Hi, I deal with a toxic mother in law for the past 5 years. Now I see that my husband clearly has not fully separated from his mom. When she came to visit before we moved in together, she slept with him in one bed (he was 36 at that time), and I slept on the sofa when I stayed overnight. It bothered me, but I thought well I don’t live here, I can’t say anything. And she was always acting so nice around me, I felt guilty for wanting to say anything negative. Now we are married and when she comes to visit (from Brazil), she sleeps in our bed and we have to sleep on the sofa together, he simply gives her our bedroom! Also, I caught her changing in front of him, taking off her bra. They thought I wasn’t at home. To this day he says that she never changes in front of him, which is not true. She is a single mother, his dad left when he was 5, it traumatized him a lot. He has a younger brother, who lives with their mother in Brazil, even though he is 35! I told him that his mother sleeping in our bed is crossing my boundaries. His brother and my husband have a daughter and a son (respectively) from a previous relationship. Coincidence? I don’t think so. My husband was sexually abused by a woman babysitting chosen by his mother. I am the only person he told this to. I admit I cannot stand his mom. Zero tolerance. Both of my parents were amazing people, always respected my boundaries, they both died last year.
She is so manipulative, passive-aggressive emotional vampire. Now we live in a bigger apartment, I feel she will want to stay longer here now. I don’t accept it. She wanted him to spend this Christmas with her (she knows I would be by myself). The woman is SICK. She has been on antidepressants for the past 25 years, never remarried!
It feels like I have a competitor. His mom wants to be his wife. Sounds crazy but it’s true. I really need help to understand why I chose such a man, and how can I set my boundaries and be heard/respected by my husband. Please help.

Thanks (From the USA)

There are several elements here that have to do with culture and pathology. First, the differences between cultures. Although you haven’t said it my guess is that your husband comes from a different culture than you’ve been raised in. In some cultures giving up the marital bed when the parent comes to visit is customary — as is having children sleep in the same bed with a parent. In fact, it may be a sign of disrespect to have children sleep apart from the parents as is noted in this terrific article on differences in culture with regard to sleeping customs.

But this does not account for your husband’s choosing to sleep in his mother’s bed at 36 and giving up the marital bed without conferring with you. There are anomalies here for sure. They may have had innocent enough beginnings, but now they have dire consequences with regard to the marriage.

I recommend you talk directly to your husband about your needs. Explain that a grown man sleeping with his mother is something that is difficult for you to accept, and giving up the marital bed when his mom comes to visit isn’t agreeable. Talk to him directly about what your feelings and needs are and hear what he has to say. Explain that the boundaries and feelings of being in competition with his mother are very real and that you do not want to keep feeling them without expressing them. It is time to speak up. Not an attack, but an expression of what you are uncomfortable with. Ask for his help in changing these things.

If that doesn’t work I would highly recommend a few sessions with a couples therapist to sort through the issues. You can find someone at the top of the page on the “Find help” tab or a qualified therapist here.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral