Your Behaviour Around Your Mom Says a Whole Lot About You
The trope of a person meeting their boyfriend’s mother being a daunting experience is one that holds a fair amount of sway in pop culture.
Perhaps not as much as meeting your girlfriend’s father, but nonetheless, there’s the impression — particularly in heterosexual relationships — that a parent will be more demanding (or less tolerant) of a romantic partner for their child who’s the same gender as they are. As a result, the notion of a man’s relationship with his mother is one that comes under some scrutiny. Is he too close to her? Too distant? Does he let her coddle him? Does he yell at her and treat her like a servant?
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Women also look to men’s relationships with their mothers as an indicator of other enduring facets of his personality. That may or may not be fair (or accurate, for that matter), but if you’re introducing your partner to your mother, it’s something that might not hurt to keep in mind.
Sure, men often think about their relationships with their fathers — whether they’re trying to impress them, emulate them, or go in a completely opposite direction — but they might not consider the true meaning of their relationships to their mothers as fully.
Read on to discover what a man’s relationship to his mother can mean, along with quotes from real men and women on the topic.
1. How a Man’s Relationship With His Mother Impacts His Personality
Some may say a man’s relationship to his mother is the most important one in his life. Because the mother’s role in child-rearing is often the most important one — with fathers focusing on being the breadwinner due to cultural factors that lead men to be less present in (or completely absent from) childcare, or some combination thereof — it’s hard to overstate the impact a mother can have on her son.
“It is […] crucial for men to have the proper balance of connection and nurturing from their mothers, as well as promotion of independence and separation,” says Michael Alcee, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who specialises in work with men. “It is this integrated mix which allows men to feel comfortable being close and intimate with women at the same time that they don’t feel possessed or engulfed by them. In addition, it enables them to take in the best of the mother archetype — which is life itself! — and steer clear of its toxic overreach.”
Pop culture is full of examples of men with unhealthy relationships with their mothers: the Greek myth of Oedipus, Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Will Ferrell’s character in “Wedding Crashers,” to name but a few. The reality that a difficult or complicated relationship between a mother and son could lead to issues down the road is far from unfounded.
“The mother can be so critical in any of her son’s relationships, it can make or break all involved,” says Richard Pawlowski, author of “New Power of American Women” and “Bogus Beauty.” “Much, too, depends on whether or not the mum is divorced (has she been hurt herself?), if a dad was near during the young years, and so many other things. It’s a constant contest of different questions, without any real answers, [and] always subject to change with age.”
In short, though you can’t know for sure how much of an influence a mother will be, between the forces of nature and nurture, a woman impacting her son’s life is inevitable.
“We’ve often heard that understanding a man’s relationship with his mother can be revealing, and that’s true,” says Jor-El Caraballo, a relationship therapist and co-creator of Viva Wellness. “But we have to look beyond whether that relationship is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘close.’ The ‘whys’ behind all of those labels are incredibly important and informative about a man’s perception of himself and his mother… and the relationship between the two.”
2. How a Man’s Relationship With His Mother Impacts How He Treats Women
Because the relationships we have with our parents are so different from our romantic relationships — consider the absence and presence of sexual attraction, for starters — it might be easy to imagine that there’s not much crossover between the two.
Well, according to Caraballo, that’s not exactly true.
“The relationships with parents are incredibly influential on people, especially when it comes to dating and intimate relationships,” he says. “Attachment theory tells us that our ways of relating to others is greatly informed by our attachments early in life, particularly with primary caregivers (often parents). We learn directly (through explicit communication) and indirectly (through modeling and behaviour) how we are to relate or not relate to partners and other people in your life. [In the case of the mother], this seeps into our psyches unconsciously and informs the way we engage with women throughout our lives.”
However, it’s important not to confuse a man’s mother impacting his relationships with women as proof that he’ll model his relationships with women after his relationship with his mother.
“I do think that a man’s relationship with his mother informs his decisions and his abilities to relate to women, however I disagree with the idea that man who has a poor (as viewed by an outsider) relationship with his mother makes a poor partner,” says Coach JJ, founder of ImageDatingCoach.com. “Men who have poor relationships with their mothers may be excellent partners because of the negative lessons learned from the relationship, and may in fact be more in tune with and in need of women’s emotions and affections, which can work out positively for the dating relationship partner.”
