My Boyfriend’s Mother is Too Controlling

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Reader’s Question

I’ve been with my boyfriend three years. We have always had a good relationship and still do. He asked me to move in with him two years ago and I did. The only problem is that he lives with his parents, whom I thought to be lovely until I moved in.

His father hasn’t worked in 40 years; as a result, his mother had to raise the two children herself. Now that they are adults, she pays for nothing and seems to be manipulating my boyfriend. She remortgaged her house a year before I met my boyfriend, with the full intention of making him and his brother pay it back for her. My boyfriend pays for the mortgage and all her bills. He gets paid midweek, and the minute he gets in from work she looks for his wages. She takes 75% of his weekly earnings. If he doesn’t have it, she goes mental. When she calms down, she starts making him feel guilty about how his father never worked and she had to do everything, and she says that the three of them need to stick together (meaning my boyfriend, his brother and her) even though she pays for nothing, although she has a full-time job.

It has got to the stage where, if he buys something for himself before she gets to his money, he asks me not to tell her. His brother moved out a few times because of it and she then badmouthed him to my boyfriend, saying she would never forgive him for leaving her. Last year his brother got money from an accident and tried to start a life on his own. Again she went mental because he gave her nothing and she wanted a new stove. She also said that he owed her the money because she gave birth to him and he owes her his life. She eventually got him to come home and she got the money.

Last year I tried to get my boyfriend out of this situation by getting our own place, but when he mentioned moving out, she said she had cancer. Three days after he decided he wasn’t going, she told him the doctors made a mistake and she was fine.

My boyfriend doesn’t seem to realize that what she is doing is wrong. He talks about the situation as if it is normal and he owes her everything. I know it does not affect me but when it comes to us having a future, we can’t have one until her loans are paid off which could take another five years. Should I tell him this or should I help him realize what’s going on?

Psychologist’s Reply

You can tell him what is going on, but I don’t know if he will listen. It appears as though his mother has got your boyfriend to believe that he does in fact owe her monetary compensation for his birth and upbringing. As a parent, I can tell you that it is incredibly tempting to think that your children owe you for all the hassle you’ve endured, but they don’t. Children do not ask to be born, nor do they have any control, or responsibility for the manner in which they were raised. It is always the parents’ choice as to what they give their children (financial and otherwise). Some parents give freely while others give with conditions.

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In the situation you’ve described, it sounds like even the mother’s love is conditional. This will make it incredibly difficult for your boyfriend and his brother to leave home because, in doing so, they will be risking their entire relationship with their mother. You didn’t mention how their father factors into this, but if he’s as much of a non-entity as it sounds, their leaving could make them emotional orphans. That’s a tough position to be in, so your boyfriend may have a lot of reluctance to do it. However, if you are going to have a future together, then leave he must.

Unfortunately, your boyfriend may not make the decision you want him to make. If that happens, you will have to decide whether you are willing to stay or go. If he isn’t willing to leave now, then I doubt things will change, even in another five years. People who are extremely controlling and manipulative rarely allow circumstances (like a loan being paid off) to dictate their actions. If it isn’t that loan, it will be another or, as you discovered, it could be something entirely different (like cancer). Controlling people who are threatened with a loss will stop at nothing to get what they want.

While the mother is holding her sons emotionally and financially hostage, that doesn’t mean that she can hold you hostage as well. You can always decide to be free of her tyranny, but it may mean the end of your relationship.

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