I have been with my partner for several years and we live with each other. We get on incredibly well and are very much in love. I would like to think that we will have a long future together.
I have suspected since we got together that my mother doesn’t like him. The problem is, he could be anyone: my mother doesn’t like me having a boyfriend who isn’t my ex-fiance.
Before I started to see my boyfriend I was engaged. Unfortunately, my mother has still not accepted that this is relationship over. She reacted very badly at the time, said she needed counselling, told me that I was making the biggest mistake of my life, and said that she still wanted him in her life.
I tried to remain calm but after a few weeks I said I didn’t feel strong enough to support her, and if she couldn’t support me, I would understand but couldn’t continue to listen to her problems with me and the situation.
It came to a head recently when we were staying at a relation’s house. I took my mother aside to ask her what the problem was. She got upset, saying of course she wasn’t fine, she doesn’t like my partner, that he isn’t good enough, that he “makes her feel uncomfortable” and that I can do better.
During the conversation I tried to ask calmly what the problems are but sadly there was no substance. I asked why he makes her feel uncomfortable but there was no clarity. I admit I got upset. I said I was sick of having to justify my life and why could she not simply be happy for me?
She then said: “Just prove me wrong. Tell me how happy you are.” I found this baffling and said that I can’t live my life reassuring her.
I love my mother. She bought me and my siblings up alone and we are all incredibly close. I speak to her every day and would never hurt her. But over the past few years she has become increasingly negative and depressive.
I feel stuck and that there are lots of factors here: my mother being post-menopausal, nearing retirement and worrying about a tiny pension, finding her identity when her children have all moved away. But as sympathetic as I am, I do not want these to be projected on to my love life.
Is there a way I can work through this with my mother, being considerate to her other problems, but also very firm that my partner is not going anywhere and that I find her behaviour unacceptable?
One line from your letter really struck me: “she said that she still wanted him in her life”. Your ex seems to have become the repository for everything in your mother’s life that is not right. But I would also wager that if you were to bring him back and say you were now going to marry him, she wouldn’t be so keen on him, after a while, either.
He is a safe bet. He is in the past. He is not going to carry her daughter away. Your current partner is. But – and this is important – I wonder what he meant to your mum as a woman. Was he what she would have wanted in a partner? (I’d love to know more about your dad.) It’s easy to think of mums as just that, but once upon a time, she would have had all sorts of hopes and dreams for herself, too. Were these realised?
I think you have pretty much nailed your mother’s issues. She’s depressed and scared. Her whole life has been her family and now it’s changing. I wonder what your place in the family is? Either the youngest, her last baby fledgling, or the eldest who was the confidant in the early days of family life as a sole parent?
However, you are right. These are her issues and you cannot take them on. You said you do not want them projected on to your love life, but you cannot stop her projecting. If your mother is stuck on transmit, all you can do is tune out I’m afraid. It’s tempting to spend less time with her but this will reinforce her fears.
This won’t happen overnight, but try to spend time doing things with your mother that are not about your partner or talking about him. That can come later. Is there something you could do together, maybe once a month? A visit to somewhere, a movie? Before you had boyfriends, did you spend quality time together? If so, what did you do?
If she mentions your boyfriend, stay calm. Don’t defend your decisions. You don’t need to. The more you entrench your position, the more determined she will be to crack your defences, plus defensive to her will read as “something’s not right”.
Say: “Mum, I’m happy. Thanks for being concerned, but I’m fine. How about you, are you happy?” Give her a little squeeze or hug as you say this. Or try to find another question that projects it back to her – because ultimately that is what this is about.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 3 October 2014.