Should I mention Parental Enmeshment and then what?

My new partner "seems to me" to be emotionally entangled with parent. If my partner is on the phone with that parent I MUST BE TOTALLY quiet or they will "get in trouble". I said "That is just ridiculous, for God sake." My partner says they know it is ridiculous and I'm sure I am not the first to ever mention this.

Now, even if my partner is AWARE of this (I believe counseling has occurred due to it in the past as well) - should I bring these things up when I notice them? Or only say it in context to "How it makes ME feel" not so much to JUST fix them? (Not just the phone calls because that is VERY obvious already)

It has been difficult to sort out/bring up at the moment because the partner is also facing a lot of physical pain (recent surgery) and is taking meds due to this pain so I am not always sure what is "emotional" stuff or what just looks like it due to pain meds, and is it right for me to even say anything at the moment when depression is also involved?

We weren't together long before this surgery which has had a pretty long recovery time which helps deepen the depressive states as well (and thinking may not be so clear)

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May 01, 2011
Response to Kathy
by: Anonymous

You are very wise Kathy, and I liked your comments very much.

Nov 01, 2010
Breaking the chains
by: C.

hi there,
I had a very unhealthy relationship with my own mother.I was teriffied of being abandoned by her,she knew this and would pull and push me, dangling the carrott of love in front of me,when i went to grab it she`d pull it away.she had total control over me.She also expected me to parent her(as she had extreme abandonment issues)This filled me with an anger and rage which i often vented at her and society.I had no respect for her in my teenage years.Yet i couldn`t break from her aas she enabled me with money, for booze and drugs.I looked up to my grandmother as the matriarch.Although in hindsight she was partly responsible for my mothers pathology.

When i grew up and began dating women she became extremely jealous and even more controlling. It was only when i entered A.A. sobered up and started to get well that i began to severe the umbilical cord.Eventually, i began to set clear boundaries with my mother, who continually tried to violate them. When i married a strong woman(also in recovery)my mother and sisters tried again to cross my boundaries, by drawing her in to their clique.They where amazed when she stood up to them and was loyal to me.(They truly had no concept of loyalty).For instance, she would still invite my ex-girlfriend to parties and ignore i and my wife,then fill her in with all the details of my life,Shit stirring.So,It was awesome to see how quickly my controlling and abusive mother and sisters(birds of a feather flock together)crumbled ,once we had confronted them.

Once my mother knew she could not have control over me she became disinterested and aloof,i realized then that she was never actually capable of meeting my emotional needs and she never truly loved me.It was always about her,selfish beyond belief.She always drilled into us how she worked two jobs and sent us to the best schools,but she couldn`t give us what we truly needed,time,affection and a hug. When we did achieve degrees e.t.c.she lived vicariously through our glory,to the point of nausea.
I finally detached from her three years ago and do not have her in my or my families life. On one level this is sad but on another i feel free from her drunken abuse, manipulation and disloyalty.I pray for her and hope one day she gets some kind of release from her own pain.

I believe it takes a real man to wean himself from his mother, whatever the state of there relationship.It is up to your boyfriend to cut the umbilical chord and break free.As Don says there may also be some issues that you need to look at.Maybe you picked this guy because unconsciously you thought you could control him,(fear of abandonment).The problem is if a man is susceptible to a woman's control, his mother may also be dominating him.Then it may becomes a battle between girlfriend/wife to gain control of said male.

hope this helps.Good luck.C

Mar 31, 2010
Yup...I think your diagnosis is correct
by: Don

There is a lot of data here and I think you hit the nail on the head -- what you have described here is a CLASSIC case of enmeshment with a parent.

Barring a miracle, this problem is not going to go away without a significant amount of personal growth on his part, probably beginning with a significant amount of therapy. Whether or not he get's it will be his call, of course.

This kind of enmeshment has its roots in childhood meaning he has never been able to fully separate enough from his mother...he has no idea what independence is like. Until he does he cannot develop a healthy, separate but connected relationship with another.

Check out the following page to learn more about separateness and connectedness:

All of this means that YOU have a couple of choices:

1. You can accept things the way they are and become a stand-in mother & care-taker to him, until she passes, then you can take over completely for her.

