Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Men, answer honestly. Do you tend to ask for or expect your wife/intimate partner for deep nurturance, yet find yourself pushing her away or diminishing her importance in your life?
If so, listen up guys. As strange as this sounds, as we approach Mother's Day, you just might have some unresolved issues to work through regarding your mother. But don't take my word for it. Instead, answer the following questions, courtesy of Michael Gurian in "Mothers, Sons and Lovers." If your mom has passed away, examine the statements based on when she was still alive and vital.
1. When your mother comes to visit, you become like her child again, in obvious or subtle ways.
2. When you prepare for your mother's visit, you get a knot in your stomach just thinking about it.
3. When you face a crucial decision, you go to your mother for help, or wish she could help you with it, despite the fact that you also wish you could make the decision on your own.
4. You wonder now and then whether your mother thinks you have made it.
5. You will not let anyone say anything negative about your mother. You feel you must protect her at all costs.
6. When you are around your mother, you feel it is your job to interpret the world for her.
7. You never quite feel you've done enough for your mother.
8. When you must choose sides between your wife/partner and your mother, you tend to take your mother's side.
9. When you consider confronting your mother about something, your first feeling is guilt " she did so much for me, how can I cause her stress now?
10. You avoid confronting your mother about issues important to your life "to keep the family together" or "because she has had enough stress to last her a lifetime."
11. When you see your mother and interact with her, you have difficulty seeing her present accomplishments " you still see her primarily as your mother.
12. You wouldn't admit it to anyone, but you still fear your mother terribly. She can just say one or two things and push your buttons.
13. Your mother still embarrasses you in public, still treating you (perhaps in subtle ways and through subtle gestures and words) as she did when you were a boy.
14. You expect your wife/partner to do the primary emotional work in your relationship.
15. You might not admit it, but you operate on the assumption that it's OK for your wife/partner to provide for your needs more than you provide for hers.
16. You are hyper-responsible, unable to let go and have fun. You feel extremely guilty just right and take care of people's needs perfectly.
17. You fear intimacy with a strong partner. You prefer passivity, or you want a woman to tell you what to do in the relationship.
18. As you answer questions about her, you feel immediately defensive of your mother, yearning to say "Leave her alone. She's sacred."
If three or more of the statements on this list fit you, it's a fair guess that you have a life-long dependence on your mother which has now carried into adulthood in your relationships with your wife or partner. The primary need is to gain validation, approval and nurturance from a woman " while at the same time trying to break free of your dependency and separate " just like you did in adolescence.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at (303) 758-8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com.