Why Can't His Mother Let Him Go?

There are many ways that partners can be 'unavailable' for a relationship – and being enmeshed with a needy (and perhaps narcissistic) mother is certainly one of them.

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Nov 27, 2017
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Q- My boyfriend has his own business, employs staff and has lots of friends. What I don’t understand is how someone who seems to have their life sorted, can be under the thumb when it comes to his mother.

I’ve met her and she was off-hand and rude to me. He says that’s just her way and not to let it bother me – but it does.

He’s at her beck and call. Even though she’s in good health she rings him a few times a day, and expects him to drop everything and do errands for her. He’s 43!

When he introduced me to her she said to him (in front of me) ‘you’ll always be mine’ – that was weird!

He’s an only child so I can understand her dependence on him since her husband died 40 years ago (she never re-married) – but this feels more than that.

It’s as if she’s jealous of him having another woman in his life.

She treats him like her property and ‘as the man of the house’ (he still lives with her). She expects him to be more like a husband than a son.

He's told me that she was very controlling when he was a kid and would give him the ‘silent treatment’ if he didn't obey her.

I don’t mind him helping her now and then, but she’s really got her claws into him and I worry that she will convince him to break up with me. Why can’t she let him go and have a life of his own?

A - I’m pleased that you're aware of what it is about this situation that bothers you the most – being rejected by him on her say so.

He has a strong loyalty to his mother. Maybe he feels 'duty-bound' to her in his father's absence, and he'd feel guilty or ashamed if he somehow disappointed her. 

Her dependency upon him could be seen as a form of emotional abuse - because her needs are overshadowing his. He hasn't properly separated from her, and become 'individualised'.

I suspect that as she gets older her need for him will increase.

He could rebalance his relationship with his mother by being much clearer and firmer on his boundaries… which isn’t easy as he still lives with her. 

Has he spoken of any previous girlfriends and how his mother treated them, and why he split up with them?

You could then assess if your fears are valid and the extent to which he complies with his mother’s wishes (which he may have been conditioned to do from a young age since his father died).

How does he describe her and their relationship? 

Can he see what their relationship dynamic looks like to an impartial observer? 

Does he have any underlying anger and resentment towards her?

Does he want to move out? If not this should be a red flag for you!

Like you, I wonder how she might influence and affect his relationship and emotional attachment to you. Does he want and foresee a future with you?

I guess so, because he has now let you meet ‘the other woman’ in his life… unless the meeting was set up at her suggestion or insistence - so that she could ‘check you out’!


Please set up an agreed time to have a chat with him. Share your observations and concerns (ask beforehand that he hears you out and doesn’t just jump in to defend her). He may not agree with you but at least he should hear you out.

Ask him to summarise what you’ve said and about how it all impacts upon you (including your fears about the future). 

Ask him to then respond, and include his own perceptions, fears and preferences.

There are many ways that partners can be 'unavailable' for a relationship - and being enmeshed with a needy (and perhaps narcissistic) mother is certainly one of them.

I wonder too if this whole scenario has any old links and associations with you and your past?

Do you have a pattern of finding unavailable men? If so, it’s time to work out why, and what the pay off is for you.

If you do both want your relationship to blossom, them you need to create a plan for this to happen. 

Take into consideration how much he will be doing with, and for, his mother - and what could be delegated to someone else. You might both discuss his intentions regarding moving out from her home too. 

Be sure to follow up on this emotionally intimate conversation, when you've both had time to process it, and let it become the foundations of your next steps.

You both have important choices and decisions to make.


Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR

www.maxineharley.com Where you will find lots of FREE resources designed to help and inform you on your journey of self-knowledge and development. You’ll also find a free e-booklet called How To S.H.I.E.L.D. Yourself From Your Toxic Mother and another called How To Detox From Your Toxic Mother - which might come in handy for either of you!

www.maxineharleymentoring.com - helping women who want to understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours, and to make peace with the past and stop it from messing up their future.

www.the-ripple-effect.co.uk - 10 online self-help workshops (Psycho-Emotional-Education) helping you to help yourself to understand and manage yourself, your moods, perceptions and behaviours.

www.qpp.uk.com - a new and unique therapy method which unearths and revises unhelpful sub-conscious beliefs - or your S.C.R.I.P.T.(c) Sub-Conscious-Rules-Influencing-Present-Time

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Maxine Harley

MIND HEALER & MENTOR - , S.E.L.E.C.T. YOUR LIFE COMPANY LTD.

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