The woman has made the unsettling discovery her partner is a “complete mummy’s boy” after her mother-in-law made a stunning move.
Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred. This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie tackles a relationship under pressure after they moved back home with parents.
QUESTION: My partner lost his job in lockdown which has meant we‘ve had to move in with his parents. I’m very grateful for their support but spending a lot of time with my partner and his parents has made me realise my partner is a complete mummy’s boy. We recently had a silly row over nothing and he went straight to his mum and tattletaled on me like a child – I could hear him hamming it up from the other room! His mum has stopped knocking to enter our bedroom and she asks us probing questions about marriage and kids over dinner. What can I do? We’re stuck with them for financial reasons but the situation is making me resent my partner who I had no doubts about before.
ANSWER: What an uncomfortable situation for you to be in. I’m sorry you’re facing this. I imagine that you feel trapped, isolated and alone – and I’m not surprised you feel confused about your relationship at this point.
Stressful situations can bring out underlying patterns and traits of a partner that we haven’t seen before. This situation seems to have brought out your partner’s immature way of dealing with conflict and his family’s inappropriate boundaries.
HOW TO DEAL WITH DIFFICULT IN-LAWS
Dealing with in-laws can be tough. About a third of couples experience challenges in dealing with each other’s parents.
Different cultures and families have different ‘rules’ or expectations about how to interact with each other. When two people come together, there’s a cultural blending – and it takes time to learn what’s appropriate for each other.
BE A UNITED FRONT
It’s important that you and your partner deal with this as a team. You and your partner need to present a united front here. Your partner’s mum needs to see that he’s on your side and will stick by you – and that she can’t come between you.
To do that you’ll need to have many open conversations together.
TALK TO YOUR PARTNER
When sharing with a partner on difficult topics, stay away from language that is critical or blaming – that’s likely to elicit a defensive response and cause more friction between you. Instead, focus on how you feel and what you need – rather than what he’s doing wrong.
Here’s what sharing your emotions and needs sounds like:
SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
Boundaries are vital to healthy functioning in relationships and families. Healthy boundaries are a common topic in therapy. They’re how we let people know how we’re willing to be treated and how we keep ourselves safe.
Your partner’s family is lacking appropriate boundaries, so you’ll need to set some.
Set boundaries with your partner on what you’re comfortable with in regard to his mum. This includes what his mum discusses with each of you, how much she knows about the state of your relationship and how she treats you.
Setting boundaries sounds like:
Your partner needs to be encouraged to set boundaries with his mother on her intrusion into your lives too.
Mum, that’s between me and my partner. This is not appropriate dinner table conversation.
Mum, I’m not 12 anymore. I know this is your house, but we still need our privacy. I need you to knock before you come in – or send us a text message to see if we’re busy.
You’ll also need to set boundaries with his mum, although you may need to do this gently. You don’t have to tell your mother-in-law more than you feel comfortable sharing. Sometimes the best response is a curt answer or a deflection, rather than making a big deal out of it.
If you struggle with being put on the spot in front of everyone have some pre-prepared answers up your sleeve for dealing with her intrusive questions.
GIVE YOUR PARTNER THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
This is probably a challenging situation for your partner too. He may be looking for an outlet to deal with tension and frustration – and unfortunately his mum is willing to be that outlet. Recognise that he’s doing his best and may have the capacity to change.
As challenging as it is, this is a good opportunity to work together to overcome these issues or to get clear on how you want the relationship to progress. Challenges with in laws tend to get worse once you have children, so this is a good ‘test-run’ of how you work together.
Isiah McKimmie is a couples therapist, sexologist, sex therapist and lecturer. To book a session with her, visit her website or follow her on Instagram for more advice on relationships, sex and intimacy.