You have lost count of the lies. The number of times he has held you in his arms and told you that you are the only woman who truly knows him. His eyes are convincing but you know better. You’ve seen it. The way he jumps for her. The lengths he would go to make sure she is taken care of. She knows it too. It’s this unspoken awkward dance the two of you play around him. Both of you laughing at his jokes, trying to outdo one another with enthusiasm. He loves her, and a part of you worries that if he had to choose between the two of you, he may hesitate. But then you feel crazy, foolish, disgusted with yourself even, because that is his mother.
I got a text from a friend a few weeks ago. She had a question about her mother-in-law. She said she couldn’t think of anyone who had a good relationship with their partner’s mother, and then she thought of me. It’s true. I have a fantastic bond with my mother-in-law. I even call her mom. She has been a blessing to me, and was a safe place to vent in the beginning of my marriage when I struggled with both loving and hating my husband at the same time. I thought I was marrying a perfect man, and it turned out I didn’t. I didn’t know who I could confide in with this shocking news and so I went to her. She loved him as much as I did and so I knew I could trust her to keep loving him despite whatever I needed to say. I love my mother-in-law, which is why I think it is safe for me to write this blog. I want to say what many women need to hear but are too afraid, embarrassed, or stubborn to admit. Your husband loves another woman, and sometimes it makes you jealous.
This isn’t new. They did a study in 1954, and found that only one in four women even liked their mother-in-laws. Basically before social media forced you to play nice, a deep seeded tension had already been planted. A recent study that looked at hundreds of families, found that nearly two thirds of women claim to have suffered long term unhappiness due to their mother-in-laws, that these mothers created stress and friction. While wives said that their husband’s moms were trying to create friction in their marriage, mothers said that wives were trying to exclude them from their sons lives.
Dr. Apter studied this phenomena for over two decades. She found that the reason for the strife is that both women seek to be the “primary woman” in their households. The problem in this relationship is that the households overlap. She found that while wives feel that their mother-in-laws are constantly judging their child rearing, cleaning, and cooking skills, mother-in-laws often feel that the daughters who behave differently than they did in these same situations, are rejecting their choices. One Italian study found that the odds your marriage will last, increase with every hundred yards that a couple puts between themselves and their in-laws.
Dr. Apter interviewed over 200 families, and found that 75% had issues with in laws. Only 15% of those, were problems between the husband and his in-laws. If you have a minute, check the website, www.motherinlawstories.com and see just how intense the battle of the “primary woman” can become. It’s brutal.
The truth is though, that in many cases, your husband picked you, because you reminded him of her. Many studies have found that men tend to look for mates that remind them of traits they saw in their mothers. In a normal, nontoxic family environment, men learn to love from their moms, and so when they seek mates, they knowingly, or unknowingly, reference that love.
At best, recognize that your mother-in-law and you, have a lot in common. You both fiercely love the same man, and want what’s best for him. You probably also have more than that in common, you may even be quite a bit alike. At worst, respect the fact that it is his mother. When he has to deal with drama between two women he loves dearly, it probably causes him a great level of stress. Besides, do you really want a partner who treats his mom poorly? His love and affection to her is a good sign, not an alarming one. It means he values women. Yes, you should be the primary woman in his life. That’s the only hierarchy that will work. But he should also, in a nontoxic relationship, show tenderness toward his mother. He is only who he is, because of the time and energy she put into making him a man.
I have two sons. Right now if you asked Hudson (my 3 year old), who he is going to marry, he would smile and say, “mommy.” That’s not true. One day he will meet a girl and his loyalty to me will sever. I hope when that day comes, I will be mentally prepared for him to move past my arms, and into someone elses. It is with optimism that I tell myself that the woman he chooses to take my place, won’t freeze me out. That little boy melts my heart. And while she may love him then, I loved him first.
Remember that as you vent about your mother-in-law. She may be the other woman, but one day, for many of us, we will be too.
My Mother-in-Law and I.