Marital, Family or Individual Therapist serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana

Reader Needs to Cut Momma's Apron Strings
Written By: Mark Smith

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Recently a reader wrote me with the following questions… "Dear Mr. Smith, I am a 36 year old married woman with a 7 year old daughter. My husband recently informed me that he does not love me and that he plans to divorce me. While this saddens me a great deal I understand his decision because things have not been good between us for many years. My mother is a caring, spiritual woman who is trying to help and protect me. She frequently points out my sinful ways. At times she yells and cusses at me and that makes me feel small. She is demanding that I find a way to save my marriage. I have gotten on my knees and begged my husband to stay, but he is done. I feel like both my mother and God will forsake me if I can't find a way to salvage my marriage. I feel a profound sense of shame and dirtiness almost every time that I interact with my mother. Can you tell me how to save this marriage so that I don't lose my mother? I don't know what I would do without her. Sincerely, Sue"

Let me be very blunt Sue – no, I can not help you save your marriage. It takes two people to salvage a marriage, and your husband has made it very clear that he is totally and completely done with this marriage. You have no choice but to accept that. Your problem is actually much bigger then your marital woes. Your problem is that you have no boundaries between you and your very critical, controlling, and harmful mother.

Hang in with me Sue; let me explain myself a bit. The goal of raising healthy children is to have them develop a strong sense of self so that they can navigate the world successfully on their own terms. This clearly has not happened between you and your mother. That actually explains your marital issues. If you never learned to have personal boundaries you can not have a healthy relationship.

You are ‘enmeshed’ or way too close with your mother. You need to ‘individuate’ from her, to grow up, and psychologically leave home.

I have several concerns about your relationship with your mother. You said that she frequently points out my ‘sinful ways', that she yells and cusses at you and makes me feel small, that she demands that you save your marriage, that you feel like both your mother and God will forsake you if you can't salvage your marriage, and that you feel shame almost every time that you interact with my mother. Sue, your mother is clearly not treating you with respect. She is not treating you like an adult. She is not caring and frankly she is also not truly being spiritual. Love doesn't shame, control, or threaten abandonment. God doesn't shame, control, or threaten abandonment. Your mother is a bully who is attempting to control you due to her own agendas. Listening to her at this point is like feeding your mind poison.

As I coach my clients in their individuation efforts, I explain to them that leaving one's parents in a healthy manner involves four steps…

#1 Knowing the truth about who they are, who you are, and how they have impacted you. You've got some work to do here Sue. I recommend that you find yourself a qualified therapist ASAP to aid you in your liberation process. Your mother sounds extremely harsh, narrow, and demanding. Until you see who she really is you can't progress in your journey.

#2 Feeling the implications of knowing the truth about your relationship with your parents. You need to locate your anger Sue. You need to find your voice. You need to punch the bully in the nose. You won't be able to assert yourself in future relationships until you do. By anger I don't mean rage. I mean simply an energy that will keep your mother or anyone else for that matter from disrespecting you.

#3 Expression – Once you gather your anger you need to have many attitude adjustment session with your mother. She needs to grow some ears. She needs to hear you. This process of confronting a parent is usually spread over a three or four year time span. While she will no doubt be quite defensive at first your goal will be to be heard and understood eventually.

#4 Resolution - there is a really good brand of resolution and a brand that is not quite as good. The best type of resolution is when a parent truly hears you, humbly apologizes and then quits acting in offensive manners. That re-makes your relationship with that parent and makes them into a safe person for you. Unfortunately, it is more rare then the not quite as good type of resolution. In that case the parent can’t hear, they remain defensive, they deny the call and they do not offer an appropriate apology. At that point you will need to back up from them a bit. How much depends on just how reactive and unsafe they are behaving. As you continue to vocalize your issues directly and assertively eventually you will reach a point of forgiveness, peace and closure even if they never adequately apologize. The process changes you and rewards you with skills to have healthier relationships with everyone you come in contact with. Good luck gaining your sense of self, Sue.

That is all for this week. See you next time.

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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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