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Carolyn Hax: Choosing between Mom and girlfriend


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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

What would you advise someone in love with a guy who won’t defend her from his hypercritical mother? His response is always to ignore her, but her judgmental and hurtful comments really sting. Is it fair to expect someone to choose between Mom and girlfriend?

The Momster

Ooh, don’t fall into that trap. Your way can be right and fair and soaring among the angels, but if he simply doesn’t do something that you can’t be happy without, what then?

In the interest of due diligence, try coping with his mother the way he does. Watch his methods, learn them, road-test them.

Then see if you can imagine doing this in perpetuity, and, more important, not getting angry at him for refusing to do things your way.

If at the end of this process you: 1. truly see and embrace the wisdom of his approach, then, mazel tov. 2. Are still thinking he needs to stand up to his mother on your behalf, then ask him to again, plainly:

“You asked me to ignore it, and I’ve tried, sincerely. But that didn’t work, and now I’m asking you to stand up for me, because I don’t believe ignoring her cruelty is right.”

If he declines, then you break up, knowing you did all you could.

Re: Momster:

In the same situation, I had no idea my boyfriend was defending me strongly after all — he just wasn’t doing it in front of me because he knew it was better to deal with her when I wasn’t there and she couldn’t attack me directly as a result of his stating his opinion.

After a while and some serious discussions, he realized that I needed to know he was standing up for me, and, while I don’t recommend it for everyone, shared some of the gory details so I’d know he was trying to protect me. He even got his father involved to help her realize how awful she was being.

Eventually, they started getting through to her, and she and I still aren’t friends, but we get along okay most of the time, and I know my now-husband and the father of our child is doing his best by us in his own way.


Good perspective, thanks.

Re: Momster:

My husband never defended me against his mom and I could never understand it. After some discussions with him, I realized he was totally cowed by her. Afraid of her to the point of becoming jelly.

It helped me to realize that years of living with her had done a number on him. Now I just ignore her the best I can, and, actually, that seems to have slowed her down. Without a reaction she’s got no incentive.

Anonymous 2

Wow. Maybe I’ve just seen too many of these stories end badly, but your story is unusual. You didn’t only get valuable insight into your husband (and adult children like him), but you also found a way to do it without getting angry at him, thinking less of him or trying to justify your old expectations of him. Such a forgiving response.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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