Are You His Mother Or His Lover? Part 1

Are You His Mother Or His Lover? Part 1

Have you heard this story?

An elderly man was stopped by the police around 2 a.m. and was asked where he was going at that time of night.
The man replied, “I’m on my way to a lecture about alcohol abuse and the effects it has on the human body, as well as smoking and staying out late.”
The officer then asked, “Really? Who’s giving that lecture at this time of night?”
The man replied, “That would be my wife.”

Flickr Photo Courtesy of Ed Yourdon

Flickr Photo Courtesy of Ed Yourdon

It’s an old joke that smacks of stereotypical truth and may answer the question about why men pull away or shut down and tune you out, retreat into their man cave way too often for your taste?

Of course, that’s not me. I don’t want to be his mother! He’s already got one.

So what’s this Mother thing all about?

Mothers are usually the fixers, helpers, decision makers, and the true domestic engineers who want and need to teach, forgive and give advice. Being needed feels so wonderful!

Here are some Mother traits that may surprise you. Mothers:

  • have an attitude that says, “I know best. I’m right. My way is better,” even if they don’t say so.
  • may think and say – “We’re a team after all you should listen to what I have to say — hear – “You should do or at least try it my way, which is so much better.”
  • express strong opinions and point out shortcomings and mistakes, not because they’re mean, or even think he’s not doing it right, but because they feel that as a team with their partner they want and need to “help.”
  • may be the over-functioning perfectly organized powerhouse multi-tasker who has everything under control, including her man? She makes all the plans, pride herself on having the family enterprise humming like a fine-tuned spiffy engine, being available for everyone – although deep down she’s probably starting to feel some resentment and guilt.
  • have a daily planner that looks like the CEO of a successful organization. Giving, giving, giving and maybe even getting lost in the shuffle.
  • remind him of things and then forgive him for not knowing any better. “It’s okay, honey, I know you didn’t know.”
  • give lessons and advice with a helpful indulgent smile. “My dad always did it this way. Wanna see how easy it is to do it like this?” It’s all teamwork, remember?
  • speak with a voice of authority because they have accomplished a lot

Here’s a little known secret that women often ignore about men. Men usually do not need or want our unsolicited advice. They probably learned from a dad, too, or another buddy and have their way of doing things which has always works for them. We know you’re accomplished and awesome with some terrific ideas but said in the wrong way it can sound like you’re competing. However, if and when they do want your input or help, they’ll ask you because they really do value what you have to say as long as they are sure you won’t respond like their mother!

The bottom line is all of this is really negative masculine energy in the disguise of helpfulness and forgiveness.
When you’re too eager to be helpful and pleasing, you’re unconsciously stepping into the masculine role of suggesting, giving advice and all with the best of intentions. To your man, however, it may very well sound like a mother nagging him.
That’s the booby trap of “The People Pleaser Syndrome.” If I just help, suggest, support, make myself available and be a team member everyone will like me.

Eventually it all backfires! What the heck happened? You thought you’ve been doing it all right! You’ve got his back. You’re only thinking of him!

Do you recognize yourself mothering him and other people? What are some of the things you say and do that sound a lot like his mother? If so, that’s good news. Awareness is your first step in creating sustainable change. We’d love to hear your comments!

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll tell you how to talk to him like his lover.

If you sound a bit too much like a mother or spend too much time in The People Pleaser Syndrome, I can tell you exactly what’s going on and give you some strategies for changing in less than 60 minutes. My online Compatibility Index Assessment pinpoints where that kind of talk is coming from and what needs to happen to change your conversation style so you feel confident expressing yourself without ever feeling guilty again.

Photo Courtesy of Ed Yourdon Flickr Creative Commons

30 Responses to Are You His Mother Or His Lover? Part 1

  1. Sandi Tuttle says:

    Ow! Great post – a couple of things way too close to home, but fortunately I can adjust… hadn’t looked at it that way.Just gonna have to mother the dogs instead!

  2. Oh boy! I really relate to that description of the mother and I am sure I have been that person in every relationship I’ve been in, romantic or not. I assure you, no one likes it, not even work or project partners, LOL.

    • Deb says:

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s not just for intimate relationships as you pointed out. I catch myself in that role, too. We know when we hear it and don’t always know that we’re doing it, though.

  3. I really, really have to work on this. It doesn’t help that the “mother” role is emphasized because my husband is 13 years younger than me, in his early 20s, and often looks to me as the mother-figure because he’s still getting his bearings on life!

    • Deb says:

      Thanks for your comment Gwynne. That could also be a conversation you could have together about how you each feel the most comfortable and confident in your communication styles. It takes the willingness to be vulnerable and open. Let me know if I can help you with anything. Also, stay tuned in for Part 2 where you’ll see how a Lover communicates.

