Should I marry my love if I find his mother toxic?

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    I tried to post this before but it didn’t go through. My fiance’s mother is extremely toxic. She’s never been diagnosed and I don’t want to armchair diagnose her, but she has 99% of the symptoms of someone with Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Disorder. Her own children say she probably has these disorders (including my fiance). Again, we’re not licensed therapists, but she’s extremely manipulative and everything needs to be about her, otherwise she has tantrums or lashes out. It’s exhausting.

    I’ve already worked out boundaries with my fiance in terms of keeping her damaging energy at a distance from me (since he won’t cut her off — and I don’t want him too, that’s his choice). However, I watch her step all over his boundaries with most interactions (not seeing him as his own person, shitting on his dreams and telling him he’ll never make it, calling constantly, guilting him to do things, etc) so I’m really worried he won’t uphold the boundaries we’ve agreed to once I’m hitched (and trapped) in a marriage.

    I love my fiance. I want to marry him and be with him, but I want nothing to do with her games and I’ve told him as such. She ‘blots out the sun’ as my fiance says, and life is too short. Plus, I often find her toxicity is talked about with the siblings even when she’s not there. It just doesn’t seem healthy. My fiance’s mother is clearly never going to change her ways so talking about how awful she is when she’s not there feels like overkill.

    My question is: Can I have a healthy relationship with my fiance and keep his mom at a low-contact distance? Will her exhaustive nature haunt our marriage? How do you handle someone like that when you marry into a family?

    I know when you marry someone you marry their family, but I’ve already set up my boundaries and my fiance says he’ll respect them in terms of her shenanigans. I guess I’m getting irked because people keep saying to me that ‘you marry the family’ thing so I’m basically marrying her… and I don’t want to have anything to do with her. I’ve expressed this many times to my fiance and he understands. Even me talking about her now is annoying me. I just don’t like being legally tied to someone who is connected to such a headache of a human.

    Any advice is appreciated. How did you handle keeping a toxic in-law at bay? Should I just call the whole thing off? It seems ridiculous to do that. I even brought this up to my own mom and she was like, ‘What is wrong with you? Don’t you love your fiance?’ And I do!

    Here’s the thing: I have been around this toxic personality before (and life was much better when I cut that personality out of my life so I’m a bit frustrated I find someone to love and he’s tied to such an untrustworthy human that I can’t fully cut out of my life)… Plus, she has a daughter who has cut her out of her life due to her toxicity.

    I worry for our future if we have kids since his mom can be so controlling and overbearing as a grandmother. (She even threatened to sue her own daughter for custody of her grand-daughter when her daughter was sick and wasn’t returning her phone calls in a timely manner for a scheduled playdate. She didn’t go through with the lawsuit, but she goes 0 to 60 in a second. Again, exhausting.) But I’ve also gotten the advice that once I have kids my she-bear-ness will come out and I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my kid.

    Again, any advice is appreciated.

    • This topic was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by Marie.


    As long as your fiance is tied to his mother then she will be in your life as well.  Have you discussed your questions that you posed here with your fiance, i.e. that you want to keep his mother “at bay”?

    You have already experienced that your fiance won’t keep boundaries with his mother and how she has and will continue to influence and affect him.  Can you live with that?  You indeed are marrying into the family for you cannot control your future mother-in-law nor your fiance.

    You will be affected by her regardless because she will be affecting the man you will be marrying.  Are you prepared to spend all your energy trying to negate her affect on him?  Are you willing to stand by and see him not following his dreams because of her?  Are you willing to stand by and see him being guilted into things that you disagree with and possibly affect your marriage with him?

    You cannot assume that just because you are setting and holding boundaries with her that she won’t be impacting your life and your marriage.  She still has influence over her son and I suspect you cannot do anything about it.  No matter how much you discuss this and trying to get him to change, he will most likely not change.  He has had a lifetime of accommodating her.




    Thanks for the reply, Mark.

    I have discussed this with him and he’s very open and understanding. He totally understands how she alienates people and is overbearing and has agreed that I need to go low-contact with her for my own mental health. She’s very triggering. He also understands that if these boundaries are crossed when we are married and have (hypothetical) children that I will leave him.

    She isn’t a day to day energy-drain, but she does crop up when there is a holiday (and the weeks leading up to the holiday), when they fight about politics over the phone, when I see her call him a dozen times in a row, or when she has done or said something outrageous to his sisters. Thankfully, she is over five hours away by car and we don’t see her often right now. But his sisters have jokingly (not-so-jokingly) stated that he will be the one to care for her when she’s old and she has said the same as she views him as her golden child. (Even though she also treats him terribly when he doesn’t do what she wants. Again, it’s exhausting.) He is adamant that she’s going in a home though. (Which is sad! But also, tough — to treat the people you love like shit and expect them to bend over backwards so you can steamroll them, even in old age.)

