Advice: My mum is driving me crazy

Last updated 05:00 11/10/2012

Her mother is very controlling and very high-maintenance - and it's beginning to take its toll on her relationship. How should she deal with the mother of all problems?

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My partner and I have been together for five years. We've been through plenty of ups and downs but I'm afraid he's finally had enough and is about to walk out the door.

The reason: my very controlling high-maintenance mother. She was always controlling growing up - without going into too much detail I was never allowed to decide things for myself. Then I moved out and she began to be even more controlling and very emotional. I put up with it because I thought she was lonely and also menopausal.

Now, 15 years later, she hasn't stopped. My life is all about her and never about me. If I do something she doesn't approve of, such as not spending my holidays with her I get a 'how can you do this to me' or tears and a look like I've stabbed her in the heart. It's the same if I try to talk to her about her behaviour.

My partner and I have talked about getting married, but then my sister married recently and partly because it was organised from overseas, my mother got in a position where she controlled everything, including aspects of the ceremony. It was all about her, complete with fainting spells and crying episodes. Then there's the talking to me like I'm still a child, in a baby voice, complete with a 'good girl' if she approves or a stern telling off.

While she treats my partner like an adult, her actions have a substantial impact on our relationship as they eat away at my mental health and wellbeing. As we reach a stage in our relationship where we want to settle down and start our own family he's expressed doubts because of my mother.

If she behaves like she does now, how will she react when we buy a house and start a family? What can I do? I've tried talking to my father about this but he prefers to wear his massive blinkers and stay out of it. Please help me.

Daughter in distress

Sometimes in life we reach a crossroads, a time to make some hard choices and look to the future.  For you that time is now. You are aware of the difficulties in the relationship with your mother and the two of you have had years to establish very wellworn ways of responding to each other.

Nothing will change unless you take some very definite actions. And for every action, there will be an equal reaction. This will not be for the fainthearted and will not be easy, but you have an opportunity to make changes that will be with you for the rest of your life. You may decide that maintaining the same relationship with your mother is worth risking your current relationship, and then the next relationship, and then the next. Be clear that you are not responsible for your mother's emotions, you are responsible for your own and the actions you take.

So, how to make changes? It all starts with you. A large dose of good boundary setting is required. You may want to write to your mother, or talk to her and let her know that you love her deeply and want to make some changes to how you two relate together. Expect a reaction!

Whether or not you give her warning of changes ahead, create some space and distance so both of you can re-negotiate the relationship.  When you set some boundaries be prepared for them to be tested. Get support from your partner and be united in dealing with your mother.  Have a plan for how you will respond and stay firm once you have set a boundary otherwise she will not change. Practice your very own 'broken record' techniques, for example ' I do love you, but I am not changing my decision about... I do love you and I am still going to do what I wanted to... I do love you but I am ending this conversation now'. 

Decide how you will get support to manage the accusations, tears and anger you will get from your mother.  Plan how you will manage the invitations into guilt and be aware other family members may also ask you to reconsider and keep the peace.  Be prepared also for your own grief and anger and feelings of not being good enough, and consider how you can look after yourself without her approval.

Consider professional support as well, as your relationship with your mother has been hardwired into you and although you had limited choices as a child now as an adult you can do something about it.  And if you decide you are ready to make those changes, set yourself a vision, a goal, a statement that reflects what you are aiming for, and that will be the foundation you will stand on to make the changes needed.  I wish you well.

For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online or join them on Facebook

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.

- Stuff

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