Carolyn Hax: Fiance’s mother thinks they’re at her beck and call

Carolyn Hax
Columnist November 14, 2012

Dear Carolyn:

I am getting married to a wonderful man, and mostly I get along with his family. I do have one recurring problem with his mother: She has this issue with communication. She calls him multiple times a day and texts him, and has this nasty habit of contacting me if he won’t respond.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

While it does bother me that she interferes so much, what really troubles me is that she treats me like his secretary. When he and I first started dating, she used to call me right away if he wouldn’t answer her calls, sometimes when I was at work. He put a stop to that, but then she started texting me, saying it’s important for him to call her.

My fiance has said things to her multiple times, but she hasn’t stopped — and in fact it’s getting worse. She has even gotten the numbers of his past girlfriends and kept in contact with them.

How can I get her to stop with the text messages?


Frustrated Future Bride

Oh, Honey. And I never call people “honey.”

You can stop the text messages many ways, but that won’t help if you and your fiance don’t face the real problem, which is his mother’s complete failure to recognize or respect boundaries.

That’s because blocking her texts won’t block these: her multiple calls per day; her apparent belief that there’s nothing wrong with call-bombing an adult child; her sense of entitlement to immediate access to said grown child; her abuse of the term “important”; her treating you as her son’s secretary; her refusal to change her ways despite a direct request to; I could go on but I’m getting annoyed just typing it out.

Whether the mom has a case of untreated anxiety or runaway self-absorption or some diagnosable amalgam of the two, the fact that the behavior is escalating is your warning to treat it not as “this issue with communication,” but instead as something that could damage your marriage — and your relationship to your kids, if you have them. Just imagine her call patterns then.

Please talk to your fiance about what you both would like the relationship with his mom to be. Does he want this daily call deluge? Do you ever want her calling you to locate him? Does he want her deciding how you both spend time with her, or would he rather the two of you decided that? How often would he want to visit or speak to her by phone, under perfect-world conditions?

Once you and he start to see the terms of a healthy relationship emerge from this conversation, then please flick yourselves in the forehead and say, “This is up to us, and has been since Fiance became an adult.”

He just needs to tell Mom he loves her, and also needs room to be himself without her voice in his head: Therefore, he won’t pick up the phone for multiple calls per day, and you won’t relay her messages to him. And then you both need to stop responding — to the calls, texts, hyperbole outbreaks, or to the threats/guilt-tripping/game-playing that will follow this lockdown as surely as gas follows beans.

If your fiance won’t agree to this, then bring it to counseling — the urgency this time is real.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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