    I don’t know if I’m willing to stand by him for all this and watch her steamroll him with guilt and manipulation for decades. But the days when she’s not draining the life out of her children are really, really great, and I consider him my cosmic twin/companion and adore his sisters. I am also expecting — as I have seen this happen with her children and others — that once I disagree with her she will turn on me. So interactions with her are always ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’. This is a philosophy my fiance is always concerned about, and after spending some time with her, I can see how that mentality came to be.

    Bah. A tough situation.


    • This reply was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by Marie.


    Good that your fiance is open, understanding, and aware of how his mother is without sugar coating her behavior or justifying it.  And even with the knowledge that you will leave him that you will leave him if those boundaries are crossed, that is not the way of entering a marriage.

    The point of dating and being engaged is to “try out” the relationship.  If he cannot hold the boundaries and if you cannot witness her steamrolling him during the engagement period then you have your answer whether or not to set a wedding date or not.  I would not do so until you have gone through a long enough period to see how you can stand her in your/his lives.

    If you two have children then there is a good chance you two will see her more often so she can be with her grandchildren.  Her contact and interactions with you will increase.  Think of that.



    Oy. Well, I’ve already stated that he would be the one to take these hypothetical children that I don’t even know I can have on most trips when he’s with his mom and that we can never live in the same town as her. So far he’s kept his word on keeping her physically at a distance for most of the year. But I agree! There’s still more work to be done before we tie the knot. Perhaps couple’s counseling will help. Or maybe it won’t.

    My freedom is important to me above all else and I tend to empathetically take on other people’s emotions, which is why it’s so hard to be around her, as well — I don’t intend to compromise on this or be steamrolled when/if married. To be honest, I’ve never even really dreamed about getting married.

    He knows all this about me and we are very open with communication — which is one of the things I love about him. But I think I need to be better about never engaging in the conversation when his mom comes up and never rehashing the outrageous things she’s done or said. At this point I don’t need to dissect with him or anyone else the awful things she does and the way she hurts her family. It’s clear she will continue to cause drama as that’s unfortunately just how she is.

    Thanks again. Appreciate it.


    Hi Marie,

    I’m glad you live five hours away.

    If you have a land line, get rid of it. Don’t give her your cell number (you may need to change it). Only your husband should speak with her, and on a limited basis at that. Get him the book Boundaries. He needs assertiveness training.

    He (not you) should visit her once a year on Easter. It’s a holiday, but it’s a low key one. She will be mad at you forever because you can’t be there for Thanksgiving or Christmas from now on. If you feel you must go, especially if you have kids one day, stay in a hotel. Eight hours (or one) is enough.

    As she gets older it will be a little easier as she will no longer be at the height of her power. You’ll also view her more and more as a crotchety little old lady.

    Good Luck!



    Hi Marie,

    Underneath it all I think you already know the answer to your question.  Your freedom is important to you and you have never really dreamed of getting married.  Yet, here you are, going off on a tangent of what will happen when you have children, when boundaries are broken, when she grows old etc. etc. etc.  Whatever happened to living for today.  You can’t possibly commit to having children with such negative notions as “I’ll leave with the children if your mother doesn’t play ball!”  That is just totally and utterly irresponsible on your part.

    Your fiance’s mother lives 5 hours away.  You are being way too dramatic.  Listen to yourself.  She treats him terribly if he doesn’t do what she says!  Her toxic energy is damaging your relationship enough for you to set boundaries! She lays the guilt trip on him with her controlling, manipulative behaviour!  She trashes all his dreams! She even makes idle threats about getting custody of grandchildren!  Where exactly do you think your fiance is colluding in all of this and what kind of behaviour do you think you are displaying?  Repeat:  She lives 5 hours away!

    You do not want this person in your life even though she is your fiance’s mother and she gave him life.  Where do you think your fiance, the man you love, would be without his mother.  Answer – nowhere.

    You do not like the thought of being legally tied (married) to someone who is connected to such a headache of a human.  You’ve given yourself the get-out clause.  This is not the right relationship for you and it will end in tears.  It cannot survive with all those doubts swimming around in your head.  It’s better to cut your losses now and move on.  There, how does that feel?






    Thanks for your replies. I appreciate it. It’s a stressful situation, which is why I am reaching out to total strangers as I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place.

