How to Handle a Partner Who Is a “Mama’s Boy”

Older mother with adult son

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Being married to a mama's boy isn't always a bad thing. A man who is close to his mother is not a mama's boy in a negative way. In fact, research has shown that boys and men who have strong relationships with their mothers are mentally healthier, more empathetic, and have better relationships with women.

A man who seems to be unhealthily attached to his mother, however, might be more of a problem. This is particularly if he can't seem to function without her.

Boundary problems, dependence, and enmeshment can be harmful to a relationship or marriage. It is important to be able to distinguish between normal and unhealthy attachments and learn how to establish healthy boundaries.

What Is a Mama's Boy?

The term "mama's boy" is often used as slang to describe a man who has an unhealthy dependence on his mother well into adulthood when he is expected to be independent and self-reliant. 

The term was first used in the early 1900s and its popular use is rooted in the work of theorists and child development researchers such as Sigmund Freud and Benjamin Spock. In the past, psychologists and child experts often believed that maternal warmth and coldness were often connected to psychological issues in children, particularly in boys.

Today, experts recognize that healthy attachment is essential for the mental well-being of boys and men.

Signs

In order to recognize the signs that someone might be a mama's boy, it's important to first be able to recognize some of the signs of unhealthy boundaries. Some signs of poor boundaries include having to check with the other person before making decisions, having unrealistic or disruptive demands for time, and being financially dependent on the other person.

Such behaviors are often a sign of enmeshment. When enmeshment persists into adulthood, men may continue to rely on their mother to meet their practical, financial, emotional, and social needs. Examples might include having his mom balance his checkbook, clean his house, and provide money.

Researchers suggest that these interparental boundaries are important not only for the relationships between kids and their parents, they also establish the tone that helps determine the quality of other family relationships as well.

Healthy Boundaries
  • Feeling comfortable saying no

  • Being honest about feelings and needs

  • Independent and self-reliant

Unhealthy Boundaries
  • Feeling unable to say no

  • Difficulty being honest about wants and needs

  • Co-dependence

Effects

Being a mama's boy may have some potentially negative psychological effects. For example, research has found that boys who fail to form secure, nurturing relationships with their mothers are more likely to be aggressive as children and emotionally distant as adults.

Healthy relationships between mothers and sons are important. Boys with good relationships with their moms are more likely to feel secure, confident, and emotionally stronger. Research has also shown that boys who have difficult relationships with their moms are at a greater risk of delinquency during adolescence.

However, while healthy connections are important, boundary problems and dependence can create problems in your relationships or marriage. Some of these negative effects can include him being overly dependent on his mom and ignoring your needs and wishes. This can ultimately lead to feelings of resentment and difficulties with communication.

How to Handle Boundary Issues

If you are having relationship problems caused by your partner's unhealthy boundaries, there are some things that you can do to improve the situation. Some things you should try include:

Establish Clear Boundaries

Your man might be used to his mother catering to his every need and want, but that does not mean that you need to as well. It is important that you set boundaries and let him know that you will not behave like his mother. He can act like a boy with his mother all he wants, but when he is with you, he should act like an independent adult who can take care of himself.

He may use manipulation to get his way, so you need to be strong when he accuses you of not loving him and wanting what is best for him. Studies have shown that managing boundaries in marriage is important for a successful relationship, especially in couples where both partners are wage-earners.

He probably does not mean the things he says, but will say them to get what he wants. If you give in, he will continue to use manipulation to get his way.

Maintain Independent Space

If he's a mama's boy, it is not a good idea to move into her house. Chances are, their relationship as mother and son will come before your relationship with him. He will most likely side with his mother on every subject as to not upset her. He may even go to his mother when the two of you have a disagreement.

While he can do these things even if you live outside of her home, the distance will help some. You do not want to feel like the third wheel when living with your spouse.

If you are in financial straits and his parents have offered to help you by letting you move in, make sure there is an end date in mind. If you are doing it to save for your own home, realize that you are risking damaging your marriage.

Keep in mind, however, that living apart from your in-laws does not guarantee a stress-free relationship with them. Many couples still report feeling pressure.

Avoid Confrontation

It's not your place to go to your mother-in-law and ask her to back off. If you want to talk to anyone about the situation, it's your husband you need to talk to. Do not come from a place of anger, though. When you approach the topic, be sensitive and tell him that you feel a little jealous and would like more alone time with him.

Remind him that you like his mother and don't mind going to her house for dinner once a month, but she should not be coming on all of your activities and dates just because she is lonely or has poor boundaries. Explain that you do not want her out of your lives, but you both need time to connect and grow as a couple.

Make Your Own Choices

It's one thing for your mother-in-law to make his choices if that's what he is comfortable with. She might pick out his clothes, his food, and even his career. If he is incapable of making these decisions without her input, however, that might be something to consider trying to iron out.

You don't want his mother to become a decision-maker about choices you make as an individual or as a couple. Do not include your mother-in-law in your marital disagreements.

Your mother-in-law should not be part of your personal decisions about finances, career paths, parenting, or vacations unless you directly ask for her input.

A Word From Verywell

If your spouse is too attached to his mother, it’s important to look at how this is damaging your marriage. You probably ignored red flags about this when dating, so if you are now seeing it in your marriage, you need to address it sooner rather than later. If trying to communicate and resolve problems around this does not move things in the right direction, professional help is probably in order. 

Professional relationship counseling can help couples address boundary issues. In addition to traditional face-to-face couples counseling, online therapy is also an option that can be both convenient, accessible, and effective.

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7 Sources
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