Family baggage from the past can be the death knell to a marriage if not addressed properly.
Readership: Men; Married Men
Theme: Wives and Mothers
Author’s Note: This post is based on a conversation that appeared under Thedeti’s post, What can a husband do in response to a rebellious wife? (2022/1/31). Comments edited for clarity and readability.
Length: 3,000 words
Reading Time: 15 minutes
Case Study 1 – RedPillBoomer’s Wife and Her Mother
My wife was a fairly agreeable woman when I married her 32 years ago. However, there was one red flag that I didn’t even recognize at the time, her relationship with her mother. She had ‘mommy issues’ because her mother was a mess in a number of ways. Fortunately, she didn’t have any daddy issues. Her relationship with her father was very solid (parents were still married, no divorce). HOWEVER, even though it was just one red flag that was missed by clueless, Blue Pill me, it made the first ten years of our marriage difficult as she worked through her mommy issues. We came close to divorce over it. Thankfully, the mommy issues were correctable, and in the course of time, another decade or so, she got them worked out to the point where now, they are a non-issue.
So, I dodged a bullet, but not without significant personal cost to me during those first ten years. We have a really good marriage now, and that is a testament in part to her agreeableness. From that spirit of agreeableness, she worked very hard on overcoming her mommy issues, and eventually did. She was willing to accept her ‘problem’ and do the work to correct it; but it took a lot of work on her part. Kudos to her for doing the work. Kudos to me I guess for being patient.
Knowing what I know now, would I marry her over again? Yes, BUT, the Red Pill version of me would have to do a lot of what Thedeti talked about in this post. If I had back then, assuming I’d been aware, AKA Red Pilled enough, AND had some coaching from the men on this blog; I’d have probably avoided much, if not most, of the headaches I went through during the first ten years of my marriage.
Gentlemen, as you all know, there are NO unicorns out there. There are some women who are marriage material, but they must be vetted thoroughly for ‘agreeableness’ or else a man, particularly in these times, is headed for potentially his own mini version of the proverbial ‘hell on earth.’ It’s a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.
Case Study 2 – Eutrapelia’s Wife and Her Mother
How did you resolve the mother issues? I have a similar issue right now.
For the past 11 years, even longer if you count the last part of dating where I started to see these issues, my wife has been embroiled in a two-front war with the fronts never occurring at the same time. She has a certifiable NPD mother with all the typical consequences of that situation, i.e. golden children, scapegoats, and the infamous flying monkeys. My wife has often been the scapegoat except when my wife is feeding her mother drama about our marriage.
This dynamic starts off with a fight with her mom or one of her sisters. The family turns against her and she turns to me for guidance and comfort. I help her deal with the situation in a healthy fashion, working to establish healthy boundaries without cutting ties, but being willing to do so, if necessary. This setting of boundaries then becomes a source of family drama. However, after a time, my wife’s mother will stop the scapegoating and slowly bring my wife back into her circle of influence. The price of admission, so to speak, is providing the mother with narcissistic supply by recounting examples of me putting my foot down on something (like where our daughter is to go for First Communion classes) and how dictatorial I am, etc.
This dynamic goes back and forth where my wife comes to me for comfort with family drama and then throws me under the bus with family and friends without a second thought, looking for comfort for her own ego and need to control. Then it is the “boundaries” that I attempted to have her set for her family are set against me under the advice of her mother. What makes this effective against my wife is that her mother never gave her approval or much love growing up. She is always seeking after it, even in adulthood. It doesn’t matter if she has to create fissures and destroy the reputation of her husband in a way that only a woman can. I would also add that the mother-in-law is only too happy to split her daughter away from me in subtle and explicit ways because the MIL has come to realize that I have her number and won’t allow her to manipulate me.
It took me a while to wake up to this dynamic for a couple of reasons. First, no men in my past would talk about these kinds of dynamics or didn’t understand them themselves. Second, I had never come across this level of skilled and deliberate manipulation. In a twisted fashion, I am awed by their prowess and have learned in many ways. Not being a naturally manipulative person, it has been a difficult path to understand this mentality and then learn to navigate it.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Jack’s Advice to Eutrapelia
In Eutrapelia’s situation, he is dealing with a family (or “generational”) curse — that is, it’s a destructive dynamic that has a life of its own, it spreads from family member to family member, and gets repeated from generation to generation. Certain expressions of love are withheld (by scapegoating in this case), causing other family members to suffer, and then a reprieve of the suffering is used as a ransom or method of control. IOW, it plays off of emotional needs (through a carefully controlled balance of drama and scapegoating) and ego affirmation (through conditional acceptance). It seems like Eutrapelia has come to understand this destructive dynamic and how it works. It helps that he recognizes that for what it is. The identification of the problem is the first step to correcting it.
