I find myself, however, drowning in internal protestations of “I deserve to be treated better.” A central challenge is that my boyfriend bristles at my pathologizing of his mom, understandably. He gets defensive of her and reminds me of how upset I might be were he to talk about my family this way. I have always been quite sensitive, so the grievances that his mother and I express tend to sound eerily similar. I want my boyfriend to be able to enjoy the time that he has left with his mother, and I wonder whether a less sensitive woman might be able to just shrug off at least some of what I get all riled up about.
If we stay together, our future will involve living in a house on property he bought, which currently has a granny unit that she’s living in. I’m in my mid-30s and want to have children, so it’s on my mind that if my relationship with my boyfriend is unsustainable, it would be best ended sooner rather than later.
How can I do a better job of being around her? Or should I leave?
Understandably, your boyfriend’s mother isn’t the future mother-in-law you’d choose if you could order up your ideal candidate, but I think the line between your professional and personal life has become blurred here, and that has made the situation blurry for you as well. It’s so much easier to see a situation clearly from the outside—therapy training or not—so let me offer an outside perspective.
As I’m sure you know, we bring our backgrounds to our current conflicts, or as we say in therapy, our fights with people tend to start long before we’ve met them. The same might be true of the fight you’re in with your boyfriend’s mother.
I’m not saying that your boyfriend’s mother isn’t difficult. I’m asking instead if some of her more irritating behaviors—her self-aggrandizement, martyrdom, and inappropriate comments—may be landing on you more heavily because of the sensitivity you mention that you’re bringing to the relationship. Of course, we all have inborn personality traits, but personalities tend to be shaped by a person’s environment as well. If his mother is pushing your buttons to this degree, it could be that there’s a historical fight going on here too—one that didn’t originate with her.
For instance, instead of adopting your boyfriend’s tack of not taking his mother’s behavior personally and letting it go, you “judge” her for her boastful monologues that aren’t personal attacks on you at all. Meanwhile, you confront her with your “displeasure,” even though intellectually you know that she’s probably not capable of taking in another’s feelings of injury without feeling injured herself. Despite understanding her limitations, you still try to get her to see you and understand you. And you want your boyfriend to see his mother’s behavior the way you do. Could it be that this is a familiar scenario, something you’ve experienced with people in your past?