Dear Prudence: Wife is still under her mother's control

  • Article by: EMILY YOFFE , Slate
  • Updated: July 23, 2014 - 1:33 PM

Dear Prudence: I’ve been married for nearly a year to a great woman. I love her and think we can have a great life together.

When I learned she was divorced, I believed her assertion that the fault was entirely with her ex for clashing with her mother. I now think the fault must have lain with her mother, and not her ex-husband.

My mother-in-law refuses to let her daughter be independent. She makes her feel guilty if she doesn’t spend three or four days a week at her house. From the minute my wife wakes up until past midnight every night, they text. They text each other while we watch movies, while we shop, talk, spend time with my family, and even when she’s in the same room with her mom.

To make it worse, her mother seems to dislike me. She constantly says mean things about me in her texts, which I only found out about after stumbling upon my wife’s phone and reading through conversations. Occasionally, I read through their conversations (my wife is aware of this) and find her mother is petty and cruel, constantly criticizing me.

She’s a cancer in our marriage, and my wife cannot become independent. I feel like I’m trapped in a marriage of three people. I’ve asked my wife to please talk to her mom about giving us more space. I’ve desperately asked her to refrain from texting all day long. I don’t know if I can handle this for much longer. What should I do?

Prudence says: You may think you’re married to a woman, but she’s really an overgrown child. A child who is being psychologically abused by her domineering, manipulative mother, and who has been unable to stand up for herself and break away.

Your poor wife is so addled — perhaps from never having cut the umbilical cord — she doesn’t even realize it’s her relationship with her mother that destroyed her first marriage and is on track to destroy her second. Your wife knows you’ve seen proof that her mother demeans and insults you, but you don’t indicate that your wife defends you. She’s probably incapable of even that small insurrection.

Since you’re living a modern-dress fairy tale, you could just wait it out for the wicked witch to die. But that could possibly take decades, and I’m not sure even the departure of your mother-in-law would free your wife from her grip. If your wife were actively trying to extract herself from her mother’s control, then a therapist could help her start stacking those psychic sandbags as a barricade against her mother.

But your wife instead is in an active conspiracy against you. I think the kindest thing you can do for her is to become former husband No. 2. Maybe if she sees a pattern developing, she might be willing to address what’s wrong in her life. But leaving is the best way for you to get on with yours.

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