45

Background

I have been dating my boyfriend for 5 years now and even if everything is perfect with him and I couldn’t be happier, it is not the same with his family and especially with his mother, who does things that are unacceptable to me.

I will enumerate some of the things she does to me, so you can get an idea of what she is like. Please keep in mind that it's just to give you context, I am not asking for help on how to deal with every of these situations:

  • She usually calls my boyfriend to tell him how badly his brother behaves, e.g. "Your brother did this and that".
  • She plays the role of the victim, e.g if you don’t answer her because you're busy or whatever, she’d say you don’t care about her or that you don’t love her enough.
  • She spends all day screaming for things like

    I am so alone!

    or

    No one cares about me

    and similar. This makes me think she lacks attention.

  • If my boyfriend prefers to spend the weekend with me rather than going home, she tells him that she's his mother and that he seems to love me more.

  • When my boyfriend comes to visit me, she calls him every day. I could understand that she worries about him, but I think it's a bit too much, for my parents wouldn't be that overprotective towards me.
  • My boyfriend has a dog that scares me sometimes. Last summer, it started barking at me when I entered the house. Whereas my BF's dad suggested to put it in the kitchen until I got relaxed, his mother wouldn't let that happen and let the dog continue barking at me without even holding it, so I just ran and locked myself away until I wasn't scared anymore. I feel like she could have respected my fear and hold him while smelling me.
  • She got angry because the 21st of December I hadn't wished her a Happy Christmas -I was planning to do so on Christmas' Day. Due to her anger, I did it that same day (21st) but via a text message and not a call, she got angry too. Please note in my country (which is also theirs), it’s ok to do these things by sending a WhatsApp.
  • My boyfriend's elder brother usually plays bad taste “jokes”. For example, he would drink my milkshake -the one I prepared for myself- and after telling him it was mine and that he had already drank his he would say:

    Who bought the ingredients? My family, so I can drink it.

    That was not true because I did buy them, but what really annoyed me was nor their mother nor my BF didn't say a word and indeed his mother always laughs at his jokes while it's obvious that those are not funny to me.

  • While I was living far away from my boyfriend’s town (+600km), his mother invited me for his birthday and when I asked the day she said “today” when she perfectly knew I would not be able to come on time due to the distance.

  • While watching a TV show she would come and start talking to us without caring we were watching something even if we had headphones so we wouldn't hear her screaming.

  • She checked my underwear just to find out if I was using thongs and after she realized I didn't she said:

    She is not a dirty girl

These are only a few of the things she's done to me over the past years. Unfortunately, it has reached a point where I have even thought of breaking up with my boyfriend, for his mother and elder brother do those things to me.

What I've tried so far

I have talked with my boyfriend about these issues many times. He sometimes recognizes that what his mother is doing to me is not okay (especially when I get mad/sad), but he'd soon forget about it and tell me that I'm exaggerating everything, making me feel like he doesn't support me.

My relationship with his mother right now is nearly nonexistent (it has been almost 2 years since the last time I've seen her); we just talk on WhatsApp on particular dates (e.g. Christmas and birthdays). The problem is that my boyfriend insists that I come to visit his family, even knowing I am not comfortable with the situation. It's been a while since these things have begun bothering me, but I have now decided to give his mother and elder brother a new chance, as I know my boyfriend suffers a lot from the situation.

Problem

Until now, I have never spoken of this problem with either of them, but since my boyfriend has never supported me in front of his family (he told me he asked them to stop, but they didn't), I now want to let them know that what they're doing to me is not okay.

Where I need help is in how to deal with the mother in case she shows some of the behaviors I have already mentioned above and make her stop them, as my boyfriend has already tried with no visible result. Also, I would like to get a way to make my boyfriend realize that the way his mother is treating me hurts me. I am plenty aware that is his mother and he love her, I don’t have any trouble with that, I also love mine, but I would like him to understand that if things don’t change I am not obliged to bear with his mother as I am in a relationship with him, not with his family. Because sometimes he also makes his mother play the role of victim saying it's me the one who is never going to visit them or because when I do I have a bad face.

