Who is the more controlling woman in your boyfriend’s life?



Hi Carolyn:

I’m the letter writer who wanted to help my boyfriend put his foot down with his mother. You replied, “No, I will not give you suggestions to help you become the next controlling person to whom your boyfriend outsources his uncomfortable decisions.”

I guess I was going with the assumption that everyone in their mid-to-late 20s has to figure out how to stand up to their parents. I also had a controlling mother and went through this when I was his age and it was difficult, but I had a couple of friends to turn to who were going through the same thing. His mom is controlling with a side of spoiled toddler, so I was hoping to be able to give him advice/support when he gets overwhelmed with her behavior and has no idea what to do.

I’ll take your advice and back off, but it kills me how she affects him. Could you at least recommend a book so he can explore approaches for dealing with someone like this?

— Checking In

“I [assumed] everyone in their mid-to-late 20s has to figure out how to stand up to their parents.” Nobody has to do anything. It behooves all people to learn to stand up for themselves, if not during their teens then as soon as possible afterward, but not everyone is so moved or so equipped or so aware or so lucky. He, not you, controls his maturity timetable.

“I also had a controlling mother.” You have valid firsthand experience, then. But more than anything, that means you need to be particularly mindful of reliving your familiar patterns. The ones who haven’t faced this reality are at risk of playing the same unhappy role in all of their relationships. The people who have faced it, like you, are at risk of reliving the relationships but with themselves re-cast in a hero or rescuer role. It’s an improvement, but it’s still a form of being stuck in a pattern.

“I had a couple of friends to turn to … so I was hoping to be able to give him advice/support.” Understandable. I suspect, though I obviously don’t know, you sought out these friends and their counsel. If your boyfriend is asking for your help, then, great, but if he isn’t, then your jumping in with the counsel will not replicate your experience. The key is receptiveness to counsel and the key way of showing that is to ask others’ advice.

“I’ll take your advice and back off, but it kills me how she affects him. Could you at least recommend a book?” Would he like a book? Would he like to explore different approaches? Would something different serve him better than putting up with her to preserve his bond with his dad? Ask him! But do not assume. Even suggest that he write in.

Until then, I’m going to keep advising that you be mindful of how enmeshed you’ve become. You chose a guy who is suffering from the same family dynamic that you see yourself as having mastered. Now you want to step in so he can master it. Neither of these is a fluke, and neither is about him; both are extensions of you.

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Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.