The loving bond between a mother and her child is unique. No other relationship is as pure and selfless as the one between a woman and the innocent infant she brought forth as gift into the world. Becoming a mother changes a woman deeply, and has a profound impact on her romantic partner as well. Some female partners have difficulty distinguishing between mother's love and passionate love in long-term relationships, a fact about which many male partners complain.
"Stop mothering me," is a chorus sung in frustration by many male partners, a reaction to moments where their female partners give instructions with an attitude all too painfully familiar. The dynamics of the relationship between mates is a complicated one and made more complicated by struggles for power and control. The reaction by men to moments of mothering range from a momentary angry look to an explosion of rage. This kind of female expression wounds their men in a way that is completely lost on most girlfriends and wives.
How male partners hear it varies widely from how a woman intends it. A mother-like expression often seeks to correct instead of connect. The words or tone are more commanding than requesting and goes up a male partner's spine, interpreted by him that she knows better than he. Collectively these communications form a cocktail of sometimes not-so-subtle declarations that the female partner is in control. Domination and servitude are fine if both partners are satisfied with the arrangement, but love demands a greater equality. Mothering tends to infantilize husbands and boyfriends, often non-verbally suggesting they are not capable.
For the male partners, mothering statements and actions emotionally recall a time when as children they possessed far less power than did their adult mother, while also being completely dependent upon her. As a way of affirming their masculinity men enjoy the possession and display of strengths, including independence. Mothering communications, while often innocently intended, touch for many men the not-completely healed wounds of childhood powerlessness, back to a time before he was a man. Many men distance themselves as much as possible from all things child-like, which for them is associated with powerlessness and weakness.
Many a female partner is thoroughly confused by what may seem to a be a large, irrational reaction to a few minor words. She just reminded him, "Be careful." What's big deal, she thought? Coming out of nowhere, his angry response seems worthy of disregard, when really lurking in such a moment of disconnect is a power imbalance. If not corrected it will grow to be a big problem. As with the genesis of most relationship difficulties, they build from behavior patterns that are frequently repeated.
When a male partner says angrily, "I need a lover, not a mother," the words may not find a home in his female partner's consciousness. The mothering dynamic is lost in her blind spot. Unlike males, females are born of a mother who later becomes her role model, for better or worse. Daughters develop emotionally in part by identifying with the role of mother, one that is reinforced once her children arrive in a growing family. As a result this is a behavior pattern that is almost impossible for wives and girlfriends not to fall into. The kind of love a mother gives her child is nourishing, and celebrates the infant's complete dependence on her. An infant's need for the mother is profound. In an adult love relationship emotional neediness is unhealthy evidence of codependency. In contrast is the passionate love that promotes desire and admiration between adults balanced by individual strength and autonomy.
The mothering kind of love is associated, for men, with several kinds of "bossy" communications, contained within and between the words are an attempt to gain or assert power. Unlike the ideal loving mother, who just seeks to love and nourish, real life mothers are understandably frustrated and maxed out at times; mothering words convey this uncomfortable reality. For an anxious and fearful female partner the tendency to "mother" her mate may be turbo-charged. Couched within mothering-type language are assumptions of male incompetence that often violate his boundaries by giving unsolicited help and guidance. Male partners interpret such interactions as his female partner viewing him as stupid. Any lingering child-ness in men emotionally restrain their ability to challenge these kind of assertions. Most go silent. Others explode.
A love relationship is a system between partners in which every patterned interaction is supported by both partners. The sarcastic verbal tournament, "You are not my mother." vs "I want a man for a partner, not another child," is evidence that our relationships are places where we try (and struggle) to grow up. As much as male partners loath their women's mothering tendencies, unseen are how they unwittingly support it. Men who fail to take full responsibility or avoid taking initiative invite mothering. A male partner who really wishes for all mothering to be gone from his relationship will be rewarded by maturely owning his power through demonstration of full responsibility and by asserting himself firmly without domination or hurtfulness. The mothering kind of love is an ineffective way to encourage partner maturity, better accomplished through passionate love. Andrew Aaron, LICSW 508-997-6091 x106