Additional information

@Fr1Krazy: His brother -and only brother- is 30 years old.

@Mindwin: We're both Spanish.

@Graham: We're 24 years old.

@Pharap: His father is at home too, he's ok. He just doesn't take a part in, he doesn't defend me but he doesn't support his wife (my BF's mother) neither.

Question

How do I deal with his mother if she starts playing the victim role with me again, or if she doesn't treat me with the minimum of respect everyone deserves?

Or, in other words:

How can I make my boyfriend's mother stop making me uncomfortable without damaging my relationship?

  • 3
    You've listed a lot of different scenarios, and are asking how to deal with their mother in any of those situations or similar ones. That makes this question increadably broad. Can you edit your post to focus on a mores specific question? – sphennings Apr 24 '18 at 14:18
  • 2
    Hi @Marisa :) I'm trying to edit your question so as to avoid it to be closed, because it might be a bit unclear what you're asking. I think it should be a bit shortened to be easily understood, so I'll give it a try, but don't hesitate to rollback my changes if you don't agree with what I've cut. – avazula Apr 24 '18 at 15:01
  • 7
    Furthermore, I think you should consider asking 2 different questions: 1- how to tell his family about you being uncomfortable with their behavior towards you and your BF, and 2- how to let your BF know that the way his family is treating you is bothered you and making you uncomfortable. – avazula Apr 24 '18 at 15:16
  • 2
    So for now, I'll edit your question to make it suit the first option, but don't hesitate to ask a new question to look for answers for your 2nd question / look on IPS if it hasn't been already asked. – avazula Apr 24 '18 at 15:17
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    Note: Please use comments for asking for clarifications or suggesting improvements. Comments other than those will be deleted. Also once the clarification is provided or any improvement is made, those comments will also be deleted. – A J Apr 27 '18 at 5:52

11 Answers 11

71

I am not obliged to bear with his mother as I am in a relationship with him, not with his family

You have hit it right there with that one sentence. You cannot make him choose between his family and you - that won't work out well for you. YOU, however, can make the choice. Lay it out in clear terms for your boyfriend: you've had enough and won't associate with his family any more. He's perfectly free to talk to them, spend time with them, visit them, whatever he wants to do. You won't say anything or do anything to prevent that.

You, however, won't. You don't like how his brother treats you and don't like how his mother treats anyone. You're uncomfortable there and see no reason to make things worse for yourself.

You cannot change someone else's behavior. You can influence it to a small degree, but only the person doing the behavior can change it. So don't spend a lot of frustration on trying. Rather, change your reaction to it. He spends time with his family? Spend that time with your friends. Mom calls? Go into a different room and read; let him deal with her. He wants to visit? Have a great trip; I'll be here when you return.

Editing in response to OP's comment: your BF really wants you to come to an event that will be uncomfortable for you. First of all, I'd make sure he knows why I don't want to attend and what happens. Then I'd explain to him what I expect: that I receive his support when things get awkward and that he not make this a case of "me against his family". I'd set up a phrase with him that tells him "I expect your support right here, right now". If he can't agree to that, then I think you have other problems to deal with. the big thing for you is: don't fight with his family. You will be seen as being a pain, and they will tell him that.

  • 12
    If you disagree with the approach suggested in this answer, please don't start discussing it in comments. You're always free to write your own. – HDE 226868 Apr 25 '18 at 2:31
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – HDE 226868 Apr 26 '18 at 18:02
18

I think how this will turn out really comes down to whether your boyfriend shares your opinion - or is even aware of - the issues that you've highlighted here. In other words, if he doesn't see them as unusual or bad behaviour, there's no way he's going to do anything about it. He is the person who has the power to change the situation.

In my opinion, I don't believe in trying to change people, and here I mean your boyfriend and his mother. The very best you can do is have a heart-to-heart with your boyfriend, explain all the concerns you have, and allow him to decide what to do. You've been together 5 years which is a long time, so I'm sure he wouldn't just walk away from the relationship, but it's possible that you may have to choose between the relationship staying as it is, or moving on to something else if he won't take action to stop his mother behaving in such ways.

