He Said/She Said: Meddlesome Mother-In-Law

Dear Aaron & Rachel, 

My husband and I have been married for 6 years. We dated for about a year before we were engaged and things were great. But once we were engaged his mother became very meddlesome. At first I thought she just wanted to help plan the wedding. And I was happy to let her – I knew she and Brandon (my husband) were close and I thought that this would be a good chance for us to bond. But the meddling didn’t stop after the wedding. 

Brandon and his mother talk every day. Whenever there’s a fight he tells her all about it. He sometimes tells her about something that’s bothering him before he even tells me. She has even called me to tell me about problems that he’s having and giving me advice how to fix it – like it’s always my fault or something.  When I tell Brandon that I want to keep our problems between us he thinks I just don’t like his mother and wont’ listen to me.

We had our first child two years ago and now we’re looking to move out of our apartment into a house. He found a house 2 blocks away from his mother and wants us to move there. And so does his mother. They are both excited about it and despite my objections it seems like the two of them are moving ahead on it.  How do I make it clear to him that I’m not comfortable with him and his mother’s relationship? How do I tell him I don’t want to move so close to his mother without them both getting upset?


Moving next to Mother-in-Law

She Said 

Dear Moving next to Mother-in-Law,

It sounds like you've got a definite Mama's Boy on your hands. Along with my advice, I am wishing you patience and strength in dealing with the situation with Brandon and your Mother-in-Law. Because, trust me, girlfriend: You are going to need it!

Think about it: Brandon and his mother have likely had this close dynamic for his entire life. Things didn't get how they are quickly, and they aren't going to change overnight.

In the psychotherapy world, we call this mother/son relationship "enmeshment" and regard the relationship between the three of you as a triangle. (Just sharing in case you want to do some reading on how to handle these complicated dynamics.) The bottom line is simple: What is going on is unhealthy for your marriage. You have to communicate this to Brandon in a gentle but firm way. If he does not want your relationship to suffer, he is going to have to change the way he interacts with his mother. He needs to be convinced that if he has a problem with you, he needs to speak to you--not to his mother. He needs to learn to take your feelings into account and not assume you feel how you do because you don't like his mother. Explain that you'd be like this with anyone's mother.

You also have to learn how to compromise and be forgiving if he doesn't make great changes right away. I am not saying that means living two blocks away from Mama, but you can't expect a miracle. Be patient. You married Brandon and his mother--so the three of you need to figure this out so no one's relationship suffers.

He Said

Dear Moving Next To Mother In Law.

I think the best thing to do right now is put your foot down about moving next to mother-in-law. If you’re already uncomfortable about his relationship it’ll likely only get worse moving next to her. If you do decide to move there, you need to be very clear about boundaries you expect (e.g. no more than so many visits a week to/from MIL, etc).

Most of all, you need to talk to Brandon about your discomfort of moving next to his mother AND talk to him about your hurt feelings of him listening to his mother before he listens to you. Also, let him know that you feel like him and his mother make decisions on things where you feel it should be strictly between you and him to make the decisions. Just as Rachel said, tell him that it has nothing to do with his mother and that you’d feel this way if it was anybody’s mother.

Then I think you should talk to his mother, too. Instead of leaving it up to Brandon to relay the message to his mother (which he may not do very well) you can tell her directly about how you feel about their relationship interferes with your marriage. Most of the time, they’re pretty understanding. If she’s not, at least she knows how you’re feeling and will be aware of it. Then you need to tell Brandon you expect him to bring things up with you first before bringing them up with your MIL. Over time as you set boundaries, the relationship should get better and you’ll start to feel like you and Brandon are more of a team.

About Rachel:  Rachel Russo is a Dating, Relationship, & Image Coach who works with marriage-minded singles and couples in NYC and throughout the US. Checkout her website at RachelRusso.com

About Aaron: Aaron Anderson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado and writer for various websites on marriage and relationships.


  1. Rachel Russo said...:

    Very good point, Aaron! She should talk to the MIL as well. I couldn't agree more!

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