter. It's going to include mutual respect for one another. It's going to include cherishing our partners. It's going to include protecting our partners from our families when our families aren't being appropriate.
With that said, here are some important boundaries you and your partner should set with their mom to avoid conflict.
1. Keep Jealousy Issues At Bay
Jealousy can go both ways (which means you also have to ask yourself if you're feeling jealous, too), and in this case, it depends a lot on what your partner's relationship with their mother is like.
"If she's particularly close with [your partner], she may be feeling particularly jealous," Dr. Brown says. "Long before you came onto the scene, she had a relationship with [them], and vice versa, for years. So you're kind of the new kid on the block."
So, what do you do if jealousy issues start to arise between you and your partner's mom? It's all about having conversations with your partner.
"I think you have to start the discussions early on in the relationship, as soon as you feel like there's any possibility that mom is going to be an overbearing influence," Dr. Brown says.
In these discussions, it's important to let your partner know the impact these jealousy issues can have on you and your relationship.
"You might be saying things like, 'It hurts me when you listen to your mother more than me,' or, 'I get scared that I'll always be second,' or, 'I'm worried that she will intrude on our [relationship],'" Dr. Brown says.
Dr. Brown notes that you should also be sure to mention that it's not that you don't want your partner to have a relationship with their mother — you just want them to know how their mother's behavior might affect (or is affecting) your relationship.
2. Set Phone (And Visit) Boundaries
If your partner spends so much time on the phone with their mother that it's having a negative impact on your relationship, it's time to talk to your partner and figure out some boundaries there.
In this case, Dr. Brown suggests reiterating that you want your partner to have a relationship with their mom, while pointing out what you observe about how often they talk on the phone and if there's an imbalance between that and how much time you get to talk to them, let them know how that makes you feel.
Dr. Brown points out that if it's a health and safety issue (like if your partner's mom has a serious medical condition and your partner is trying to coordinate care and spend time with their mom), it's different. But if it's not, it's totally valid to tell your partner something like, "You're talking for an hour every day on the phone, and I get five or 10 minutes with you at the end of the day when we're home from work. That's painful for me."
Along the same lines, if your partner spends a lot of time visiting their mom and you feel like you don't get enough time with them as a result, that's another thing to bring up in a conversation. It could help to come to an agreement about what days you want to spend together and set aside time to talk so everything balances out.
3. Avoid Inappropriate Questions
No matter where you're at in your relationship, if your partner's mom asks you ultra-personal, invasive questions that make you uncomfortable, you're under no obligation to answer them. If you trust your partner's mom and you want to open up and disclose that kind of information, that's totally up to you. But if not, you can simply deflect — and that's the kind of boundary you can set on your own in conversation with her as it comes up.
"Just say to her, 'I tend to be kind of a private person, and maybe as time goes on and we get to know each other better, I'd be happy to share some of that with you,'" Dr. Brown says.
4. Put A Stop To Unwanted Advice
You might be able to deal with the occasional bit of advice you didn't ask for, but if it's something your partner's mom does all the time, it's important to nip it in the bud — especially if you have or plan to have children together. This is the kind of situation in which your partner definitely needs to take the lead, Dr. Brown says.
"[They need to say], 'Mom, unless I ask your opinion on something, don't offer it. You have your way of doing things, and that's fine. And we have our way of doing things. Sometimes we're going to agree, and sometimes we're not.'"
Your partner should also tell their mother that if she does want to offer advice, she can ask for permission before imposing. Dr. Brown suggests saying something like, "If you have an opinion, ask us if we're open to some feedback."
Doing this makes it clear that the two of you aren't going to put up with unsolicited advice or being told what to do all the time, but it still gives your partner's mom the feeling that she can still share when it's appropriate.
5. Don't Engage In Arguments
Perhaps the most important boundary you should set with your partner's mom is that you won't participate in any sort of arguments or fighting that goes on. And, as Dr. Brown says, you should never tolerate any sort of abusive behavior from any of your partner's family members.
So, what happens if an argument comes up? Dr. Brown suggests politely excusing yourself (you can even say you're uncomfortable) and leaving the room or getting off the phone. And that's something you should talk to your partner about, too.
"Say to your partner, 'Listen, if your mom is on the phone with me, or if she's here in person, and she starts to badmouth us or me, or a relationship issue we're having, I'm going to leave the room,'" Dr. Brown says, adding that you should remind your partner to take the lead in handling situations like that and keep you out of the crossfire of their family issues.
In the end, you're going to have to be patient, because establishing these boundaries is going to take time.
"You're not going to resolve these patterns overnight, but the sooner you can come to some agreements with your partner about what is and isn't acceptable, the better," Dr. Brown says. "But it's not going to happen in a day, or a week, or a month — and sometimes it may take months, if not years."
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