  • 5
    How would you suggest OP approaches their boyfriend to initiate the heart-to-heart? Why do you think a heart-to-heart is the best course of action? – Violet Flare Apr 24 '18 at 15:19
18

The behaviors you list for his mother sounds like she's a Narcissist. You should take a look into the Narcissistic Personality Disorder for a better idea of whether this is true or not, but it's highly manipulative and there's nothing you or your boyfriend can do to help/fix her, if that's the case.

While you are technically correct that you're dating him and not his family, family is baggage that comes along with the relationship. Still, it's fair for you to insist that your boyfriend deal with his own mother, and that he not allow her to treat you poorly.

Having said that, there are some issues you list that don't quite rise to the level of rudeness you seem to be trying to communicate. For instance, talking while you're watching TV. My wife multitasks quite well, so it doesn't bother her to talk through a show on TV. She tries to remember not to do it while I'm watching, but it's natural for her.

Some of your issues seem based on your own maturity, but it does seem like your boyfriend's family relationship is dysfunctional. I'd suggest sitting him down to have a talk about it. Write down your feeling and specific issues (much like you've done here). Organize your thoughts, and try to pick out the issues that really are specifically a problem.

Ultimately, this might be your own mind trying to tell you it's time to move on and find a boyfriend from a more stable family background.

8

I have been reading Respect-Me Rules by Shelly Marshall, Michael J. Marshall (and I highly recommend it). I think some of the tools the book describes for abusive situations can be applied here:

First, you have admitted that these actions on her part and her treatment of your are not appropriate. So you need to communicate that clearly to all of them. Respecting yourself means that if others do not treat you right, you call them out on it. So if your boyfriend is not fully aware, you need to make sure he understands how you feel. If his mother or brother treat you that way again, you need to tell them when it happens that it will not be tolerated, then respond with a consequence, such as going for a walk for an hour. You should let your boyfriend know ahead of time that you expect respect, and if they don't, then he needs to stand up for you. If he's not willing to defend you when you call out their bad behavior, you need to make your feelings clear and make a decision about staying in or leaving the relationship.

She plays the role of the victim, e.g if you don’t answer her because you're busy or whatever, she’d say you don’t care about her or that you don’t love her enough.

I want to be clear that the above description is something intended to manipulate your emotions, allowing her to continue her bad behavior. When you start to enforce your boundaries and respect yourself, they will respond with their usual behavior. You have to be steadfast in holding to your expectations, because if you give in to their abusive demands, it shows them that they can successfully manipulate you.

Second, you state that you are in a relationship with your boyfriend and not his family. That is not entirely true. A dating relationship is generally for the purpose of finding someone to marry, or at least to go through life with. He is in a relationship with his family, and those relationships are something that matter to him and affect his life. If you continue to endure negative relationships with his family, you will either negatively affect your relationship with him, or his relationship with his family, or both. If marriage is the goal of the relationship, then that would be the joining of two families. His family will become yours, and the relationships will be important.

If the relationship between you and his family cannot be resolved to where they treat you with basic respect, especially if he will not stand up for you, then you should not continue in the relationship. Like it or not, but when you are in a serious relationship or marriage, their family dynamics are something you will have to live with.

  • 2
    Just to add to this, she may argue about what's appropriate. The best test is "what would you do if a complete stranger came in off the street and did that to you?" Ask her whether she'd let a stranger come into her house and look through her underwear drawer. Would she be so rude to someone at the next table in a cafe? If she can't treat you as least as politely as she'd treat a stranger, then she is being rude to you. – Graham Apr 25 '18 at 8:16
  • @Graham Agreed. But if it comes down to it, she can't argue about what standards you expect for yourself. So even if she disagrees about what you expect, she can't have the final say, because you're the one creating your own standards for how you are treated. – mbomb007 Apr 25 '18 at 13:22
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    If children are a (potential) goal in this relationship, she will be a grandmother of your children. You can't choose if she will or won't be their grandmother, you can only choose if you will or won't have children with this guy--you get her as a side effect. She's not the real problem, it's his (lack of) management of the family relationship that's the problem. – user3067860 Apr 26 '18 at 16:44
7

It seems to me that your boyfriend's mother might be jealous about your relationship with your boyfriend. I don't say you shouldn't consider the possibility of her being a narcissist, as suggested in another answer, but the jealousy theory is worth giving a shot, too.

