Daughter-in-Law Alert: Is Your Maternal Relationship Actually Hurting Your Marriage?

By Deanna Brann, Ph.D.
NABBW’s In-law Survival Associate

deanna brann - plainMothers and daughters have a rather unique relationship.

Whether they are close or distant this relationship affects many of the other close relationships a young woman has in her life.

As I explain to young women I counsel, “This relationship affects your relationship with your spouse, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and can even affect your relationships with your friends.”

Having a distant or struggling maternal relationship is the most understood. You have a bad or stressed relationship with your mother and you can often see how that affects your other relationships. You can see how the struggles of that relationship spill over into your relationships with your mother-in-law, spouse, sisters-in-law and friends.

But you and your mother get along great.

  • What can possibly be wrong with that?
  • How can the fact that you and your mother get along so well negatively affect your other close relationships?
  • Doesn’t make sense, right?

There is a difference between being close with your mother and being too close to her. When you and your mother talk 2, 3, or more times a week it may seem as though this is a good thing. It may seem as though it is an indication of how close you are. But you are close at whose expense?

Here are some indications that your relationship with your mother may be too close:

  •  You share with her things you should only share with your spouse – When you share with your mother things about your spouse or his family you have colored how she views them. You may make up with them, but she will never see them the same again.
  •  You want your family to do everything with your side of the family, ignoring his family – his family is just as important to him as your family is to you. Both sides have positive and negative attributes. As an adult you should see the value in what each side can bring to your new family.
  •  Your only “friends” are your mother and your siblings – If you have no other outside influences you are stifling your growth – emotionally and intellectually. Personal growth is vital for your well-being. As hard as it may be to admit, families have a need to keep us the way we have always been and this is unhealthy.

 When you have this much “connection” with your mother there is a dependency that develops. Because your mother is an authority figure it increases this dependency even more. This dependency is often subtle because it is an emotional dependence that can easily be explained away.

 “My mother is my best friend,”

 “My mom is someone I can share what is going with me. She “gets” me in a way no one else does.”

 Of course she “gets” you. She raised you. She knows you like a mom knows her child. However, you are not a child anymore. You are an adult. As an adult you need to be formulating your own thoughts, ideas, and beliefs about yourself and about your family. You need to be figuring out – with your spouse – what your family will look like. It should not be a carbon copy of your mother’s life or of your husband’s mother’s life. It should not be a carbon copy of your life or your husband’s life. It should be what the two of you create, together. (Which will combine some from both of your experiences).

When you share so much emotionally with your mother, you are excluding other people who are also part of your familial life. You are excluding other people who deserve and should be part of your emotional connections, albeit at different levels. Once you are married your husband should be your number one emotional connection – above anyone else, including your mother.

Just as your husband’s mother needs to take a back seat as his primary influence, so should your mother with you. She cannot and should not be your primary influence anymore. Your primary connection and influence should be your spouse, with your mother, mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law coming behind your marital relationship.

If you would like to learn more about the impact your mother has on your relationship or you need some help sorting this out, please email me directly  to discuss coaching or consultations.

Dr. Deanna Brann is a leading expert on mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships who helps women get unstuck in their relationships so they can peacefully coexist. As a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law herself she knows this relationship inside and out. She combines her personal experience with her clinical skills and expertise to take you from feeling hopeless to feeling hopeful with easy to follow insights, tools and strategies.

Dr. Brann is a media expert, a national speaker on women and relationships, and a consultant for women struggling with relationships – personally or professionally – who want to make things better. She is also the author of the award-winning book, Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law and a second book, Mothers-in-Law & Daughters-in-Law Say the Darndest Things!

Note: This article was originally published on February 11, 2014 in Dr. Deanna Bran\’s blog.