1. One Word – “Enmeshed”. The above term was discussed as part of our Summer Guest Blog Series by expert Kimberly Gist Miller, LMFT. Kim describes how in some marriages, one or both partners have an overbondness with their family of origin and therefore don’t know how to “leave”, and are very hesitant to “cleave” to their spouse. Most often this leaves the partner or spouse feeling unsupported, unprotected, or less important than the family in law, and often leads to conflict between the partner and the in laws.
When the issue is shared or expressed to the partner, they often respond with “Oh, you’re being sensitive” or “You know how my family is…” This response is a result of the partner still being in the role of “child” and not having established an adult relationship and healthy boundaries with that family of origin. Which leads me to the 2nd reason your spouse may not “get it”.
2. Lack of Developmental Shift. As our expert Kim discussed in our Summer Newsletter, marriage is a major developmental transition for everyone involved. The bride and groom are transitioning from individuals to a family unit, and from children to adults. The parents of the bride and groom are transitioning as well. When the mother of the groom becomes “mother-in-law”, her relationship with her “child” has to transition to one with an “adult”, who is now a husband. Her role in her son’s life is supposed to change and transition, yet many mothers aren’t prepared for, or receptive to this developmental transition, and aren’t willing to adjust to the changes in role and boundaries that come along with the marriage of an adult child.
They have engrained a mindset in their child of always being a child as far as they are concerned, which discourages an adult child from functioning as an independent adult, even if married. Most often, these mothers have historically been overbearing or controlling, so the son has learned how to just let their mom do whatever she wants with no boundaries, and subsequently he never learns how to go through the necessary developmental transition in order to have a successful marriage.
3. He/She Actually Does. I’ve found the truth is, although your spouse may act clueless about their parent’s actions, they actually know their parents best. They’ve seen them in action their whole life, they’ve just learned how to cope. And most importantly they do get it. They just haven’t learned the ability to handle the situation and ultimately hold their parents accountable and establish healthy boundaries. As I’ve discussed before, I feel so badly at times for my husband because I can see the disappointment and sense of torness” in his eyes. He loves me and can’t deny how his mom is, but it’s his mom.
I really think the only way to experience a breakthrough in these types of severe situations is with outside help. Do not shy away from this as it can/will work miracles. Because of the engrained “enmeshment” and lack of developmental shift, the more you try to “convince” your spouse that you’re not crazy and that their parent pretty much is, the worse off things become. At this stage they are not ready to hear or deal with the situation. It’s like talking to a brick wall. They just want it to be over and done with. And while this will likely drive you insane, you must go through the process of discovery and learning with them so you can learn how to better communicate, set boundaries, and not jump off a ledge. And so they can learn how to take on a leadership role in the situation, break away from the parent and set boundaries, and really understand why it’s necessary to put you and your family first.
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