Setting boundaries with his mother

Tomorrow, West Roxbury. Next Tuesday, Newtonville. Next Wednesday, Reading.

Also, seeking letters. Send us some good ones.

Dear Meredith,

I'm 25 years old and I've been in a committed relationship for two years with "Grant." Grant recently left the city where we met to start graduate school; I plan to move down there next summer to be with him. We are making big plans for the future, and I see marriage and a family with this man. There's a problem, though: his mother is a monster. As a stay-at-home mom, "Ellen" has long exerted control over Grant and his sister well into their adulthoods. She's always done everything for them, and keeps her children under her thumb with her “favors."

Though I was concerned at one point that Grant enjoyed his mother doing things for him, he's demonstrated his willingness to be independent and self-sufficient. However, this is easier said than done; Ellen seems entirely resistant to "cutting the cord," so to speak. Not to mention how brutally out of touch with reality Ellen is, and how cruel and judgmental she can be. For instance, Grant suggests that Ellen is in denial of his sister's bisexuality and that she tried to block family members from seeing her Facebook photos from a local pride celebration.

Grant tells me that Ellen has insinuated that I'm a gold digger (even though I make more money than he does) and that my anxiety and depression will cause our relationship to disintegrate. Grant has made efforts to distance himself from his mother, but she often lashes out when he doesn't do as he's told. As punishment, Ellen has lambasted him with verbal abuse, uninvited him from family holidays, and threatened to cut him off financially – which is a huge cause of anxiety as he is a full-time student with his parents supporting him. She lost her mind when she found out I had been invited to visit Grant during his school's family weekend.

Now that Grant is living out of town, he's trying to cut ties with his mother. Again, he wants his independence, and we are looking forward to creating our own family. But he doesn't want to lose his sister or father in the process, nor does he want his mother's irrational tirades to ruin our future together. He tells me "you can't choose your family," but I say you can absolutely choose, especially as an adult, how to interact with them. How can I support the man I love through this and make sure our relationship can weather this storm?

– Dejected (future) Daughter-in-Law


"He tells me 'you can't choose your family,' but I say you can absolutely choose, especially as an adult, how to interact with them."

That statement makes perfect sense if you're financially independent. Your boyfriend is not, which means he can't choose much.

For what it's worth, I believe all of your accusations about Ellen. It sounds like she says awful things to keep her children in line, and that whenever she senses them pulling away – and growing up – she feels the need to remind them who's in charge. That's awful and exhausting. The rest of the family must be so tired of this, too.

But instead of focusing on Ellen, let's think about your relationship. How can you and Grant do a better job of separating yourself from the family conflict so you can focus on each other?

One suggestion is to tell Grant that you don't need to know about every awful thing that Ellen says. There's no reason for you to be told that Ellen thinks you're after him for money. You certainly don't need to be told that she's critiquing your anxiety. Grant should be thoughtful about what he shares and why.

Another idea is to limit conversation about Ellen, in general. Sometimes we get stuck on a problem and wind up talking about it over and over until we've only made it worse. If the two of you find yourselves listing Ellen's flaws and compiling a case against her (like you did in this letter), take a beat and move on. You can discuss the logistics of an Ellen visit (or conflict) without spending an extra hour recounting everything she's done in the past.

Also know that this should get better when both of you are living in the same place. Grant has already taken a step by moving away from Ellen – that sets a natural boundary. Once you're with him, the two of you will be able to make a bunch of new memories that have nothing to do with her. That will make life a lot better.

– Meredith

Readers? Can Grant really walk away from Ellen? Ever?