Ad­vice

When your partner’s mom doesn’t like you it can make life un­pleas­ant. Here’s how to han­dle this tricky sit­u­a­tion with sen­si­tiv­ity

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YOU get on like a house on fire with his sis­ter and his dad is like a sec­ond fa­ther to you, but his mother – well, that’s an­other story al­to­gether. No mat­ter how hard you try, you never seem able to please her. “I feel like she thinks I’m not good enough for her son,” says Luthando* (28). “He and I have been to­gether for more than a year and she still makes me feel un­com­fort­able when­ever we visit. She fo­cuses en­tirely on him and doesn’t en­gage me in con­ver­sa­tion.

“She never asks me how I am or how things are go­ing at work,” Luthando adds. “And there’s of­ten a raised eye­brow or side-eye di­rected at what I’m wear­ing.”

For oth­ers, like 30-year-old Mpumi*, it goes deeper than just a clash of per­son­al­i­ties. The mom-of-two says her rela- tion­ship with her prospec­tive mother-in­law has been strained ever since she started dat­ing her civil engi­neer boyfriend nearly six years ago.

The cou­ple have two sons, aged four and one, and al­though they’re not yet legally mar­ried he has paid lobola. Things es­ca­lated af­ter they moved in to­gether, Mpumi says, and she be­lieves her prospec­tive mother-in-law re­sents no longer com­ing first in her son’s life.

“She be­lieves she should come first, but I don’t think she should tell us what to do. We can and will make de­ci­sions for our own fam­ily with­out her ap­proval,” she says.

Mpumi also thinks the fact she’s an or­phan is a prob­lem for her man’s mom. “It’s al­most as if I’m bring­ing shame to their fam­ily be­cause of my back­ground.

“Also, the fact that I’m younger than her two daugh­ters, who are strug­gling to find work and still stay at home, while SHANAAZ PRINCE I’ve got my life to­gether . . . It’s as if she thinks they’re sup­posed to be do­ing bet­ter than me be­cause they were raised by both par­ents in a sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment,” Mpumi says.

She’s even ques­tioned Mpumi’s skills as a mother. “She’s al­ways try­ing to find some­thing wrong with the kids so she can blame me and use it to point out that I’m not a good mother or wife and that I’m not raising them well,” she says.

For now Mpumi has de­cided to grin and bear it and re­main cor­dial to­wards her. She also doesn’t want her man to sac­ri­fice his re­la­tion­ship with his mom.

“She’ll prob­a­bly never like me so I’m not ex­pect­ing much. But she needs to re­spect me be­cause there’s only so much I can take be­fore I de­cide it’s best if she stays out of my life – and that wouldn’t be good for the kids or my partner.”

Not get­ting on with your partner’s mother doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean your re­la­tion­ship is doomed. But it can cause a lot of ten­sion or even tear your re­la­tion­ship apart if not han­dled cor­rectly.

‘I feel like she thinks I’m not good enough for her son’

Here’s ad­vice on what you can do to han­dle this tricky sit­u­a­tion and bridge the di­vide.

AC­KNOWL­EDGE MAMA BEAR

There’s no get­ting around it – our moth­ers are piv­otal fig­ures in our lives, whether we’re close to them or not. So ac­knowl­edge her place in his life. It might be a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for you, but it’s just as awk­ward for your man to feel as if he’s caught be­tween two women he loves.

She’s a big part of your partner’s life and al­ways will be, and you must re­spect the fact they have a unique con­nec­tion – even if you think their re­la­tion­ship is in some ways un­healthy, con­trol­ling or pos­si­bly even de­struc­tive. “You may think he’s a mama’s boy – and he may well be – but if you love this man then don’t com­pete with or make an en­emy of mama bear,” re­la­tion­ship coach Paula Quin­see says. “Han­dle the sit­u­a­tion in a ma­ture, calm man­ner and help your partner put healthy bound­aries in place.”

SET CLEAR BOUND­ARIES

For this to hap­pen, you and your partner need to be able to talk about the is­sue openly and hon­estly. “If you’re both clear about your re­la­tion­ship goals and what makes you happy then es­tab­lish­ing bound­aries around your re­la­tion­ship will be rel­a­tively sim­ple,” clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist In­grid Na­gaya says. “Set­ting bound­aries should never be a one-sided thing.”

De­cide to­gether what your non-ne­go­tiables are – for ex­am­ple, that it’s unac- cept­able for your partner’s mother to be just plain rude to you or to crit­i­cise you ei­ther di­rectly to your partner or within earshot of your partner. Be­ing crit­i­cal of you within earshot of your chil­dren should also be a no-no. Agree on how to tackle this if it hap­pens – for ex­am­ple, will he talk to her or will you?

LEARN TO LET IT GO

Some things are in­evitable and you’ll save your­self a lot of an­noy­ance and ir­ri­ta­tion if you sim­ply ac­cept them. “There are things that just aren’t worth get­ting up­set over,” Quin­see says.

Your partner’s mother is very likely to do one or more of the fol­low­ing at some point: make re­marks about the state of your house, or give you “that look” when your child is mis­be­hav­ing. Many of these things are in­evitable. Just be the big­ger per­son and let it go.

MAN­AGE YOUR EX­PO­SURE

Main­tain your san­ity by spend­ing only as much time with his mother as you think you can han­dle. Con­sider what your tip­ping point is – if you can man­age no more than three hours in her com­pany then sched­ule some­thing later on in the day so you have an ex­cuse to leave.

BE ON THE SAME PAGE

“It’s im­por­tant that you and your partner have a united front,” Quin­see says. It should be clear that the two of you re­spect each other, sup­port and trust one an­other and have each other’s backs. If you have a good foun­da­tion there’s less chance out­side in­flu­ences can cre­ate a wedge be­tween the two of you.

The way you be­have with each other should make it clear you’ll do what’s best for the two of you with­out seek­ing val­i­da­tion or ap­proval from her – but also with­out be­ing dis­re­spect­ful.

FIND COM­MON GROUND

One way to try to forge a re­la­tion­ship with his mom is to find things you have in com­mon. Whether it’s cook­ing, movies, books or gar­den­ing, latch on to it and use it to build your re­la­tion­ship around. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing to­gether, and cre­ate shared me­mories. *Not their real names

She’s an im­por­tant per­son in your partner’s life, so do what you can to bridge the di­vide.

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