What to Do If You're Married to a Mama's Boy

Find out how to save your marriage, even if your husband puts his mom first.

Couple and senior woman having dinner in garden
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Your husband’s strong relationship with his mom and family might have won you over when you were dating. But now you realize that you might be married to a mama’s boy—and it could destroy your relationship. Between your mama’s boy husband, who turns to his mother for everything and displays signs of immaturity, and your mother-in-law, who is keen on remaining the number one woman in her son’s life, you’re about ready to tear out your hair.

But before you kick your mama’s boy husband and mother-in-law to the curb, you might try understanding their relationship and showing your husband that you should now be his number one priority.

Signs That Your Husband is a Full-fledged Mama’s Boy

  • His mom’s wish is his command. If his mother wants him to run an errand, take her to the doctor, eat with her, etc., he always obliges no matter what you would like to do.
  • He wants daily contact or nearly daily contact with his mom either via phone or in person.
  • He always chooses his mom over his wife and children, if he has them.
  • He never moved far away from his mom, or he still lives with her (and now so do you).
  • He has trouble making decisions without his mom, and might expect you to baby him.
  • He might have financial ties to his mom, which keep him on a short leash with her.

Once you have established that you are indeed married to a mama’s boy, you have to determine what behavior is tolerable and what is not for you personally.

For instance, you might be all right with your husband talking to your mother-in-law once or twice a day, as long as it doesn’t infringe on your time together. You might not like it if he turns to her with problems that he should be discussing with you. You might be fine with your in-laws living in the next town over, but you might not like it if your husband insists you live in the same house with them.

A big mistake many wives make is blurting their feelings out to their husband or mother-in-law in anger without thinking. Herb Goldberg, a practicing psychologist in Los Angeles and author of What Men Still Don’t Know about Women, Relationships, and Love (Barricade Books, June 2007), says women need to keep the peace and not make an issue of their husband’s relationship with their mom, even if it crosses a line. Instead, he says women need to develop a strong, personal identity, set limits with their husband and not their mother-in-law, and stand firm.

Your relationship with your husband should not take center stage in your life. You should be your top priority. Get a little selfish. Work, get a hobby, and have interests and relationships with friends and family outside of the one with your husband. He must recognize that you’re independent, and you could leave if he continues to neglect you and ignore your needs, says Goldberg.

Avoiding Resentment

Avoid nagging your husband about spending more time with you or choosing you over his mother. You will just hurt him by putting down his mom and his role as a husband. These hurt feelings can turn into resentment, which is poison to a marriage.

“You must give guidance and set limits in a loving way,” says Diana Kirschner, a clinical psychologist in New York and author of Love In 90 Days (Center Street, January 2009). She adds that even when done in a loving way, setting limits can be stormy, but you must remain firm without getting angry. If he wants you to attend the fifth family dinner with the in-laws in the last three weeks, Kirschner says, you have to say something like, “You can go, but I will not. I have already attended many family functions recently, and now I need my space.” Then, you have to stick to your guns and not attend the event, even if your mother-in-law makes you feel guilty or your husband argues with you.

Often, there is tension and jealousy between the mothers of mama’s boys and those who marry their sons. Being the bigger person with your mother-in-law, as difficult as it might be, will always work to your advantage.

All the experts agree that remaining cordial and respectful to your mother-in-law is the only solution. “Don’t try to straighten out the mother,” says Kirschner. “You’ll never win.” This doesn’t mean that you have to be with your mother-in-law all the time or talk to her as much as your husband does, nor do you have to be treated badly by her. You can maintain some distance. Let your husband – and children, if you have them – have a relationship with her, but you can see her, and the rest of your husband’s family of origin, less often. This should be up to you, and you should decide based on your comfort level.

Your Husband Has to Make the Choice

Ultimately, your husband will be the deciding factor in whether his attachment to his mom breaks your marriage. He might not notice it yet, but making you his main priority, growing up, and breaking away from his family of origin is good for him, too. “You can’t happily be both a husband and a mama’s boy because you’re always torn in two directions,” says Kirschner. If he accepts your limits and starts to put you first, then you can continue to work on developing your own family. If he doesn’t, you have to be willing to walk away because, say the experts, that is often when mama’s boys start to get their act together and straighten out.

Still, you can’t do the work for him. He has to be the one to cut the chord, adds Kirschner: “He has to form a boundary between his new family and the family of origin or be torn and miserable for the rest of his married life.” Or at least until his wife says good-bye and leaves him alone with his mommy.