    Peggy, I don’t mean to upset you, but she does all of these things, so why should I think that she would treat my fiance and myself differently in the future?

    I do not believe that giving someone life and bringing them into existence allows you a free pass to run rampant over their emotions, verbally abuse them, and expect them to have total allegiance to you for the rest of their lives. What an awful arrangement. We can’t choose who are parents are. But this is what she has expected of her children since they were born. She has never seen them as individuals, but just offsprings of her being (her children’s words, not mine, although it is very clear from how she treats them that this is true).

    I also find that this is the problem when trying to talk about what people who exhibit Narcissistic and Borderline personality disorder symptoms do and how it effects your own boundaries, as even bringing up what they do causes other people to think you are being dramatic. How does one handle their dramatic behavior without setting up dramatic boundaries? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know.

    Although you are right in that it’s a little too early to threaten to start up the getaway car with my rogue baby-warriors. I won’t bring that up to him again.

    I do try to consciously live in the moment every day, but it is clear how she treats her own children (and how they let her treat them) is not healthy. Every time I am with her I feel her desperation and loneliness to be loved, but then watch as she belittles, desmans, gaslights, steamrolls and insults her own children, literally calling them ‘cesspools’ when they do not do what she wants (even if it compromises someone else’s boundaries) or attempting to pit her daughters against each other as she feels jealous of their closeness.

    In marriage, are you supposed to stand by your husband’s side and watch that unhealthy relationship roll out until… someone dies? Is that what you have done? (‘You’ being American society and what is expected of someone, and not you personally.) I never will put myself in a position where I give someone like his mom free reign over my existence.

    Maybe I can eventually help him set clear boundaries with her. He is going to therapy now about that and other things and he seems more calm. But there is also a possibility that he allows this dynamic to play out until one of them dies or moves so far away they rarely see each other.

    When you see someone consistently belittle, demean, gaslight and insult her own children even as she is playing with her grandchild, what else can be rationally thought but she will continue this behavior when you have children with this man you love? Why would you want to have someone like that intimately in your life, even if she did birth the man you love, if she causes so much pain and doesn’t even notice when the energy of her children fades when she is around?

    Is that a rule of marriage — that you must be around a member of your husband’s family to watch these unhealthy dynamics play out every time they are together and most often when they connect?

    I am fully aware my fiance has an unhealthy relationship with his mother. But he puts up with her behavior and her calling him ‘a garbage person’ when he doesn’t do what she wants, because she is his only living parent. However, that is the journey that he is on with her, and I have been to therapy about this, and I do not have to go on all the journeys that my husband wants to go on if it will effect my mental health and well-being.

    And yet… having kids would change the game. As it always does. As I know I would want to stay together for them. I have seen so many friends and family stay together ‘for the children’ even though they were unhappy. I’m just trying to not make the same mistake. It’s not so easy to leave the person you love and feel so connected to. He knows me better than anyone else in the world. He loves the parts of me that I hated, and in turn, I began to love them too. He is a kind, supportive, smart, funny, compassionate man. And he’s handsome and communicative. I adore him. Which is why this is so hard. Because it pains me to see him be verbally belittled so often… and to hear her racist and xenophobic claims and how they fight about it.

    She’ll never change. She’s too set in her ways. But she did raise beautiful, loving kids despite their claims that she tortured them verbally and mentally. I have been told his mother used her son as emotional support over the years to fill the ‘husband’ role when her husband died when he was young (they were already getting divorced at that point and she was pitting the kids against him – so says my fiance and his sisters). I can only imagine it was a lot of pressure for a kid. He feels that he cannot cut her off, and I would never, ever ask him to do that, as that is his mother.

    But does that tragedy decades earlier excuse her behavior for the rest of her life and give her a free pass to walk all over her children? I’m asking you (or the abyss of the internet), because I find that so baffling. To listen to her children claim that she has made many deaths, births, tragedies, celebrations since they were born about her — and if she is not the center of attention then she lashes out and causes more drama?

    How strange marriage is. Why allow someone like that — even if they are blood – do that to you?

    I have watched that kind of personality hurt me and the people I love in the past. Blood or no blood. I’ve learned and grown stronger because of it by cutting them out or going low contact (if no contact is not possible). That seems to work best.
    I will also say that I have kept these feelings to very close inner circle people (and now the abyss of the internet, but you don’t know who I am). If we do marry I will never have more than a superficial, distant relationship with her.

    And we are definitely going to counseling in the meantime. Maybe I’ll just go the Oprah route and never marry and be with him. That’s what she did, right? We’ll see. Apologies for the novel of a post.

    I’m clearly still figuring it out. I wouldn’t be on this forum if I wasn’t.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by Marie.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by Marie.