  4. Wow! Ready for part 2 – how do I change this?! I don’t want to mother my hubby, not at all.

  5. Bonnie Gean says:

    Unfortunately, I realize I DO act like his mother, but I learned a long time ago that’s what he needs – and he admits it.

    I hate being the mother figure and would LOVE to stop doing so, but it’s a habit that’s hard to break.

    I can certainly see him tuning out at times – so I know that’s when it’s time to shut up! LOL

    • Deb says:

      Thanks for your comment, Bonnie. Each couple has their own unique way of operating. Those habits are hard to break. In Part 2 you’ll be getting some tips to get started.

  6. Amy says:

    Ouch! Deb, you get me right where I need it every time! This is great to think about, and I’m going to act on it. Can’t wait for the Part 2!

  7. Lianda says:

    I think the men particularly like using that description to be insulting to women. I’ve read many “experts” talk about how women want to share their problems, or what happened in the day; but men feel that THEY have to offer the solutions.
    I think that both sexes have to learn better communication skills. And that could be a HUGE book, not just a post.
    But for me I follow the advice of Dr. John Gottman who says these are the 4 worst things you can say; and it spells doom for relationships: criticism, defensiveness, contemp, and stonewalling (whatever!)….
    Why can’t we all just be nice?

    • Deb says:

      Thanks for your comment Lianda. Communication is always a two-way street that includes open and authentic communication from everyone. I’m a big fan of Dr Gottman, too, and his Four Horses of the Apocalypse in couples. There is a book by Kelly Bryson titled, “Don’t Be Nice, Be Real” and it’s all about speaking authentically and powerfully in the face of conflict. It’s along the lines of Nonviolent Compassionate Communication.

  8. MelAnn says:

    One of major issues with my ex was that he wanted me to be like a mother to him. He would never just grow up and be his own man. I told him I didn’t sign on for babysitting a grown man. He thought I didn’t care because I didn’t do all of these things you say not to do. So I find myself kind on reverses spectrum today.

  9. I don’t think I mother mine, I think he tries to ‘father’ me and it’s backfiring on him! :-) I will not be ‘trained’ ‘controlled’ ‘told what to do’ even if he thinks its funny to do so. Please do one on men and what they do as ‘fathers’.

  10. Tamsin says:

    Hi Deb

    Great post! When we got married I told my husband that I wasn’t going to be his mother and if he had a problem he needed to tell me, or if he wasn’t up to doing something, well, he needed to make the call! I’ve stayed on the path as best as I can, for which I think he is grateful!

  11. Michelle says:

    I am definitely not the “mother” figure. If anything, my husband has a lot of these traits. We just had a good laugh about it.

  12. Thanks for a most interesting and illuminating post. I think sometimes it’s the other way round in our relationship sometimes, it’s all done with the best intentions and sometimes it’s just nice to have that reassurance.

    • Deb says:

      Agreed, Anita-Clare that people probably are not behaving like this intentionally. They just don’t have a different model or the confidence to speak up. Thanks for your comment!

  13. Ana says:

    Great post Deb! I have tackled this subject in the past too http://lovefromana.com/are-you-his-mother-or-his-lover/ but you have some great examples here of what not to do.

    It’s vital for relationships not to act like his mother, but so many women do. It just seems like the natural thing for us to nurture rather than act as equals but it has lots of benefits if we can remember not to be too much like his mother :)

    Looking forward to Part 2.

    • Deb says:

      Thanks for your insights, Ana! Mothers have some great qualities but partners acting like his mother usually doesn’t work for anyone. I read your great blog and we are definitely on the same page. Some women don’t realize the dynamics about how they may be contributing to taking the man out of their man. But that’s another story! :)

  14. Excellent article, Deb. I’ve found that what this behavior does is to inadvertently express to men that we don’t respect them enough to be able to figure out their own stuff. Since what they value most from a partner is respect, it never works. Women, on the other hand, give each other feedback like this all the time and it creates friendly bonding. Two different animals, two different perceptions. The only time I give my opinions or feedback now are when my husband asks me directly. This has taken me twenty years to figure out! I wish I’d come across your article a long time ago and saved myself the headache. :-)

    • Deb says:

      Ahh, Oceana, you touched my heart with your comments. I had to figure that out, too, that men don’t need unsollicited help and suggestions. They also don’t need all the details from the beginning of time about our shopping trip with our girlfriends! In fact, I love the way men bottom-line things and go straight to the heart of the matter so often, especially when I do want them to solve a problem!

  15. Dina dove says:

    Deb,
    This is very helpful information and I loved the little story. (Being a story person.) Many women need to spend a little more time giving a little more to themselves. They’d be a lot happier. women tend to give everything to others and denying what they want for them, then that need to be needed takes over their lives. Loved you post.
    Dina Dove

    • Deb says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dina. You hit the nail on the head by reminding women to think of themselves first more often. How many men feel suffocated by a woman who identifies herself with the need to be needed?

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