It's been a long time since you've been with your boyfriend. You say that everything is perfect between the two of us, so I guess that you'd like to pursue a relationship with him. Considering this, I would suggest to be direct and honest with her and ask her about her feelings towards you, because to me, she acts like somebody who's jealous or feeling threatened. I know it's hard to adopt such an approach, but given the matters, it'd be great if you two could improve your relationship if you spend the next years/decades/centuries with your boyfriend. She might tell you she doesn't like you. In this case, there's not much to do despite remaining polite and nice, but unfortunately, not everyone has a loving family-in-law. But it's essential to remain polite with your BF's relatives.

If this approach isn't what would best suit you, I would suggest you wait for the next time she does something that makes you uncomfortable. Right after that, breathe in (rather discreetly, she shall not think that she bothers you), adopt a calm tone, and express your problem according to the nonviolent communication theory. Taking an example of situation from your question (watching series/movies and her coming and talk to you both), it could look like the following:

Amanda, I feel uncomfortable when you come into the room and talk while we're watching movies with Bryan. This annoys me because this isn't a great time for a conversation since we cannot provide the best possible conditions for talking together. Would you mind that we come back to you right after the movie is over?

Disclaimer: this is not supposed to be a friendly approach. Nonviolent communication aims at expressing your concern in the gentlest and most polite way, in order to get what you want (when possible. If not, it'd open the disccussion to find a compromise that would suit best both parts). By saying this, you tell your BF's mother that her current behavior is not appropriate for the situation, but that you're still open to hear what she has to tell you. This maintains politeness and kindness towards her, and let room to find a compromise, e.g. if she absolutely needs to talk to you right now, then

Ok, just let us pause the movie, and we're all ears.

This reminds her she's interrupting you and might discourage her to bother you for "non-major" things during your time with your BF next time.

You might need to repeat this approach several times, until she understands she interferes in your relationship. Be patient, remain calm and polite.

You've got all my support, and I hope this helps.

5

Coming from a similar culture from Portugal and even being of an older generation, I can perfectly affirm the behavior described is pretty much abusive and appalling even by our relaxed Iberian standards.

I would not tolerate people putting in risk my physical integrity with a dog, or actually giving far much more importance to a dog than me, and certainly not rummaging through my personal belongings, even less in my own house (please, do tell me she has not a key to your apartment). It also not kosher at all you do not have any rights at all, because "you are not family". I would pack my things and go.

Furthermore, the bigger problem here is that your boyfriend never established boundaries with his family and affirmed himself, and as such he is not respected [as an adult].

I had many fights with my family since I was 16 to establish personal boundaries. Even in my 30s I went without talking with my parents for 6 months, because they started being abusive after I ended up a relationship with someone they liked, and started a new relationship with someone else, and I knew they can be mean when they do not like someone, either when they are right or wrong.

IMO, besides yourself, it is up for your boyfriend to be a man and stand up for you if he is a worthy partner.

As others advice, I would keep my distance from his family, but I would also have a very serious talk with him. He needs to stop being a boy and start behaving like a man.

Lastly, as for people often trying to get your nerves using others as a proxy (e.g. your boyfriend), it is quite easy to solve. "If they are not talking directly to me, I do not want to know about it." Used quite effectively this line over the years, both in family and work situations.

Your bf also should have the wisdom to curtail being the messenger of such pettiness, or even tell his mother he is not really that interested in hearing bad comments about yourself.

I would probably keep my distance until xmas, but that is just me.

As for solving the problem, it will have to be your boyfriend dealing with his mother bad behavior and not you, if you do not want to affect your relationship. If he really loves you and wants to keep you both dealing with his family, he will have to make that effort.

PS/comment: When I was younger, I left a relationship with someone mainly because she chose to be all the time with her father rather than with me pretty much when she was not busy.