Eutrapelia’s situation is different from the one Thedeti is addressing in his post. Deti is talking about a rebellious wife — a wife who knows what she should do but refuses to do it, or a very immature wife who is predominantly swayed by her feelings and/or feminist dogma, and who has no concept of personal responsibility.
Since the problem itself is different, the way Eutrapelia should handle this problem is also different from what deti suggests. A rebellious wife tears down the marital relationship, but a family curse tears down the individual, and yes, this can also tear down the marriage, the whole family and children too, if left unchecked. It often does just that.
I suggest that Eutrapelia should try to make his wife understand this dynamic from an objective viewpoint. Explain to her what he sees happening, just like he described above. It will help if he does it at a time when she is in a better mood. When she begins to recognize the pattern, then she’ll be able to view the situation more objectively, and see how unhealthy and damaging it is. He might have to talk to her about it many times, and it might take a while to see results.
Case Study 3 – Jack’s Wife and Her Mother
As an example, I’ll describe a situation that my wife had with her mother. It’s probably not as severe or destructive as the situation with Eutrapelia’s MIL is, but it should give you an idea of how to deal with it.
My wife and her mother always had this emotional enmeshment. (Not sure if that’s the correct psychological term, but it is a good descriptor.) My MIL had this long running habit of controlling my wife’s behaviors and general opinions of things by playing the blame-shame-game. My wife kept coming back for more because she wanted the attention. IOW, it made her feel loved. They’ve been like this ever since my wife was a child.
I discovered this problem like this. After we married, my wife talked to her mother on the phone every day, sometimes for more than an hour. At first, I didn’t think this in itself was a problem, but every time she talked with her mother, she was angry and distraught for several hours afterwards. It took me a while to figure out that her mother was the cause of her distemper because I assumed my wife was upset about something they discussed, but after a while, I saw that practically every time she talked with her mother, she was gritchy for the rest of the day. Once I identified her mother as the cause of her negativity, and not the content of their talk, I pointed this out to her. “Every time you talk to your mother, you’re in a bad mood for the rest of the day!” Of course, this made her angry and she said I was hating on her mother and so on. But I continued to point this out every time it happened. After a few months, she started to believe me.
Eventually, a day came when I pointed this out to her and she asked me what she should do about this. (I waited until this time because it was important to her for me to let her see this dynamic for herself and desire a change, rather than for me to try to force a change of her behavior. IOW, I had to be patient and let her grow at her own pace.) So I told her, “Limit your phone calls with your mother to 10 minutes, once a week. If she calls more frequently, then don’t answer, or else, answer and tell her you’re too busy to talk right now and hang up.” She didn’t want to do this at first, but as the emotional turmoil continued to drag her down (amplified by my bringing her attention to it), she became more willing to follow my advice, and she made some effort to spend less time on the phone with her mother. As a result, she spent more time talking with me, and she was in a better mood too. When I pointed out this change to her, she became more convinced that I was right about her and her mother. Not long after this, she really stuck to the “rule” of “10 minutes, once a week”. Within a couple months, she was practically a different person! Eventually, a day came when she realized she was much happier than she was before and she thanked me for this.
Now we’re on to the next thing — being thankful for the small blessings in life. I’m handling this in pretty much the same way. I started off by explaining to her how happiness is tied to thankfulness. Then after that, every time she complains or is stubbornly negative, I point out how the situation could be viewed as a “glass half full”. She is slowly catching on.
In summary, I urged my wife to draw boundaries for herself, rather than me setting boundaries for her. It took time and patience, but now she’s able to do this for herself.
Case Study 4 – RedPillBoomer’s Wife’s Recovery
“How did you resolve the mother issues? I have a similar issue right now.”
I asked my wife about this so I could respond here. Her mother, we believe, has a couple disorders catalogued in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual: Social Anxiety Disorder and Avoidance Personality Disorder (co-morbid with Dependent Personality Disorder, with elements of the Borderline and Paranoia thrown in there for good measure), quite the witches brew. She’s a piece of work, and so is her younger sister, both from one of those “vaunted” 1950s / early 60s families that get stereotyped as “wonderful” because of the family stability, i.e. few divorces. Her mother’s family, I can tell you, while superficially they resembled Leave it to Beaver or Mayberry RFD, it was anything but that, once you got on the inside of it. A real sh!t show of a family.
