Numerous marital problems can be traced to habitual boundary difficulties between mothers and sons which spill over into the man’s relationship with his spouse. Management of the mother-son relationship from earliest days establishes patterns and shapes the future vulnerability or resilience of a married couple around issues of loyalty and emotional security.
Laura didn’t realize until she overheard Dean’s phone conversation with his mother that he had promised Jane they would visit her in New Jersey over Labor Day. Laura became furious. After years of marriage, Dean was still giving in to his mother. If they didn’t go, Laura would get the blame.
Her mind drifted back to when they were engaged. She found herself ruminating again about the time she discovered that Dean had agreed to take his mother’s furniture to use in the bedroom (of all places) of their new house.
Laura gritted her teeth as they replayed this cycle. They both knew the lines by heart: She accuses Dean of choosing his mother over her. He gets defensive, arguing that she should know how impossible his mother can be (which is true). Dean complains that he is always in the middle of the two of them and there’s just no way for him to win.
In-law entanglements are common in marriage and take root early, leaving an imprint and becoming a potential source of ongoing friction and divide.
Dean complained of being “in the middle,” pulled at from both sides by his mother and wife. However, the truth is that his mother is positioned in the middle — between him and his wife, a dynamic which he unconsciously enabled.
To insulate marriages from damaging intrusions, a symbolic boundary must be drawn from the beginning, and reinforced over time, establishing the sanctity of the couple as a unified entity. Instead, Dean left the door to his marriage open, allowing his mother to make her way inside and come between him and his wife.
Dean had the perfect opportunity to establish this boundary when his mother wanted him to take her furniture. In choosing to go along with her, however, Dean symbolically aligned himself with his mother instead of his wife, leaving Laura on the outside, and unknowingly carving the initial split in their relationship.