If I could regret anything, it would be the relationships opportunities I lost and the time I was alone in weekends and summer holidays over the 10 years we were dating.

She would tell me that if we married things would be different, I never believed it.

I would not spend all the weekends stuck in his mother's home - life is short. Young age without much responsibilities goes by very fast, enjoy it while you can. Book some small holidays over several weekends - enjoy taking a ride out of town.

4

There's a lot to work with in this post, and there are many insightful answers. I would like to elaborate on Will Appleby's answer.

As I see it, there are two problem individuals in this situation:

The mother

This is quite obvious. I believe this issue can be dealt with using a two step process (applies to brother too).

First: when she mistreats you next, calmly and clearly state that those actions were not acceptable and walk away. It is important that you do only this. Do not explain why they are not acceptable: she is an adult and she knows what she is doing. Do not engage her afterwards unless you wish to accept her apology (if one is offered). This is all you can do to attempt to change her behavior towards you.

Second: if completion of the first step has no effect on how the mother treats you, it is clear that she doesn't care about you or how you feel (I think you already know this though). As such, the only way to get her to stop treating you poorly is to not give her the opportunity by limiting contact with her. The first stage of limiting contact is reducing the verbal/text/social media interactions you have: basically, ignore her. The second step is to remove yourself from her physical presence: don't be where she is.

At this point, you may be thinking, "if I cut my boyfriend's mother out of my life, it will cause problems in my relationship." You are correct, which leads us to the second problem individual in the equation:

The boyfriend

This point is a little more subtle. You state that

I would like to get a way to make my boyfriend realize that the way his mother is treating me hurts me

If you have told him, then he does realize, he's just choosing to ignore your concerns. You must clearly tell him that you are no longer going to expose yourself to his mother's poor behavior towards you. Explain to him that you have already told his mother that you don't like the way she treats you. I would also provide the reasons you listed in your post where the mother's behavior is directed strictly at you, like when she looked through your underwear. It is imperative that you speak all of this without being interrupted, and that you do not argue with him after the fact. You are stating your truth simply so he knows it, not so he can try to change your mind.

In my mind, and ideal compromise is something like: you only visit his home after he explicitly explains to his mother how she is hurting you, how it is unacceptable to him, and asks her to apologize. If such a course of action is not acceptable to your boyfriend, it is clear to me that he'd rather let you be hurt by his mother than strain his relationship with his mother by chastising her. I would recommend finding a boyfriend who actually respects your feelings.

2

The seven principles for making a marriage work by John Gottman has a section on conflicts between wife and mother-in-law.

The conflicts always amount to the MIL overstepping her boundaries, and the TL:DR is that the husband needs to support his wife 100%.

This position lets the wife know that she comes first in his life, enforces boundaries with his mother, and although she might huff and puff, it will take a lot more than this to actually damage the mother-son relationship.

I would suggest that you and your boyfriend read it for yourself. Let him know the things you've described here, and let him know that it is a real problem and you expect his 100% support next time you visit. Since he has clearly never done this before, it might take a few tries.

I would not suggest an ultimatum, as you should work together to solve this problem. But I will say to you that dealing with a nasty mother-in-law is not your job, your boyfriend needs to keep her in check, or she needs gets cut out of your future life together.

  • Yeah, I pretty much have a similar answer. The premise of the question is somewhat flawed, it is his bf job to put his family in line. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 27 '18 at 7:22
1

The problem is that your boyfriend's family is part of the pack. You can't avoid it. Also, you know that we Spaniards are normally very close to our families, maybe more than in other countries.

Additionally, he can't choose to have a different family and he doesn't want to cut his relationship with his family, despite their defects, as you neither want to do it with yours. You neither can request him to do that.

It seems that you don't need to see your boyfriend's family very often, this is an advantage for you that makes things much more easier. However, you should try to do it sometimes, even if you don't like because probably it is important for your boyfriend. How would you feel if he were always refusing to visit your family?

