The title puts it right out there, How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother? and it speaks volumes, especially if you recognize the relationship role where the woman acts as a mother to her man. Sara Dimerman and J.M. Kearns have some advice on how to prevent or get out of the pattern they call the Mother Syndrome. I had the opportunity to ask the authors some questions to help them share their perspective on this destructive relationship dilemma. Read on to find out how to bring back the passion in your partnership.
Interview With Sara Dimerman and J.M. Kearns
How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother? identifies the Mother Syndrome as a common relationship problem when it comes to couples. Can you explain this syndrome and why it can grow to become a major issue between partners?
In a healthy couple, both partners nurture each other and support each other. The word "partners" is true of them: they face life as a team, and they share the work (and joys) of a home and family. But in a couple afflicted with the Mother Syndrome, the two spouses have stopped acting as partners. Even though the wife typically has a paid job in the work force like her husband, she does most of the work at home and takes on most of the responsibility, and finds herself feeling like the lone adult in the house: his mother instead of his loving equal. This breeds disappointment, hostility, and resentment. Pretty soon romance, respect, fun—and sex—are drained out of the relationship.
You describe the five hats that a woman wears when acting as a mother to their man. What are these roles and why shouldn't women incorporate these into their relationship to demonstrate caring or just to get the results they desire?
Our five hats refer to the following areas: cleaning, food, home management, child rearing, and the husband's appearance and etiquette. The first two hats (housekeeping) involve a whole lot of physical work, much of it tedious and hard. If you're doing way more than your fair share of this labour, you're well on your way to being his mother, which is not the role you wanted. The third hat (manager) includes scheduler, social coordinator, list maker, and overall logistics manager. It adds up to who is running the place, and who lies awake at night worrying. A home should have two CEOs, not one. Otherwise you end up being his boss in the place where you spend most of your together time. The child-rearing hat is obviously a huge and crucial area: raising children into viable adults is an endless job, a labour of love at its best, but that doesn't mean it shouldn’t be shared. If he ends up out of the loop and not to be relied on, then you aren't a team in your most important couple mission. Our last hat (appearance and etiquette) is when you find yourself being your spouse's coach on what to wear and how to act in public. When you start feeling like your husband can't or won't comport himself like an adult without your intervention, that really rings the "mom" bell.
Bottom line: sacrificing a healthy relationship doesn't demonstrate caring, and is too high a price to pay for "getting the results you want." Caring should be a two-way street. Better that he should demonstrate his caring by doing his share of the work, and forming a true team with you that faces challenges and responsibilities together. Otherwise you are going to pay the penalty for becoming his mother, which very simply is that a happy marriage goes out the window.
Invariably, couples end up settling into some sort of a routine, but sometimes this means the division of labour ends up resembling duties akin to "doing gender." Should couples try to avoid these stereotyping roles?
Some single men might think that having a woman dote on them would be a rewarding perk in their relationship. What warning would you have for the men who feel the Mother Syndrome sounds like a good deal for them?
A man who has turned into a child in his wife's eyes does not generally feel happy about it. It doesn't feel like she dotes on him. He feels disrespected, resented, demoted, bossed around, left out of the loop. (When that loop includes children, his natural desires as a parent get squelched.) He notices that the emotional weather is bad between him and his wife, their sex life has gone south, they aren't loving and playful like they used to be. A guy (if he is not fair-minded) may like the fact that his wife does most of the chores, but when the penny drops that that is why his main relationship is in trouble, he isn't going to think it's such a perk.
What would you recommend in a situation where one partner is not on the same page as the other, "comfortably numb," resistant to change or just refusing to acknowledge there's a problem in their relationship?
There are cases where a man can't be reached, where he has given up on having a happy marriage and doesn't have enough good will left to make an effort. But we believe marriages like that usually have problems that go beyond the Mother Syndrome. So in our book we make the case for optimism. We guide the wife through a step-by-step process that can get her spouse onboard and lead to real change. It begins with understanding the problem (Part 1) and continues in Part 2 with overturning the false justifications that keep the Mother Syndrome in place (and abandoning the blame game). Then Part 3 focuses specifically on how to talk this through with your husband. We provide a detailed strategy for clearing the air emotionally, getting your wish list straight (though it may well evolve once you and he get down to brass tacks), and negotiating in a positive, blame-free way with your husband, to re-balance your respective contributions and get back to being a team again. When that happens, the door is opened for the kind of loving, equal relationship most couples want.