Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend Won’t Cut The Apron Strings”
I would like to move in with my boyfriend, but I have a real problem with his mother — she shows up at his house all the time without calling, is very intrusive, always dominates the conversation and is generally annoying. She and my boyfriend are very close, even though they don’t have the best relationship — there are no boundaries and explosive fights are the norm. After those insane fights, I have to clean up the mess by listening to my boyfriend vent about how annoying she is, how she’s ruined his life, how she can’t be controlled, how she’s insane, etc. It gets exhausting. Even though she helped my boyfriend buy his house, I can’t take her showing up unannounced continually and puttering around with things in the place. He has said he will talk to her about respecting the fact that I will be paying rent to live there, but I’m not sure it will have any effect. He has admitted many times that there’s no talking to her and that she just does what she wants. I’m used to space and privacy, and can’t have a mother-in-law figure continuously hovering around. I do feel bad for her and respect her and her son’s relationship and don’t want to jeopardize it. He is the focal point of her entire life and has been since he was born. She and my boyfriend’s dad had a horrendous divorce and to this day (about 30 years later) she continues to bash him. These days she’s single, does not speak to her family (except her son), and has few friends. How can I lay down what I want in my living arrangements without being demanding? Should I just take my boyfriend at his word — that she can’t be talked to — and not move in with him and eventually find someone new? — Confused
Explain to your boyfriend that you love him, but this co-dependent thing he has going on with his mother has got to stop. It’s not healthy; it’s not happy; and it sure as heck isn’t sexy. If he wants a future with you — or anyone else, for that matter — he has to prove that he’s able to cut the apron strings. His mother “just does what she wants,” because he let’s her. That has to stop. So tell him you’ll move in on a three-month trial basis (do not give up your own place, in the meantime). If he can successfully set boundaries and not continue to let his mother cross them, you’ll consider making the move permanent.
Your boyfriend has to tell his mother she must give notice before coming by, and that unannounced visits will not be tolerated. The only way to get her to stop dropping by unannounced is to ignore her when she does. Your boyfriend has to tell her that he loves you and wants a healthy adult relationship and to do that, he needs her to respect his privacy. That means in the future when she wants to come over, she has to ask in advance for a good time to stop by. Something you can do to help pave the way to a diplomatic relationship is to consider hosting her for dinner every other Sunday (or whatever you can tolerate) so there’s a scheduled visit you have some control over. Setting boundaries isn’t always about exclusion, but offering avenues of inclusion on your own terms. If she’s particularly pushy with your boyfriend it may be because he doesn’t actively include her in his life at all and she’s asserting herself the only way she knows how.
In the meantime, you need to accept that this woman will always be part of your life as long as you stay with your boyfriend. The relationship between them is probably never going to be perfect, so you have to decide how much you’re willing to put up with and whether being with your boyfriend is worth any stress his mother may cause you. If you’re invested in your relationship — well, even if you aren’t — treat your boyfriend’s mother with kindness. Give her as little ammunition as possible to use against you. There’s a good chance she’ll feel threatened by your relationship with her son — especially once you move in and her inappropriate behavior is no longer tolerated. Stand your ground; keep your boundaries, and don’t let this woman intimidate you.
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