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I should be number one!, But she's my mother!

Diane and Bob have been married two years. Bob’s relationship with his mother is causing stress in his marriage. What should Bob and Diane do?

I should be number one!

Diane says: : I love Bob and I respect his mother. But she calls every day after work, just at dinnertime, and she wants to talk with Bob for an hour. She also expects him to come over every Sunday and do small chores for her, and then stay for dinner. She always makes some excuse for excluding me from the invitations. I thought married men were supposed to put their wives first, but I’m definitely feeling like a runner-up!

But she's my mother!

Bob says: My dad died when I was a teenager, and my mom relied on me. I was her only companion for years. I love Diane and she is definitely my first priority in life, but I can’t say ‘no’ to my mother – she really needs me. And is it really so much for her to expect one dinner a week with her son? I just wish Diane could understand that this is important to me and my mom.

The expert says:

Remember Genesis? God said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Seems that God may have predicted this issue and gave us pretty clear directions. A man needs to align himself with his wife. While the ‘what to do’ is clear, the ‘how to’ is not. How a man and woman make a marriage and family work is not always easy, especially when it comes to our extended families.

These triangles in relationships can happen in the best of families. The best way to handle this problem is to talk about these issues ahead of time, before the marriage takes place. Identifying how each feels and why, is the first step to making this problem feel better.

Bob and Diane need to make sure their relationship is well nurtured. They need to spend quality time together. The trust the partners develop in their relationship helps them weather the ups and downs of life, and they cannot go wrong by focusing on communication. Putting the marital relationship first is critical to a successful marriage.

The rule of thumb is to communicate with each other openly. Bob and Diane should pick a time to talk when they are not already angry at one another. Bob should listen to Diane – really hear her and imagine how he would feel in her spot. Can he understand how she might feel? Diane needs to try to own her feelings, using “I” language that does not blame. How does it make Diane feel that Bob’s mom only calls him? Is dinner every Sunday acceptable? Is it possible that minor maintenance could be done monthly?

Now it is Bob’s turn. He needs to acknowledge how torn he feels, and Diane needs to listen. Hopefully, Diane can imagine how Bob’s mom may feel. The competition between Diane and Bob’s mom needs to be talked about openly by the couple. Bob needs to clearly let Diane know that she is No. 1 in his life. That doesn’t mean he can’t help his mom. Once Bob and Diane agree on what is comfortable for them, the boundaries on which they agree need to be communicated to Bob’s mother. These same guidelines can be used for Diane’s parents and family as well.

Families are important; they provide necessary love and support. Perhaps Bob and Diane can find a role for Bob’s mom. Is she willing to help with children? Could Sunday dinner move to Bob’s and Diane’s? Including Bob’s mom in their family life will help her feel cared for and a part of their lives, not just Bob’s. It would be great if she gained a more supportive caring relationship with Diane. This is a bonus for any mom in these fast-paced times.