A Deadly Triangle

A Deadly Triangle

There’s a fascinating old book and the title says it all–My Mother; My Self.  It is about the high potential for daughters to struggle with a symbiotic relationship with their mothers–showing how difficult it can be for daughters to define themselves apart from their moms.  I’ve had more women desperately say to me, “I don’t want to become my mother!”  Yet they often do just that.

But this is about a different relationship–a triangular one that involves the husband, the wife, and his mother.  There is a basis to all those “mother-in-law” jokes, for it can be a difficult relationship to work out.  It’s interesting that in most Asian countries, the problem is perpetuated by tradition.  Typically, in those cultures, the mother-in-law was harassed when she was the daughter-in-law.  Now that her son is married, it’s her turn to do the harassing.  And the husband is out of the picture.  He doesn’t matter in the cultural dance.

But in Western culture, it is typically the three that get to dance together and often the husband is caught in the middle between his mother and his wife.  Several studies have suggested that the son’s mother typically worried about how the marriage would affect the son’s ongoing relationship with her and his nuclear family.  The son’s mother also worried about her son’s well-being.  Will this young woman take care of him?  And what isn’t said is “Will she take good care of him like I did?”  In a way they compete with how they will take care of him.

The typical husband/son will respond to these conflicts by ignoring them, which only makes things worse.  The minor conflicts will expand into major issues and emotional cut-offs.  And by the time the husband/son gets involved, he only makes things worse.  He’s caught in a battle between the two important women in his life, and he believes he can’t win.  But he can and must win the day!  But how?

To begin, he has to make his wife his priority and make it known.  It’s his responsibility to set things on the right course.  He needs to present a united front with his wife, without bringing his wife into the fray, such as saying his “wife has a problem with….”  He needs to take the stand simply on his own.  If he can set the pace and get the triangle healthy, everyone wins.  Understanding how triangular relationships works, works with friends as well.

Question:  Can you describe a time when you got caught between two people you cared about who were at “war” with each other?

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