My wife’s “mommy issues” really put a strain on our relationship and the family as well during the early years of our marriage and family formation. If my wife wasn’t a Christian, and as importantly, really DEDICATED to doing her self work on the road to healing, we would never have made it as a couple or a family.
Anyways, the short of my wife’s long journey to healing began with her having a nervous breakdown and then seeing a couple of therapists in the first ten years of our marriage for deep inner work. She said the big thing breakthrough-wise for her was the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) work she did with her therapists. It began surfacing deep habits she had in relating to the world and others acquired from her mother’s pitiful role modeling.
Another big thing, surprisingly, was her enrolling in a Karate class with me and actually making it all the way to black belt. It took her four years to get there, the equivalent of a college degree in terms of time length. Why so significant? She said it was the first time she’d completed anything in her life that required such commitment; and it was all her doing, it had nothing to do with her family of origin (they are a bunch of mediocre life performers). She didn’t count getting her high school diploma as that was a fairly easy thing for her since she was a good, dedicated student growing up. However, she did this (graduated from high school) in the midst of moving SEVENTEEN times growing up as her mom yanked them all over the country. Her dad was an oilfield manager, and very good at it, a masculine guy, but of course, Blue Pilled to the core. He let his nutcase of a wife jerk the family all over the country in chase of her dreams, or running from some perceived slight from family members (particularly her mother-in-law) or the people in her communities (the paranoid side of her).
The next thing for my wife was getting her college degree from Rutgers (in Teaching) and then her Master’s Degree from Liberty University (in Therapeutic Counseling); AND taking her first job as a teacher teaching in an inner city school in Trenton New Jersey. She learned that a lot of those kids had come from dysfunctional family of origin situations (many much worse than hers, if that’s possible) and she had compassion for them; and just as importantly, the KNOW HOW in how to help them, i.e. teach them AND address their socio-emotional issues at the same time. She said she learned a lot about herself through those kids and their family situations.
The last big piece of her healing was taking a course in Reactive Attachment Disorder for her Counseling career development / career broadening. In taking this course she realized it was exactly what she developed growing up; she now had a name for it and a diagnosis / treatment to go with it. She was floored, and tenaciously and persistently dove into the subject to learn everything she could. She said she learned more about herself in that course then everything that went before it put together. An exaggeration I believe, but an exaggeration to show how important it was to finally get a name and diagnosis of what was wrong with her that her mother had caused.
She continues to study to this day, but is now more dedicated to helping others heal, and she’s really good at it. I mean like darn good! She feels she still has work to do on herself, but I’d say from where I sit, she’s 100% healed. That’s the short story version of her journey. I know there was more to it, but those are the things she highlighted when I asked her so I could respond to your question. Hope this helps!
In general, if a man can get his wife to see how the bad dynamic works, either by explaining it to her, or by educating her in the matter, and then instruct her how she can get control of the situation by drawing boundaries, then he’ll be giving her a clear choice to do the right thing. (So many people continue doing the wrong thing because they’re not sure what the right thing would be.)
Sometimes the damage is so deep that it cannot be ascertained (like with RPB’s wife). In this case, diligent prayer and faith in the Power of Christ are needed to bring those issues to the surface where they can be dealt with properly. (RPB didn’t mention this, but the serendipities expressed in his testimony makes me certain it was there.)
Be that objective voice in her life, calling out directions for her to find her way out of the woods. Again, it takes patience.
Dalrock wrote two classic posts about how to deal with a troublesome MIL. Reading these are a must for every married man.
- Dalrock: The curse of female power (2010/9/12)
- Dalrock: A wife’s best defense against a troublesome mother-in-law. (2013/3/13)
- Dalrock: Revisiting the question of a troublesome mother-in-law. (2015/5/29)
- Σ Frame: Women Rely on a Man’s Frame for Redemptive Introspection (2021/6/28)
- Σ Frame: Riding the Raging Rivulet (2022/10/13)
- Σ Frame: Name it to Change it! (2022/10/21)
The saying, “You will be treated the way you allow yourself to be treated”, doesn’t just apply to your wife.
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This points up a prime challenge for married people, both men and women, which is minimizing and eliminating outsiders’ influence on your marriage. The prime influencers tend to be parents-in-law.
