Brushing her long honey-colored hair off her face, Ann said, "I hate the furniture in the house. It's not my taste; it's his mother's taste. I like earth tones, neutrals, but no, she decorated Larry's house with bright primary colors."

"Was that when he was single?' I asked.

"Yeah, he was a bachelor and his mother and he were so tight. You'd think that would change when we got married, but they're just as tight now." Ann said.

I asked, "How's that?"

Ann frowned and said sharply, "They talk twice a day, and he sees her every day at the club. They play tennis together and she sticks her nose into everything. She even knows we're trying to have a baby."

I offered, "That is intrusive. I recall that she is a widow, so maybe she's lonely."

With clenched fists, Ann burst out, "Well let her find herself a man."

"You're really angry with her." I interpreted.

"He's such a momma's boy." She snapped.

I continued to interpret her feelings, "So you're angry with him also."

"I love Larry and I want our relationship to work, but his mother is too much. She's got him up on a pedestal and he can't do anything wrong. He spent money recklessly, and had a lot of model-type hot girl friends and she encouraged it." Tears welled up.

I countered, "It's hard, but he chose you, not them."

"I guess so, but I'm not happy." Ann whimpered.

Not only was Ann unhappy but Larry was unhappy also. Ann's continuous complaints about his mother placed him precariously right smack in the middle of the two women he loved dearly.
In therapy, Ann gained insight into how her behavior was not working and she decided to change it.

She began calling her mother-in-law, Trish, and inviting her to lunch and dinner. To her surprise, Trish was a kind, loving, generous woman who was well intended. Unfortunately, Trish's life of going to the club, lunching and playing tennis with her numerous friends was not meaningful enough. Also, she was widowed and lived alone, and so she turned to her only son for greater meaning and company.

Ann had just started a business, importing jewelry that is hand-made in Africa by single mothers. In order for the business to thrive, Ann needed a base of women customers. Here's where Trish came in. Ann invited Trish to join her in marketing her new company. After all, Trish had a great customer base ─ the women at her country club. Quickly, Trish got into the swing of things by arranging trunk shows at her friends' homes. The business mushroomed as friends invited other friends who purchased the jewelry for themselves and for Xmas presents.

Thanks to mirror neurons, Ann's changed attitude towards Larry has inspired change in him. The happier Ann is, the happier Larry is. He is more attentive and loving to Ann and he is in the process of setting up boundaries between his mother and him.

Does any of this sound familiar? Is your partner too attached to his mother? If so, it feels like his mother is the other women and you are feeling second best. You've complained to him but he just gets closer to her.

Here's the solution. Instead of fighting him on this close attachment to his mother, join him. After all, if you love him and he is attached to his mother, it behooves you to see just what his attachment is based on.

Let your mirror neurons connect to her and get to know her, what makes her tick, what are her strengths, her likes, dislikes, her values, and attitudes. She may be lonely and hence the close relationship with her son. It can be a win-win situation for all three of you. His mother will no doubt be flattered by your attention and establish a closer relationship with you instead of your son. With his mother more fulfilled he will feel relieved, happier, and have more time to devote to you.

To learn more about the role of the brain and the impact of mirror neurons on our love lives, read my book The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011).

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About the Author

Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D.

Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and relational psychoanalyst and author.

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