Help! My Mother-in-Law Is Taking My Husband Away from Me

My husband's mother continually butts into our lives. She moved in with us, which was supposed to be a six-month arrangement. That stretched to 14 months, and she has only recently moved to her own apartment. However, she is over at our house every weekend, from Friday night to Sunday night. Also, there are several times during the week when my husband is at her apartment, taking away from our time together. We have had several fights about this, as I feel ignored and he feels stuck. He says he can't say no to her, but he seems to have no problem saying no to me. I feel like he puts her feelings well above mine and my feelings/opinions are of no importance. —Second Fiddle
Dear Second Fiddle,

This is a classic in-law conundrum. Many spouses can feel torn between their responsibilities to their families of origin and the families they are creating. It feels like a no-win situation for everyone involved. The quick—and oversimplified—response is that your husband needs to choose which of those families is his top priority and set appropriate boundaries. In reality, however, the issue tends to be far more complex.

It sounds as if your husband (and perhaps his mother) believes him to be her sole source of physical and emotional support. Not responding to her needs is quite possibly laden with guilt and fear for your husband. It also sounds as if you have been incredibly accommodating (living with you for 14 months?) but that you are tired of being patient and feeling less important.

If you both can feel like you are on the same side, I suspect the pressure each of you feels will be reduced tremendously.

Fighting about it and competing with his mother for attention will only result in hurt feelings all around and a growing distance between you and your husband. When partners feel forced to choose, some will choose parents over partners; this can do irrevocable damage to relationships. I recommend that you seek out and work with a couples counselor to find ways to support each other as you navigate this dilemma together. Hear him when he says he feels “stuck.” He doesn’t see a viable solution, so working with someone who can offer a broader perspective and help you remain a team is very important.

It sounds as if your husband might also benefit from working on how to set workable boundaries with his mother without feeling the guilt he’s likely experiencing. Through that process, he will need empathy from you. When you feel (naturally) frustrated, try to imagine your husband stuck in the middle of a tug-of-war between wanting to meet your needs and wanting to meet his mother’s. Then imagine you and your husband pulling together in the same direction. If you both can feel like you are on the same side, I suspect the pressure each of you feels will be reduced tremendously.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • Leave a Comment
  • jake

    August 10th, 2015 at 4:16 AM

    There are probably a lot of marriages out there that contend with this very same thing and i think that what has to happen for you and he to find any sort of happiness is for him to step up and put his foot down. He has to be willing to tell his mother no, that you and his family have to come first, that he loves her but this is unacceptable.

  • Terri

    August 13th, 2015 at 4:17 PM

    Marriage should never feel like it is a competition with anyone.

  • Tabitha

    August 15th, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    Perhaps family therapy for all would be a good thought?

  • coleman

    August 22nd, 2015 at 8:16 AM

    boundaries for the mom
    great concept
    difficult to implement

  • Joel

    August 30th, 2015 at 9:21 AM

    If you could just for a minute try to see this from his point of view.
    I too have a very strong willed wife as well as mother and I know that there have been some times when I have felt like I was being torn by the two of them. It is very hard for me to say to no to either of them but I want both of them to be happy. In his defense it is not an easy situation to be in at all.

  • Lisa

    December 17th, 2015 at 10:39 PM

    I agree with jake… When u r married ur sposed to leave ur mother and cleave to ur wife. Too many times men get put in the middle by controlive mothers who have overstepped their boundaries and the men haven’t learned healthy boundaries because they weren’t taught by their mothers and can’t say no to their mom. Which leaves us wives always uneasy about r mother in laws

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