2. You can set boundaries about what is okay with you and what is not -- a healthy boundary is not put in place to "make" him do anything -- it is simply a statement of fact about what you will do if SPECIFIC things don't get recognized and changed. It puts the ball in his court which means you have to "let go" of the outcome and respond according the the choice he makes. Many times that means the end of the relationship.

Because #2 may mean the relationship might end, many people are driven by a fear of abandonment to the point that they never set those limits and, with magical thinking, just hope "if I love him enough he will finally appreciate me and...(change, love me, etc.)

This only leads to more abandonment and more fear of abandonment...

Now, having said all of that, it is important for you to recognize that YOU picked him to be in a relationship with. That was no accident. There is a reason you have tolerated all the red flags and stayed in the relationship...something in YOU needs attention. If you ignore it and get out of this relationship you will more than likely end up in another similar relationship.

The good news is that you can have a fuller, more enriching life and more rewarding relationships if and when you deal with that -- Just my opinion based on what you've told us.

Hope this helps!


Mar 30, 2010
Telling it like it is!
by: Kathleen D. Cone

Dear Annon,

I loved hearing your venting and humourous personality to boot! Sounds like your new partner never resolved issues he's had with his mother for years and years and she obviously dominates him if he is only 'allowed' to talk to you for a few short minutes while Mom is there.. hmmmmmm

Well, that tells you alot about this person.. once Mom is gone he will likely be back to his old self.... but from what you are saying it seems to me.. if you wanted to... once Mom is passed on.. you could obviously dominate this man! Not that you would or would even want to!

But it does sound like he has made attempts to deal with his mother in the past and has come to the conclusion that it's pointless to try... she isn't open enough for him to communicate with and since she is in her 70's now he's just trying to keep the peace ...not with you.. but with her...

Is he bed bound or something? Where he can't go for a walk and use his cell to call you or something? It is odd that he has stopped communicating all together via email, etc.. and those are his choices. hmmmmmmm

So she will only be here for a week?... I'd wait until after she leaves to say anything to him about his behavior towards you while she was there.

For all you know, he's trying to protect you from her... not her from you.....but I do find the lack of his effort to contact you to be disconcerting..

Don is going to have to comment in that regard because I really don't understand that part, myself.


Thank you for being so honest and open about how this makes you feel... "you wouldn't want to 'upset' mom, afterall" ...Argh.. Kicked to the Curb! .. all very healthy responses actually.

And to be honest with you.. I can hear your worry about his being brought to the point of despair by his mother and your concern for his welfare.

I'm hearing your negative self talk too, in all of this... the statement...

"For now I will focus on me, damn - get tired of that sometimes, and for what? To do it all over again & again & again...and still never find anyone to share it with. Hey give me a break, a little self pity for a short time is okay."

And it bothers me for you.. that in your heart you sound defeated and convinced you will always be subject to this kind of relationship problem.


But I think the next thing you wrote was really quite funny and a healthy

" All I can think of now is a visual of an umbilical cord around them both so no one else can ever get too close. Now I am just mad and want to ask when he’s getting her a ring? LOL"


Don I can't wait to hear what you think! ... *s


Mar 30, 2010
Post Originator Here
by: Anonymous

Thank you for such thoughtful responses. Let me say YES I DO need to take care of ME now more...What got me posting was this: I do not live with the partner. We met about 11 months ago, soon afterward the pain hit, then a journey of diagnosis then surgery. I have been there through it all best I could with work etc, and not become soley a caretaker, taking care of my house, etc as well. Years of therapy & recovery kept me atleast aware. NOW this week the partner's mother is here with him visiting and guess what - only ONE phone call to me for about 5 min. since she arrived (or should I say since I/we drove to get her). My partner even told me "She likes you" after I met her. Before we went to pick her up I was listening to him say things like, "She may notice that what you're wearing or that she doesn't like when people chew gum" I replied "I really don't care I am not in a relationship with your mother" But I was not rude or anything, I am really pretty easy going.
We used to share/talk/email several times daily, either how much pain he was in, physical therapy, how he loved me & couldn't do this alone, asked how I was, OR WHAT his Mom said that upset him! I am not a teenager, I'm over 40 yrs of age, he is older than that.
Today NO calls, NO emails NO anything. Sure it's because Mom is there & it would "UPSET her for him to be contacting me on HER time" which is messed up, wouldn't someone want to share with the person they love with the mother that supposedly likes me? Or call to share what they're doing while she's here?
Damn, I was the one that was there all this time & trying to have the longest start to a relationship in history at the same time LOL. Now KICKED TO THE CURB emotionally?
He knows this has been an issue in the past with others so it's not like it would be a news flash. Response I usually get is "Well she's 73 & not going to change now" I say "That's fine but what about you? You allow HER to make YOU crazy, and you don't need to change her but it doesn't need to bring you to such depths of despair. You don't have to ignore her but if you work on you it won't affect you so much." Then I let it go...I know we can't change others. I have done a lot of my own "issue work" but apparently picking partners will never be one I get right. For now I will focus on me, damn - get tired of that sometimes, and for what? To do it all over again & again & again...and still never find anyone to share it with. Hey give me a break, a little self pity for a short time is okay. LOL :o)
So should I mention how this effects me in my next 5 min call? Or just wait until Mom is gone & things settle? I like the idea of "practicing here" to say what I want. Still pondering how & what to say. All I can think of now is a visual of an umbilical cord around them both so no one else can ever get too close. Now I am just mad and want to ask when he’s getting her a ring? LOL Have a great day - I'll be back - seems I have plenty of time for now.

