Too many movies make it seem like mothers-in-law are the ultimate villains. If you’ve ever had a good relationship with a partner’s mother, then you already know that plot line can be the most misleading. More often than not, if your partner wants to integrate you into their family, their mother should be supportive and loving toward you. However, that doesn’t always mean they’ll have cut off all communication with your partner’s ex, which at best can be a minor discomfort, and at worst, super awk. If your partner’s mom still loves their ex, and it bothers you more than you care to admit, try not to flip. There are a few important things to keep in mind first.
Remember It Might Not Be About You
As irritating as their mom’s behavior may be, keep in mind: It may have nothing to do with you. "They may be struggling with other elements of your partner’s relationship that existed long before you entered the picture," Dr. Loree Johnson, online psychotherapist and therapeutic coach, tells Elite Daily. "Their attachment to the ex is part of the parent’s story and not about you."
"What might be helpful is remembering that your ex’s parents might still be grieving that relationship," Toni Aswegan, a licensed therapist, tells Elite Daily. Your partner needed time to get over their ex, and so do their parents. "They had ideas about where that relationship might go and may have envisioned that ex joining their family," Aswegan says. "It might take time for them to let go of those ideas and put you in that picture."
Acknowledge Your Feelings & Where They’re Coming From
More than realizing what their mom’s connection to the ex makes you feel — jealousy, anger, annoyance — Johnson recommends unpacking why you feel this way. "I would ask yourself what your feelings want you to know. If they had words, what would they be telling you? Are you feeling insecure or not good enough? If so, where does that feeling come from?" Johnson asks.
"Once you identify what you are feeling and why, you can address the feeling more productively." For example, if you realize their mom’s behavior makes you feel "not good enough," you can work on soothing yourself when triggered, she says. Practice deep breathing and try to remember that their relationship with the ex isn’t a personal attack on you.
Journal Or Vent To Your Partner, But Don’t Confront Their Mother
If you want to work through your feelings on your own, Aswegan suggests trying affirmations journaling. "Remind yourself of what qualities you bring to the relationship," she says. If you chose to talk to your partner about your feelings, start with "I" statements, Johnson says. Leading with "you" or "your mother" can be a match to gasoline, putting your partner on defense. For example, you can begin with, "I feel uncomfortable when your mother talks about your ex in front of me," or, "I feel frustrated when your mother does not recognize our relationship." This can help lay the groundwork for a productive conversation.
And while it may be tempting to go straight to the source of the drama and confront your partner’s mom, try to refrain. "You don’t want to make a challenging situation even more so," Johnson explains.
Nurture Your Relationship With Your Partner’s Mom
Even though you might feel like your partner’s mom likes their ex better, try to shift your focus and nurture your own bond with her. "Make space to connect with her, just the two of you," Aswegan says. "Engage her in topics and activities she is interested in. Just like a new relationship, you need to put in the work to get to know her and help her get to know you."
Your partner’s mom tagging their ex in Facebook posts or singing their praises may bug the crap out of you, but with patience, self-reflection and a healthy dose of empathy, you have the tools you need to take the edge off the situation. Ultimately, time will be the balm for these feelings — both yours and your partner’s mom. "Know that every relationship is a universe within itself," Aswegan says. "Just because your partner’s mom still likes their ex, doesn’t mean there isn’t space for her to love you."
Dr. Loree Johnson, LMFT, therapist who specializes in relationships and life transitions
Toni Aswegan, LMHC, therapist who specializes in anxiety and difficult relationships
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