However, the treatment they give to you is not acceptable, and is something that you wouldn't need to stop by yourself. I think you should speak with your boyfriend very clearly, and tell him all this:

  1. explain him how do you feel when they do this kind of things to you (and give him a list of examples)
  2. request him to defend you always this type of situations happen in the future (see below)
  3. If he says that you are exaggerating, tell him that you don't mind if he thinks that. If he doesn't complain with point 2, you will never visit his family. Explain him that you are open to visit his family because it is important for him, so you make the effort but only if he helps you in this way.
  4. Remark that you are not open to reasoning nor negotiating this point. He defend you, or you won't visit his family.

How should he defend you? When they make something not appropiate to you, he should AUTOMATICALLY tell them to stop doing it, without you having to request his help or you having to tell his family to stop. It seems that they doesn't mind very much if you get upset, but they might mind if your boyfriend does. And he should tell them very clearly that he doesn't mind if they were joking, or whatever, they should let you alone.

Despite all this, there are 2 different group of problems:

  • Behaviors of your boyfriend's family that affect you: for example the issue of the dog. This is a case where your boyfriend should defend you.
  • Behaviors that doesn't affect you: for example when his mother says that he loves you more than her, or that she's very alone. Just ignore this kind of things and let your boyfriend to handle them (unless they start affecting you in any way). Even if his mother get angry with you because you texted her instead of calling, why do you care? She's not your friend, you don't like each other, just ignore it (don't even bother to tell it to your boyfriend, it doesn't worth it, you only can to start an argument with him with nothing to win).

But in the end, remember that you will have to deal with his family, you can't avoid them forever if you stay with your boyfriend for decades.

EDIT: you should be also understanding with your boyfriend. Probably he is not comfortable at all with the situation, but he doesn't know how to deal with this because he doesn't want to have conflict with any of you.

  • Good answer. The problem I see is that I don't really care about these behaviors that doesn't affect me, actually I know his mother got angry because she was the one accusing me to my BF not the other way round, like: "Your GF didn't call me/ She just sent a message" and so on. So even if I try to ignore it she'd tell to my BF. – Marisa Apr 26 '18 at 12:35
  • I know. This is uncomfortable, but you have to "make the effort of ignoring it". Always this things doesn't escalate to a conflict with your boyfriend, they're not a problem. Tell him that you made the effort to be nice with his mother, but you didn't know that she wanted to be called. Then, start talking about other things, and let your boyfriend telling his mother whatever he wants about the topic. – naggety Apr 26 '18 at 12:39
0

In a marriage, a persons partner must have absolute priority over the persons family. If a person cannot do that, they shouldn't get married. So if your boyfriend of five years cannot make your wellbeing his priority over his family, then you have a problem.

You are not going to change his family. The mother will always be manipulative and hold the son under her thumb, and act in the most hurtful way possible towards you. The older brother will always be an immature jerk. It's not going to change. So either your boyfriend gives you real support and stands up for you, or you both stay away from his family. That's what you need to make clear to your boyfriend.

If he cannot accept this - well, you don't want to affect your relationship with him, but you'd have to consider what you want in the long run.

So talk to him. Make it absolutely clear that his family is behaving in an unacceptable and disgusting way towards you, and that either he stands up for you and puts an end to this behaviour, or you will stop any contact with his family.

  • 1
    The bother is not the only immature guy apparently. If the guy has never stand up for himself over the family, I pretty much doubt he will start now. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 26 '18 at 14:20
-1

Tough, huh? But I made it.

There're some tactics that might work.

Firstly, you should soothe yourself. Here's what I think: if your boyfriend and you would get married and you guys won't live with his mother or his family, then just treat his mother like a friend. Holiday cards and meals, caring text are not that hard.

Secondly, one good turn deserves another. If you show enough respect and care for his mother, she takes it and treats you well back. Then it is perfect. If not, then your boyfriend can't blame on you.

Remember that she just loves her son so much and if she reaches your bottom line, try to talk to her peacefully, instead of making your boyfriend to choose one side.

  • 2
    If the boyfriend doesn't support her against his offensive family now, why would you think it gets better when they are married? – gnasher729 Apr 25 '18 at 23:12

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