Focus On The Family: Boyfriend Must Confront Controlling Mom

Jim Daly

Q: I have been dating my boyfriend for almost a year, and our relationship is going very well. The issue is with his mom. She is very controlling; it’s “her way or the highway.” We’ve talked about getting married in the future, and we don’t want her controlling our marriage. How can we confront her in a loving way?

Jim: You’re absolutely correct. You don’t want your mother-in-law controlling your marriage! And while it might be tempting to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe that she’ll back off once you actually tie the knot, based on what you’ve described, that doesn’t seem likely.

Our counseling team has dealt with this question in the past and suggests that it is your boyfriend’s responsibility to take the lead on this issue. If he’s afraid to confront her or simply doesn’t want to rock the boat, we suggest that you make a date with him and then patiently explain that you can no longer tolerate his mom’s attempts to control your relationship. Then work on setting some firm boundaries for her.

Once you’re on the same page, the two of you should sit down with his mom and share your concerns. Your boyfriend should take the lead in this conversation. He should make it clear -- as lovingly and gently as possible -- that you are adults and that you expect to be treated as such. Hopefully, she will see the error of her ways and learn to loosen up a bit.

As a part of this process, you might also want to read “Boundaries” (Zondervan, 2002), an excellent book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It contains a wealth of helpful material for setting healthy boundaries in a variety of relationships.

Q: My husband left me six months ago. He said he just couldn’t be married any longer. I have tried many times to reconcile with him, but he is unwilling to go to counseling or to even try to work on the marriage. I don’t want to get a divorce. I am willing to try anything to rebuild our marriage. Do you know of any programs or resources that would help us?

Dr. Greg Smalley, executive director of Marriage and Family Formation: I’m very sorry to learn of the difficult state of your marriage. There are programs that can help, such as intensive couples’ counseling, but your husband needs to be willing to attend. Until he’s open to doing so, and until he desires to work on the marriage, your options are limited. If you’ve been continuously urging him to attend counseling for the past six months or more, it’s time to give him some space. Just a little bit of breathing room may help him make the decision for himself. You can’t make it for him.

In the meantime, consider working on your own heart. I don’t know the details of your separation, but in general, when a separation or divorce occurs, it’s easy to focus on the other person’s issues rather than confronting our own.

In other words, your husband’s refusal to take part in counseling shouldn’t prevent you from pursuing counseling on your own. You might consider seeking out a support group in your church that could help you grapple with this difficult period in your marriage. Talking one-on-one with a counselor may also be helpful to you as you hope and pray for the day when your husband decides to work on the marriage. Contact Focus on the Family for a referral. God bless you.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

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