    Also, Peggy, I didn’t mean to say you are upset. I’m sure you’re very level-headed and this is run-of-the-mill boundary stuff we’ve all seen before. It’s just hard to sort out when it’s your own life.


    Dear Marie:

    “My question is: Can I have a healthy relationship with my fiancé and keep his mom at a low-contact distance?”-

    – my answer: no, you cannot. It must be a no- contact with his mother for you to have a healthy marriage and not get sick yourself, no contact whatsoever.

    “Will her exhaustive nature haunt our marriage”- yes, it will.

    “How do you handle someone like that when you marry into a family?”- you don’t by establishing no contact- none between you and her, none between your husband (her son) and her, none between your future children and her.

    “Should I just call the whole thing off?”- yes, unless your fiancé wants to have no contact with her for the rest of his life, and protect his future children by seeing to it that they too have no contact with her.

    September 17, 2014, you wrote about another woman in your life then: “I try not to give her any power in my life, but I really hate being around her. She’s unpredictable, moody. It’s like walking on eggshells whenever she’s near… Help me. Please. Any advice… She is always putting SOMEONE down and it is NEVER her fault… maybe I should just quit… How do I find the inner strength to put up with such a toxic, soul-sucking person?”-

    – my answer- don’t try to find the inner strength to endure a person like that, not if you don’t have to. A child born to a mother like that has no choice. You had a choice to not be with that woman in 2014 because you were an adult, you interacted with her at work and you had the option to quit. And now, five years later, you have the option to not get into this trap yet again, to learn from your experience and prevent trouble instead of .. well, inviting it into your life.

    “I keep thinking if I can build a protective forcefield around my soul then she can’t f’ing touch me and i’ll be free and safe”- didn’t work in 2014 and it will not work in 2019.




    Thanks so much, Anita. Yup, it’s clear that this type of personality really triggers me. After I found a better gig and quit that old one with that toxic lady years ago I felt 1000% better without her in my life. I also thrived. That lady said I couldn’t handle simple tasks, but without her in my life I took on more and more creative roles.

    The same with a business relationship that cropped up on another project a couple of years later — it was with a woman who exhibited similar textbook-symptoms as my fiance’s mom and that toxic lady. There’s definitely a type. This particular woman confided in me she was insecure because she didn’t have ideas like I did.

    My fiance actually warned me about that business relationship but I didn’t see it in time because she was a friend of over ten years. He kept saying: “She’s acting just like my mom. I’d be careful.” (I didn’t know his mom as well then.) My fiance then began to predict my business partner’s behavior before it even happened: her outbursts, her moodiness, her gaslighting and belittling comments. It was nuts. Watching her with her husband and sister was the worst though — she destroyed them cruelly with words. Broke them down. It was hard to watch. They lived to support her. And nothing was ever her fault.

    Sure enough the deeper entwined we became, the more my business partner exhibited behavior like that old boss and my fiance’s mom. And yes, there was love-bombing in the beginning too. That relationship didn’t end well. She tried to bully me into giving her most of the credit for our project (but of course I would pay for it all). I reached out to her former collaborators and she had done the same to them… and they had caved! No wonder she thought she could get away with her behavior.

    I chose to walk away from her and cut her out of my life. Though she tried to hit me with a frivolous lawsuit threat and smear campaign… both tactics thankfully eventually faded away as I didn’t react to her.

    I’m very grateful that the majority of my relationships have boundaries and are with people who respect and love me as an individual, and who I respect and love in turn. There’s only been a few in my whole life who have been like this, so I’m grateful for that. Of course it always hurts when you’re around someone like this. But as I get older it’s very clear these people are going to keep popping up as long as I give them power by having a presence in my life.

    No contact is the way to go for people you cannot trust. And people with no boundaries cannot be trusted.

    No contact is actually what my fiance’s other sister and another relative have been doing with her for years (which is sad! her mom will never know all of her grandkids — but my fiance’s sister said enough and got tired of her own mom’s manipulations — of course the mom blames her ‘ungrateful daughter’ for the no-contact and says she’s being brainwashed by her husband).

    I’m not sure if my fiance will agree to no contact. But I know what I need to do for my own peace of mind.

    Thanks again. It’s been so helpful to write this all out and listen to all of your objective thoughts on what to do (instead of stewing in my head).

    P.S. I also found these articles to be helpful.


