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DrRussMD, Board Certified Physician
Category: Medical
Satisfied Customers: 64285
Experience:  Internal Medicine--practice all of internal medicine, all ages, family, health, prevention, complementary medicine, etc.
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Dysfunctional, co-dependent, abusive Mother-Son Relationship

Customer Question

Dysfunctional, co-dependent, abusive Mother-Son Relationship?

I feel like she has made my fiancé her husband sans the physical part. She’s in her late 50’s & single. She’d been divorced 2x; abandoned her children in both marriages: my fiancé when he was 3. They reunited when he was 12 & she made him work a part-time job at a friend’s store at that age! He told me that he’s been working since then b/c she’d stress him out about money all the time. He worked a part-time job during high school & she tried to tell him to drop out to work a full-time job to take care of the family, b/c she didn’t want to work anymore as it was his “turn.” She was only in her late 40’s at the time. She basically put all the burden of a husband & father on him, while not requesting the older sister to contribute or completing her role as a mother. She made him “man of the house.”

He told me his life was always in turmoil & that he was filled with anger & guilt all the time, & could not sleep peacefully.

When I met him he was 26 and is no longer in a financial rut and he pays for the expenses, but he used to never have privacy! Both sister & mother would walk into his room whenever they pleased. We were napping & they just came in! They never knocked. The mother would bring him pillows & blankets in baby colors when he already has 4 pillows & a down comforter that I had gotten him,asking him “Are you okay?” when he’s with me . He’s a grown man! This bothered me greatly.

When he showed her our engagement ring, her reaction was “I never got one.”

When he told her we’re getting married, her reaction was “Why are you rushing.” & when he asked her who she’s inviting, she said “no one.” She has sisters & family members like everyone else!

They moved to a new place, she duplicated the key & gave it to the sister without mentioning anything to him. The sister moved out 2 months prior. In the first week, the sister & her boyfriend just waltzed in his place.

A couple of weeks ago, she even tried to get the sister to move back in. The sister was having some problems with the boyfriend’s grandmother & the mother’s solution is for her to move back in, & when he said no, she could only stay for a night if it got really bad, the mother tried to put the guilt on him. She even tried to get him to take care of the sister bc “she’s retarded.” That’s her reason for putting everything on him. Mind you, this girl is normal as they come, just unmotivated & only wants to work a part-time job with a minimum wage.

My fiancé told me she’s always negative & everything in life is “impossible” & that she’s sad & depressed all the time. Why is her life so sad? She doesn’t have to worry about money or paying for anything! She doesn’t work a full-time job, if she wanted to quit, she could--she has NO responsibilities. She could do whatever she wanted, but somehow she’s miserable.

She tries to break us up. For example, told him that I gave the sister’s boyfriend flirty look 2 months after our relationship started; we argue like every couple & she’d say you guys argue all the time, you should break up. She told him that I’d use his money & leave. She gave me the dirtiest look as if she wanted to kill me & if looks could kill, I’d have been dead, this was after having an argument with him. She’s never happy for us or for his happiness (with some of the examples I have given you). She even prayed at church that we would break up. He told me she tried to ruin his previous relationship by badmouthing his ex-gf & his close friends as they’re bad people. Every time he tried to move out on his own, she’d put the guilt trip on him. And very time something happened, she’d somehow make it his fault, like the sister not getting along with the boyfriend’s grandmother, “b/c you told her to move out" & tried to make him listen to her VM, crying.

She’d ask him to go clothe shopping for her. She’s not disabled, she has a car, she’s free 4 days out the week, why is she asking him to go shopping for her? She wears t-shirts like his & she even wears some of his shirts. Am I wrong for objecting this act? He doesn’t take notice of it b/c 1) she does the laundry & 2) if he’s not working, he’s with me, and generally he doesn't pay attention to these things. I finally brought it up today bc she was wearing a shirt I gave him & he agrees that it’s wrong, just like if my father & I shared clothing. Why is she doing this?

I think he's still manipulated by her even though he's made significant changes & set boundaries.

In order for him to gain his freedom & start a family with me, he has to give her money on a monthly basis to cover her rent & other expenses which was why she finally agrees to move out. With 2 months left until she moves out, she’s surprisingly nice, which is unlike her. And he’s believed she’s changed! How can we know she has genuinely changed? What can I do to make him understand if she’s just being fake?
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Medical
Expert:  DrRussMD replied 7 years ago.
Hello from JA.
You can not know that she has changed.
People do not change over night and it takes work.
The boundaries you are talking about are not tight, and still very loose from what you describe.
Getting a counselor for couples for the two of you [PhD psychologist] to make sure your own communications, agreements, problems and issues are out in the open and being worked out is the most important thing you can do.
Family therapy is the most appropriate, for the two of you. IF then someone is willing and can attend sessions under the guidance of a professional this will set a boundary that gives third party strength to what you are trying to do.
People often resist this and thing they can change long standing patterns themselves, many of which are psychologically ingrained and involved supressed emotion and subconcious memories, ideas, etc. A process of cartharisis [emotional release] and processing of emotion and emotional trauma and sometimes actual trauma is required.
This can often be intense and serious, requiring professional help. Those who get ahead are the ones who find it. There are also adult 12 step groups that can help, in addition to therapy, such as groups for children of alcoholics, and/or dysfunctional families.
Good Luck.
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