Whether they mean well or not is irrelevant — the point is that their influences on the marriage are inappropriate. She’s no longer primarily her parents’ daughter; she is now her husband’s wife. I did have to say this to my in laws recently : “She might be your daughter, but she is my wife first, and that is how things will be conducted from here on out.” Every man needs to set that boundary and help his wife set out that boundary with her parents as well. A wife who cannot or will not do this will eventually severely damage her marriage as her husband vies for primacy in her mind and heart. If she is submitting to her parents and not to her husband, this is a recipe for disaster.
Of course, in line with other comments I’ve made elsewhere, I think this will be a problem for fewer and fewer people because there will be fewer marriages. I think that more and more people just won’t have legal marriages or even covenant marriages. Most men aren’t attractive enough to keep a woman with them long term. Most women don’t really want to stay with a man long term anyway.
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I know how detrimental outside influence can be on children growing up in such a family.
My father, who worked in an office, had a brother-in-law who worked in an aircraft factory in Connecticut. He was knowledgeable about tools and was a self-appointed authority about anything mechanical — from painting to sharpening ice skates — and never hesitated sharing his wisdom. No doubt he had mechanical experience which my father lacked.
He would offer gratuitous comments to me in front of my father when he visited, pointing out what my father told me to do on some project wasn’t completely correct and how it could be improved, i.e., constructive criticism.
He may have meant well, but being young and impressionable the effect of his comments was to usurp my father’s authority which caused me to lose respect for my father.
Now as an adult I realize he was a blowhard.
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The problem also is the Fathers marrying those women who become mother-in-laws like the ones described here.
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Unchecked poor behavior of the prior generation … I’m adding that red flag to my list of things to vet for and deal with ahead of time. There is hope for my sons.
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With my ex, it wasn’t her mother that was a wedge, it was her grandmother. She ruined the marriages of all her daughters because she compared their husbands to her husband. None of them were like him so they didn’t stack up, and boy did she let them know it. I got lumped in eventually. Took me a long time to figure it out. Now there’s a long line of wrecked marriages and her granddaughters are faring no better. She was a late Silent, BTW. Generational curses, indeed.
BtM: Didn’t know you were divorced.
What is it about chatty old bitties tearing people in their circles down? My family had the old woman hurting younger generations where my great grandmother said something about my paternal grandfather to my maternal grandparents that made them not like my dad. It’s a big ole wedge of sin that causes such undue hurt. Paul knew what he was writing when he talked about idle women’s mouths.
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I have never been married. This was a LTR that should have ended either fruitfully or early. It is a long and tragic story.
Yes, it was definitely there, the power of prayer and faith. One other big thing that helped, my wife got really clear on that it was time to break the “generational curse” passing down through her side of the family. Much of that work has been accomplished, however there are a few strands left.
It helps having my dementia suffering MIL living with us since COVID. I’ve been able to see a few things related to my wife’s side of the family, her generational curse if you will, that she has been able to focus on. My wife always says something like, “Wow, I hadn’t seen that part of it (her generational curse) the way you just described it. OMG, that’s good, I can see that now!” We always end on it’s a good thing having the MIL here in that one sense, to see a few things that had remained obscured from my wife’s view, and mine too, when the MIL was not living with us.
For instance, I pointed out to her that all the men in her line marry certain types of women, AND that our son had gone ahead and followed in their footsteps! As much as we’d worked on breaking the generational curse, and in many respects, WE DID, i.e., did a good job raising him, even so, this one area had alluded us. I believed it was primarily because when he was growing up, I was blue pilled, and my wife was immersed in working on her “mommy issues.” The “generational curse” did an end run on us, so to speak, and nailed my son in the intimate relationship area concerning the type of woman he married.
My wife and I were/are the “curse breakers” in our family because Christ had worked on us deeply to heal us from it. Some of the work, I’d estimate 50% of it occurred BEFORE we were married. So, we had some divine momentum going into our marriage, but the other 50% still had to be worked on after we got married, and we’ve been married for 34 years now. I’d estimate we’re at 5% or less now that remains to be worked out in some form or fashion. BTW, I’d say the getting “red pilled” was responsible for a nice chunk of healing for me, maybe 20% of my total, and indirectly for my wife as she benefited from me shifting from the blue pill mindset to the red pill mindset. Red pill being just a metaphor, another way of putting it that truth matters; that’s Truth with a capital T, God’s truth. It’s my belief why we need the Christian version of the Red Pill. Secular Red Pill helps get the ball rolling, but this stuff really needs Christ to make it work deep down at a spiritual level, and not just at a surface level.
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Brings to mind this from John Lee Hooker 🙂 . . .