3. When a Man Has a Bad Relationship With His Mother
What constitutes a negative relationship with one’s mother is a fairly broad set of possibilities, and some negative relationships are probably too negative to have redeeming qualities.
“If a male is brutally and openly hostile towards his mother, yes that is a red flag,” admits JJ. But he’s optimistic about the possibility that in some cases, a man’s difficult relationship with his mother is actually a good sign about his personality.
“It’s never black or white,” he adds. “Yes, I would advise [people] to stay away from a man who yells at, disrespects, or degrades his mother, but a man who is distant from his mother may be exhibiting signs of self-care and a level of maturity that means he’ll be a stable, equal partner.”
In some cases where a mother and son don’t get along, the mother can be equally, if not more so at fault. By placing barriers between them or being open about his frustrations rather than swallowing them, the man might be approaching that relationship in a mature way that demonstrates his ability to handle difficult conversations in the context of a relationship rather than just pretending everything’s fine.
There’s also the point that what appears on the surface to be a good, loving mother/son relationship might actually be one of co-dependency with a man who relies on his mother’s support, advice and help.
“Our parents and our families of origin create much of who we are in the world, but oftentimes it sends us in the opposite direction in our adult relationships as we attempt to work out the issues we had as children,” says JJ. “Men who claim to have awesome relationships with their mums might be saying something that really means that in a partnership, they turn out to be spoiled, immature, and expect their women to dote on them or baby them.”
3. What Women Look for When They Assess a Man’s Relationship to His Mother
Given the nature of a man’s relationship to his mother — how it can shape him for the better or worse, how it can impact his view of women and his expectations of romantic relationships — many women look to that particular relationship and look for clues on what they can expect from him in those departments going forward.
Below, you’ll find quotes from a number of women who admitted it was something they’d thought about before in a dating context:
“When a man has a close and healthy relationship with his mum, it usually indicates that he’s capable of vulnerability and intimacy and it makes me hope that he can model other relationships in his life (platonic/relationship) on this mutual love and respect. Also I’ve found when men have a nice relationship with their mums it’s because they can see them as complex human beings that transcend the category of ‘mum’ and this bodes well for men seeing other women as full realised human beings as well.” – Domenica
“I get a lot out of seeing what the mum’s relation to her son is — a lot of mums coddle (and the son will feel confident, sometimes entitled, but often can’t take responsibility for things); a lot of mums neglect (and the son will feel insecure and without worth and need a lot of reassurance).” – Mary
“The men I’ve known who barely talked to their mothers have been my worst partners, or in general were the most withdrawn… usually they were not close to their families at all. If there’s total enmeshment and their mum is still cooking/cleaning/whatever for them, it tells me I would be fulfilling that role in their lives.” – Nina
“If a man doesn’t have a good relationship with his mum it’s a big red flag that he doesn’t understand women, or further to that, if he has experienced abuse at the hands of women, he brings that suffering and trauma into other female relationships. If a man doesn’t respect his mother he will have many problems romantically.” – Astrid
However, a man I spoke with had a counterpoint that such mother/son sleuthing on the part of a romantic partner could actually produce a flawed portrait of the man in question.
“I think people can presume too much about a man based on his relationship to his mother. People project their own mothers onto other people’s mothers so they presume all the same feelings and associations should be shared. But every relationship is fundamentally unique and deeply contingent. It can feel particularly painful when someone believes they can readily intuit something fundamental about your essence in relation to someone they have never met or know only in a very cursory way.” – Sean
4. Meeting a Man’s Mother for the First Time
If you’re bringing a female partner to meet your mum for the first time, she might be, if not on high alert, then at least sensitive to the vibe between the two of you. Meanwhile, your mother, too, might be looking at your new partner closely, studying your interactions with them and how they come across to see if you’re right for each other.
Still, Caraballo doesn’t think the meeting is worth getting too worked up about.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that all mothers will be jealous of a new partner (especially if that partner is female),” he notes. “I think that’s an overused stereotype relying on the unfulfilled needs of an insecure mother. That may or may not be the case on an individual basis. In fact, some mothers might be thrilled about passing along the torch, so to speak!”
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The relationship you have with your mother and/or what she represents in your life might be wholly positive, completely negative, or, more likely, some complex combination thereof. That might be something that draws romantic partners to you, pushes them away, or doesn’t have any real impact. The only thing you can know for sure is that in the end, each mother/son relationship will be unique.
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