Mar 30, 2010
Them and You
by: Evan

I guess there are a couple of considerations I would be mulling over.

Does it cause much distress to your partner? If so do they want to do something to diminish the distress?

Can you find a way to look after yourself while this is going on? Do you feel you have to say something or can you find a way to be happy without doing this?

These are my thoughts, I hope they help.

Mar 30, 2010
by: Don Carter


I'm sensing from what you wrote that you feel it may be too soon, or things are too new, for you to get a full picture of exactly what is going on right now.

I also get it that Kathy's instinct is to give him the benefit of the doubt and take a wait-and-see approach...especially since he is down right now -- under the influence of meds and post-op depression (if not the more chronic kind) -- good points Kathy!

I agree, maybe it would be good to listen to your instinct and wait until you have more data before deciding to act. By all means watch the red flags and set healthy is by doing so that we "teach" people how to treat us.

One more thought...If and/or when you do decide to confront him about this -- first be very clear in your own mind about what YOUR purpose is before confronting him.

If you are ready, it may be good for you to practice stating your purpose for that with us here. Maybe we can ask clarifying questions and help you sort it out.


Mar 29, 2010
Parental Enmeshment
by: Kathleen D. Cone

I'm not a doctor or psychologist of any sort. Instead I am a member of this site dealing with my own issues and working towards a healthier future. So with that in mind I'd like to respond.

I've noticed that when I am talking to my son on the phone and his girlfriend is present, he is unable to be as open with me. That her presense alone regulates what he says and doesn't say to me personally. And if she calls on their other phone because the one he is using it's busy, she invaritably asks who he is talking to and our conversations are then cut short.

So coming from the position of a Parent talkin to their own Son or Daughter, the girlfriend or boyfriend do have an impact on the actual outcome of the phone call itself.

If your partner is asking you not to let his parent know you are present because it could cause him trouble with his parent, he probably just wants to avoid the hassel.

I'm not sure that's unusual. When my husband is talking to his mother on the phone I give him space and leave the room so he can feel fully able to say whatever he wants to her without me being in earshot..

Even if the problem is his mother. He doesn't need to get it from both sides. Mother and Girl friend and be put in the middle of what appears to already be a problem with his Mom.

Now addressing the fact that your partner had a recent surgery and is having a challenge recovering.. I went through 2 surgeries not that long ago and stress was definately not what I needed added to the challenges I was already dealing with. Of course I got off the pain meds as fast as I possibly could tolerate and they did alter my personality. I was more weepy and depressed because pain killer side-effects do that while they depress the pain itself it also depresses the mind.

What my husband did for me while I was recovering from 2 serious vertebrae surgeries was keep things as loving and calm as possible for me.. and It made me realize even more deeply how fortunate I was to have him in my life.

I think you are facing a trade off... Are your feelings of rejection or exclusion about his mom, more important to you than the resulting tenderness you will gain in the eyes of your husband if you are kind to him and give him alot of support as he recovers...

Now you have mentioned the recovery time has been long......and pain meds are addictive... highly addictive.... the question becomes how long he's been on these meds and for if the original surgery is healed enough for him to begin slowing down his use.

Much Love , Kathy

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