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