When a Woman Is in an Emotional Tug-of-War for Her Man's Heart
Why can't he commit? Many women find themselves asking this question when in love with a man who won't get married, won't stop womanizing, or refuses to give up his sex addictions. Often this kind of man is bound by an unhealthy attachment to his mother. This phenomenon is called "mother-son enmeshment." In When He's Married to Mom, clinical psychologist and renowned intimacy expert Dr. Kenneth M. Adams goes beyond the stereotypes of momma's boys and meddling mothers to explain how mother-son enmeshment affects everyone: the mother, the son, and the woman who loves him. In his twenty-five years of practice, Dr. Adams has successfully treated hundreds of enmeshed men and shares their stories in this informative guide. He provides proven methods to make things better, including:
-- Guidelines to help women create fulfilling relationships with mother-enmeshed men
-- Tools to help mother-enmeshed men have healthy and successful dating experiences leading to serious relationships and marriage
-- Strategies to help parents avoid enmeshing their children
When He's Married to Mom provides practical and compassionate advice to the women who are involved with mother-enmeshed men, to the mothers who wish to set them free, and to the men themselves.
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Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and internationally recognized expert in treating trauma-induced intimacy disorders. Dr. Adams is the author of Silently Seduced. He lives with his family in Rochester Hills, Michigan. To learn more about Dr. Adams, please visit www.whenhesmarriedtomom.com.
Alexander P. Morgan is a writer specializing in technical subjects. A National
Science Foundation Fellow and winner of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Melville Medal, he lives with his family in Birmingham, Michigan.
1. ANNE'S DILEMMAThe Man Who Won't Commit
Sonny and Anne sat on the front porch of his mother's house, talking in whispers. Anne felt almost beyond tears. Sonny sat beside her, confused.
"You'll never find a better woman than me," Anne was saying. "Except your mother, of course," she added, her anger breaking through to sarcasm.
"This isn't about my mother," Sonny said. He tried to explain, for what felt like the hundredth time. "So my mother relies on me. What's wrong with that? I'm her only son. She can't manage on her own. She needs to know I'm there for her."
Anne stood up, barely containing herself. "That's not what it's about! Your mother never lets you alone. She interrupts us day and night; you never say no to her." Anne walked toward the steps, pulling on her coat. "Go ahead, go take care of her! I've just about had it."
Sonny started after Anne, but then he stopped. He didn't know what to do. He knew he loved her, but . . . . "You're being silly," he said. "This isn't her fault."
Just then the front door opened, and Sonny's mother, Ruth, leaned halfway out, clutching a flowered robe around her.
"Sonny," she said, ignoring Anne, "I forgot to tell you . . . . the men to fix the lights are coming tomorrow afternoon."
Sonny stood up and put his arm around his mother. "That's good, Mom," he said. "I'm glad you're getting those bathroom lights fixed. That flickering is driving me crazy."
"So, you'll come maybe for lunch . . . . then, when they show up, you'll tell them what's wrong?"
"I've got to work tomorrow, Mom. The men will know what to do, just show them the lights."
"I hate to be alone with strange men here. It makes me so nervous."
"Okay, Mom. Call me when they come, and I'll talk to them."
Ruth's lip quivered; then she shrugged. "If that's the best you can do . . . . " She shook her head and went back inside.
Anne was halfway down the steps. She turned around. "I love you, Sonny, but I'm thirty-five. I can't wait forever."
Sonny was beginning to feel guilty and angry, and these feelings scared him. "If you let me get away," Anne was saying, "twenty years from now, you'll regret losing the love of your life. And twenty years from now, regret will be all you have. But now . . . .now you can do something about it."
"Anne," Sonny began, "What do you want me to say?"
"Make a decision. Say yes, say no, but don't keep me waiting like this."
Sonny stood, speechless. Something in him wanted to say no, just to get it over with. But, somehow, the word "regret" had struck a chord. Why couldn't he decide? He'd always been this way, and he hated it. It was so hard making decisions.
Anne sensed Sonny's desperation. She saw how stuck he was. She didn't want to leave him, but she just couldn't take this anymore. Something had to give. What could she do?
Anne's Had Enough
Anne first came to see me a few weeks after her confrontation with Sonny on his mother's porch. He was too stuck to look for help, but Anne wanted answers. And she wasn't afraid to see someone about it.
She radiated competence and control, and I wasn't surprised when she told me she had gone to Yale Law School. She wanted to talk to me about her fianc - , she said, sitting down in my big leather chair and crossing her legs without relaxing.
"It's not that I'm whining," she began, "but he won't let us set a date for the wedding. He says he loves me, but I just can't pin him down. He always puts me off."
"What does he say?"
"Well, he's always very busy. It didn't start out like this. When we first met, he called me every day. We had dinner every night. He was smart, funny, and crazy about me. I said to myself: This is the man! He wants children. I want children. Let's get on with it."
"So then . . . . " I suggested.
"And, so, well, nothing. We've settled into a once-a-week thing. We have fun when we're together. He says he loves me. But if I press him about marriage, he just puts me off."
