Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Married to Mama's Boys: Make Great Friends, Bad Husbands

A mother-in-law can seriously threaten a marriage.

A budding romance holds the promise of wonderful things: real intimacy, steady companionship, and the end of loneliness that many singles feel until they make that ultimate connection. Yet one reality that haunts far too many relationships is an enmeshed relationship between a grown man and his mother, a dynamic that is captured in the vernacular with the term "Mama's boy."

A romantic relationship is doomed to suffer if a new husband relies too heavily on his mother for anything, whether it is money, approval or emotional support. Inevitably, she becomes triangulated into the relationship between the couple and becomes the object of razor-sharp resentment from the wife.

Yet the very women who later clench their teeth in bitterness at the mother who gets too close and the husband who can't let her go often see the warning signs of the dysfunctional codependent mother-son relationship in the dating process. In other words, the mother-son relationship doesn't become dysfunctional after the marriage; it is strong enough to survive — and, in some cases, outlast — the marriage.

Here are some warning signs that the man you're dating or married to is a Mama's boy:

You can't say anything even slightly negative about his mother; his mother can do no wrong; he can't say "no" to his mother; he avoids confrontation with her at all costs but has no problem getting angry with you; you feel that, if there were a problem between you and his mother, that he would side with and defend her instead of you.

If you're single and looking, watch out for the warning signs. If you're in the dating stage with one of these men, you need to have some honest conversations: first, with yourself, as you consider whether this trait is a deal-breaker; second, with him, as you communicate that he needs to prioritize you over his mother at this point in your lives.

Finally, if you are already knee-deep in a relationship with a Mama's boy and have accumulated resentment toward his mother and him, as a result, you need to accept that this dynamic won't change much and learn to not take it personally. Ultimately, the fact that a man is a Mama's boy doesn't mean you should end the relationship; it just means that he is a man with limitations.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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