This week I have been asked by three different friends about their boyfriends' relationship with their respective mothers. What was interesting was that each had a different issue about it, with each providing a different impact upon their relationships. The one common ground between them all was that their maternal relationships were putting intense pressure on their relationship with their partner, and if something didn't change then it would likely end in a messy break up.
I've always been interested in the relationships between parents and kids, and the impact of these in future, and this got me thinking, what other kinds of mother/son relationships are out there, and what are they likely to do to future romantic relationships.
Do you recognise your partner from the below categories? If so, I hope the advice here is helpful in helping to shape a better relationship for you.
The Apron Strings
This is the man who often seems to prioritise his mother over you, in his love, time, and actions. He often seeks his mother's approval in many of his actions, sometimes leading to conflict with you.
He was most likely given a huge amount of maternal love and attention in his youth. However, in his mid-late teens when many boys are establishing their own masculinity, he has yet to develop enough independence to let go of the apron strings. He now leans too heavily on his maternal relationship as a core foundation stone of his own self-esteem.
Trying to rip away the emotional crutch he receives from this relationship very rarely works for this man. You will most likely alienate yourself, plus risk his and his mother's self-esteem in the process. Instead, talk freely and without judgment, to explain the difficulties this is putting on your relationship. Additionally, try to both read the excellent Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, to help him establish his own sense of himself and his own goals.
The Too Close For Comfort
This is the man who has a flirtatious relationship with his mother, which makes you feel uncomfortable at times. He is different to the Apron Strings, as his relationship is distinctly adult in tone, and he has his own sense of identity.
He was most likely adored as a child by a mother who is likely to be relatively young, and likely to have had low self-esteem herself, causing her to use her son as an emotional crutch. As his own masculinity developed in his puberty, his mother was likely to have not known how to transition her relationship, causing an unhealthy level of codependence.
He needs to understand that his behaviour is likely to cause pain for himself, his mother, and you, unless it is addressed. However, this can be a difficult conversation to have, as you do not want to insinuate any impropriety in his maternal relationship. Couples therapy, which contrary to popular opinion is something that is done regularly by strong and functioning couples seeking to improve their already good relationship, would be an effective way of dealing with this issue.
The Cold Shoulder
This is the man who freezes when he talk about his mother, who he most likely sees rarely. With you he dislikes public, and sometimes private, displays of affection and love towards you. He sometimes makes you feel rejected, and doubting yourself, whilst other times he seems distant and cold.
While there have been plenty of contrary cases, most psychology theory states that a maternal relationship is essential to a healthy adult state. Mothers who physically carry the child in their womb possess a unique relationship to their child, and if a child receives a lack of subsequent warmth and love from their mother then it has long lasting impact, usually in aped distant behaviour.
The most difficult thing for your man is that he most likely doesn't understand the language he needs to communicate to you. Clear communication between you is critical, and I strongly recommend Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages to identify what you both need from a relationship, so you may both be able to adapt your own behaviour in future.
The Missing Mother
This is the man who has no relationship at all with his mother, as she left at a very early stage in his development. He may either talk about it a lot, or alternatively never mention it, but if the latter you would most likely see him communicate his pain in non verbal ways. He may be cold and aloof with you, and you may see flashes of anger in how he deals with intimacy, particularly in bed.
Rejection hurts us all at some point in our lives, but few psychological scars are as demanding as a mother leaving their child at a young stage in their lives. There is research to suggest that this sense of rejection can be at its greatest when the child is between the ages of 3 and 9, as these seminal development years are when a maternal role model is said to be at its most important. If a child has none of this input into their development then this can manifest itself throughout their adult life in failed relationships and a shutdown towards intimacy.
Addressing a complete absence of love early in life is a notoriously difficult thing to do, and ideally you should seek the help of a psychology professional to support you and your partner through this.
Dr Becky Spelman is a TV psychologist with a Harley Street practice at www.theprivatetherapyclinic.co.uk