"Is that something he does a lot," I asked, "put you off?"
Anne looked at me, suddenly a little less self-confident. She nodded.
"How does that make you feel?"
Anne recrossed her legs and found a corner of my office to make eye contact with. "I'll tell you, it really made me question myself as a woman." She stopped and sighed. "I tried to find out if I had offended him, done something to make him back off, but he denies it." She paused. "And then there's his mother," she added. "He's very close to his mother."
"Too close?" I asked, when she didn't go on.
"We hardly ever have time together that isn't interrupted. She calls him on his cell phone, and, if he doesn't pick up, she pages him on his pager, which is supposed to be for emergencies. Last week we were having dinner out, and she called. He let her whine for forty-five minutes. Can you believe it? Our date was ruined, just because one of her neighbors left his garbage cans out on the curb too long."
"You sound angry," I suggested.
"I'm furious," she admitted, and began to cry. "I mean, I'm the woman he loves. I should have a place in his life, not leftovers."
She pulled herself together with the help of a Kleenex and went on.
"So I confronted him," she continued. " 'You can't commit to me because you've never let go of Mom,' I told him. 'But now it's time to set limits with her.' He didn't like that!" She laughed, but her eyes were sad. "He said I didn't understand. Now I feel trapped. If I push, he gets angry. If I try to get too close or too loving, he backs away. It's just that he's so focused on taking care of her. 'She needs someone to talk to,' he tells me, then he lets her talk his ear off.
"But am I crazy, or what? His mother makes me feel like a betrayed wife. I don't want to get in the way of his relationship with his mother, but is this normal? He says I'm making too much of it. It's my problem."
"No, you're not overreacting," I said. "What you're experiencing is what a betrayed wife would experience: rejection, anger, hurt. And, since the 'other woman' is Sonny's mother, feeling that you can't win is natural."
"I don't want to waste my life trying to get Sonny to commit," she said. "I need a reality check. Is he stuck where he's at? Should I move on?"
I couldn't answer that, but I did want to leave her with some clarity about her situation.
"You're feeling frustrated and helpless, with nowhere to go," I said. "What I know as a clinician is that he is trapped. He, too, has nowhere to go. He's up against his Disloyalty Bind (described in the box below), and he can't figure any way out. His solution is to distance himself from you, because distancing himself from his mother produces too much guilt. Then he blames you for not being understanding enough.
"It's a terrible bind," I went on. "Unless he's willing to come for counseling, you have only two options: accommodate or break up. By accommodate, I mean stay connected to him but accept that Mom will always come first. Accommodation will likely make you feel resentful, and you may have to give up your dream of having a family, at least one where you would have a primary role. Sadly, breaking up becomes the reasonable alternative, if he's not willing to take a look at what's going on."
I paused. "When I share with women who come to see me what their men are up against, and therefore what they are up against, they become either relieved or depressed. The main thing I can do is make you aware of the importance of taking care of yourself and help you understand your options."
Anne was quiet for a while, thinking, taking it all in. Finally she gave me a little smile. "Being depressed isn't my style," she said, "so I guess I'll be relieved. What should I do now?"
When a MEM Wants a Wife
When a man is excessively bonded with his mother, what happens when he is looking for a wife? There are several common patterns; Sonny's story is one of the most common. He meets Anne, and initially he idealizes her. He cherishes her. He sweeps her off her feet. In this initial stage of courting, he is projecting onto Anne the very solicitous way he had learned to deal with his mother when he was a little boy. Then he discovers (unconsciously; he doesn't realize what is happening) that this new woman is competition for his mother, and the woman's got to go. Anne was once the object of his adoration. Now she becomes an object for his rejection. Naturally, she is devastated and confused. If she fights back by asking for clarity and commitment, he feels he's being pressured to be disloyal to his mother. Like a planet caught between two suns, the pull of his mother keeps him from getting close to Anne, while the pull of Anne is constant. This is what is so crazy-making for Anne. She knows that Sonny loves her. She can't understand what is keeping him from coming into her orbit.
I sometimes use the movie Psycho to dramatize the Disloyalty Bind. There is a particular sequence of scenes in this movie when Norman first meets Marion. He takes a liking to her, and his mother is already having a problem with it. (Of course, his mother exists only in Norman's mind, but he vocalizes her comments offstage, so that we and Marion can hear.) Marion asks him, "Why do you let her treat you like that?" and immediately his face changes. Now he sees Marion as a threat. The movie dramatizes the mechanism that drives the behavior of a MEM: first comes his innocent, enthusiastic (sexual) interest in the attractive woman, then the interest provokes his Disloyalty Bind with this mother, and finally the object of the interest (the woman) has to be destroyed. The movie shows all this in a graphic and literal way.
Anne realizes that Sonny is too bound to his mother, because his mother is still active in his life. The fact that Sonny is not free to make time for Anne is clarified by his mother's actual interruptions. More mysterious and difficult to grasp is that sometimes the mother is nowhere to be seen but still has the same influence. Even if a man's mo...
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