How Not to Be an A-hole When…

… You Hate Your Boyfriend’s Mother

I hate my boyfriend’s mom. Okay, maybe not hate, because hate is a strong word, but we do not get along. I think the only thing we have in common is that we both like her son. I feel like my partner should know because I want to be honest with him. At the same time, I don’t want to offend him and have it hurt our relationship. We’ve been dating almost a year so it feels like we are moving into a long term relationship and this isn’t something that will just be able to be ignored.

This is a potential minefield, which I’m sure you know. Honesty is obviously a necessary component of a successful long-term relationship, but there’s “I have concerns about how your mother and I are relating and I want to talk about this with you” and then there’s “how do you not see what a bitch your mom is?” I’m hoping you’re open to the first option.

You don’t specify what it is about your boyfriend’s mom that you hate. Is she mean to you? To others? Is she liberal and you’re conservative (or vice versa)? I think the cause of those feelings is helpful in identifying a good way to not be an asshole about this, but without that information, I can’t be too specific. However, any of the following might require a bit of an adjustment in what I suggest below.

Proximity
Do you live near his mother? If you’ll only be seeing her at the occasional holiday gathering or family reunion (perhaps two or three times a year at most), it could be tolerable. But if the expectation is that you’ll be seeing her every week or two, or that she’ll come stay with you for a few weeks every summer, or that she’ll be on the phone with your boyfriend every couple of days, then she might end up being a third party in this relationship. If things don’t change with your relationship, do you see that as sustainable long term?

Relating
How does she interact with you? If you and your partner are of the same sex, is she taking out any barely-hidden feelings of homophobia on you? If you are of a different race than her and her son, do you get the sense that this upsets her? If you are Jewish but she is Catholic, is she commenting on how hard it is to raise interfaith children? Does she have opinions about your choices around work or eventual children that lead you to think she disapproves and will continue to make that known? And does she make these comments in front of your boyfriend or only when the two of you are alone? If she’s open with her disagreements with you, I think that holds more promise; if she’s sweet in front of her son but then mean when he’s not around, that’s manipulative.

General Personality
If you hate her because she is annoying, that’s one thing. There are a lot of people in our lives that annoy us, and we adjust. But if her personality causes you immense stress to the point where you find yourself throwing up in the days leading to a visit from her, that’s much harder to just deal with. Additionally, you may find that you have to act a certain way around her to keep the peace. To some extent that’s to be expected in any relationship that is a bit strained, but if you can’t relax at all around her, or you feel like you need to be someone else entirely, that’s not acceptable. I mean, do you remember Phoebe meeting Mike’s parents?

With that in mind, let’s look at what you should do. The first thing is really think about your motivation for this. Yes, you have concern, but what is the concern? Is it anything I’ve said above? Then be prepared to share that, and then be prepared to have something that you are looking for from your boyfriend, whether it is agreement, support, suggestions for how to deal with this, or something else entirely. Basically, you should know what *you* want out of this. I get that you want to be honest, and I agree, but there are lots of true things that we could all go around sharing that don’t really contribute to creating positive relationships.

Timing
As with many situations, timing of the conversation is key. If you decide to raise the issue the second her car pulls out of the driveway after she’s filled the evening with passive-aggressive comments about your religion, it’s possible that both you and your partner may be more prone to making hurtful as opposed to constructive comments. That doesn’t mean you should let it pass entirely; maybe just say “that was an interesting dinner. I’m tired and not thinking clearly, but can we talk more about it tomorrow after work?” That also gives you some time to process and make sure you know what you want to say.

What to Say
You don’t want this to sound like the stiffest, most rehearsed and emotionless conversation ever, but it’d be great if you could think through some main points you want to share. Here’s a loose outline that I think should keep you from being an asshole about this.

1. Make sure that he knows that you want to have a conversation about this issue. That will give him some time to get used to the idea that maybe things aren’t totally awesome between you and his mother (if he isn’t already aware of this).

2. Open with why you feel like you need to share this information. Something like what you shared with me – that you’ve been together awhile, and you see this as something that has long-term potential, and you want to be honest about your feelings even if they are hard to share.

3. Share that you have concerns about your relationship with his mother. Offer up a couple of things that bother you about your interactions, and then be ready with concrete examples. For instance:

“I am concerned that your mother will not accept that I am not going to have children. For the last five family gatherings, she has made comments about her future grand-babies, even though you’ve shared that you and I are not having children together. Since you’re an only child, that concerns me. Has it bothered you at all?”

Or

“I also get the sense that she disapproves of you dating a Jewish girl. She seems very devoted to her Catholic faith, which I admire, but her “joke” at dinner last week about me going to hell freaked me out.”

4. Be prepared for your boyfriend to make excuses for his mother. Even a good partner may get defensive, especially if he has a strong, positive relationship with his mother.

5. Explain why these comments and interactions give you concern for the long run. Are you worried that if you get married and your boyfriend has to choose between something to support you and something to make his mother happy, he’ll automatically choose his mother? Are you worried about the added stress in your life that comes from her criticism?

6. If there is a concrete action you want him to take on this, share it. He’s not a mind reader (unless he is, in which case this whole thing is moot because he totally already knows all this about you).

7. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers or a resolution at this moment.

Then, let it sit. Not forever, but at least for a few days, and think about what you’ve each shared. If it’s a fairly mild situation and you just are looking for a way to acknowledge it’s there and brainstorm some ways to deal with it, then you may be able to create a livable situation by employing some of the ideas you come up with together. But if it’s more painful than that, or if your boyfriend tries minimize your concerns or even gaslights you (), then it might be time to figure out if this is something you want to be putting up with over the long haul.

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