Is My Friend’s Husband Too Tied to His Mother, or is Something Else Wrong?

Reader’s Question

A close friend told me she had finally found herself a good man. I was very happy for her. She said he was 55 and lived at home with his mother. He was a deacon in church, sang in the choir, and knew the Bible from beginning to end. He had just ended a 9-year relationship with his ex-girlfriend. Although I sensed this was a red flag, I didn’t say anything because she had already made up her mind about him. She did marry this guy.

Later on, my friend told me that everything was good until they returned form their honeymoon. He began verbally and emotionally abusing her, and there were times when he physically abused her. She told how little arguments would set him off into a rage. She said this man used to be an alcoholic twelve years ago. After a year and a half marriage and 5 to 6 trips of him taking his clothing and returning to his mom, they separated.

This man clearly doesn’t respect her. He puts his mother before he her. What advice should I give my friend? She really still wants their marriage to work.

Psychologist’s Reply

There are some “red flags” in the story you tell about your friend. The first one has to do with your friend saying that her husband “used to be” an alcoholic. Such a statement suggests a lack of awareness about the dynamics of alcoholism and patterns of substance abuse and dependence. The other “red flag” has to do with the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse and the lack of awareness on your friend’s part about the dynamics typically associated with such patterns.

You and your friend could speculate all day long about whether this man is too tied to his mother or has other issues with the women in his life. However, the most important things to take note of are his patterns of behavior. And, especially when it comes to abusive behavior, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Your friend only needs to decide whether she wants a relationship with a person who in mid life still exhibits these destructive behavior patterns. If your friend is of a mind to dismiss or minimize the seriousness of these behaviors, then perhaps it would be best to suggest to her that she herself seek some counseling.

If you are to be of help and support to your friend, you must also pay far more attention to the behavior patterns that trouble you than you do to speculations about what might be the underlying causes. There are plenty of men who have “mother” issues but don’t abuse substances or abuse their partners. When we spend too much time trying to understand the reasons for bad behavior, we sometimes inadvertently condone it in a way. Suggest to your friend that she needs to have firm boundaries and limits in place if she is ever to have a secure, healthy relationship.

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