    Hi Marie,

    Thank you for your lengthy reply – I am not upset by your original post – I am not emotionally involved.  I hope things are becoming clearer with all the responses you have received.  I do know from personal experience what it is like to be in the midst of a controlling, manipulative, abusive relationship and I do know what it’s like to be a single parent.  Hypothetically, you would contemplate exchanging a difficult mother-in-law for financial hardship, emotional distress for you and your children, sheer exhaustion from all the hard work in trying to keep your single parent family together, whilst attempting to bring them up to be secure, well adjusted, thriving individuals.  Added to that would be the maintenance and access agreements and all the time this ogre would be hot on your heels, chasing you around ready to pounce on you and your children at any moment.  Aagghh!

    I am glad your fiance is seeking therapy to help him deal with issues that he has.  The way I see it is that he does not need to share his dreams with his mother, he does not need to succumb to guilt trips, he does not need to be available 24/7, he does not need to discuss politics, he does not need to set boundaries, he does not need to amount to anything, he does not need to visit, he does not need to stay away, he does not need to accept labels “golden boy”.  These are all choices that are available to him.

    The point I was making about his mother is that she has given life to the man you love – you have at least one thing to be grateful to her for.  Send her a bouquet of flowers thanking her for the gift of her delightful son.  Everyone likes to feel appreciated and valued but we don’t always know how to get there.  You’ll be amazed at how good this will make you feel.  (I don’t think you’ll do this but that’s your choice.)  There is far more to being a mother than pushing a baby out into the world and, no doubt, she has had her own difficult challenges to contend with.  I’m willing to bet that her own childhood was equally disturbing and that she has learned how to behave in such an unhealthy way.  It doesn’t excuse the way she is treating her children, it just makes it easier to understand.

    As for marriage, if only love was enough!  That’s just the foundation from which to start.  Trust, respect, loyalty, faithfulness, communication, compassion, commitment, compromise, forgiveness and then there’s those other niceties such as shared interests, mutual friendships, supportive families, financial security (or is that just me!).

    I sincerely hope that the course of action you have decided upon works out for you.

    With my very best wishes for the future.






    It seems like you are well informed and well grounded in yourself.  The question is whether you care to put yourself back into a world, however indirectly, of such dysfunction.

    I don’t think you can pretend that whatever is going on with your finance can be separate from your life.  No matter how much your set your own boundaries with this woman, you are going to be affected via your finance and his relationship with his mother.

    I think it is a fantasy that he will be able to separate himself despite therapy since he has this life long relationship with her.  Months or even years of therapy probably won’t undo the patterns of behavior ingrained within him by her.

    You said Maybe I can eventually help him set clear boundaries with her. He is going to therapy now about that and other things and he seems more calm. But there is also a possibility that he allows this dynamic to play out until one of them dies or moves so far away they rarely see each other.

    That is a classic mistake by partners, i.e. that you can help change him.  I enter into relationships as “What you see is what you get.”  If that is who he is now then don’t expect him to change.  Don’t marry on a possibility of change.



    Dear Marie:

    You are welcome.

    You wrote: “I felt 1000% better without her in my life”-

    – you felt very badly during that time, working with that woman, 1000% bad.

    So it makes sense to choose to not go through that again, and this time for many years, throughout a marriage and perhaps children!




    Thank you all again for your responses to my questions. It isn’t easy reaching out and thinking about these topics. It’s not easy putting up boundaries– especially for someone who’s been a people pleaser most of her life (me!) – but as I get older my independence and freedom are very important to me.

    It becomes harder and harder to have patience to accommodate the personalities that cause so much hurt to those around them. Her daughters are so kind and considerate. Seeing her steamroll over the one she does talk to and gaslight her emotions and POV is… hard. I have never left an interaction with her not feeling drained. And the fallout with the kids is often intense– where they will dissect and vent about her behavior long after she is gone. (And look, here I am doing it too in this thread.)

    We do send his mom flowers and chocolates on the appropriate days and take her out to dinner when we see her at times. It does give her joy. She loves any and all attention so gifts are a must. I try to compliment her often when we are together and keep the questions always on her. Mostly interactions with her are being silent as she talks at you. It’s not a true relationship. It’s all one-sided.

    This is all why at a distance is definitely better for this relationship. Though I do agree that people who cause such pain should have some joy in their lives too. (As long as I am at a distance from her so I don’t have to watch her stamp out the joy of those around her.)

    If she had her way I’m sure my fiance would be living next to her or with her in a job he hated in his hometown and we would see each other many times a week. That is never, ever happening. My fiance has also said he was miserable at home and would have chest pains/headaches/panic attacks.

    And so… she will always be sad about the arrangement because it is not exactly to her liking. At least I suspect. She definitely makes it a point to tell my fiance — subtly or not-so-subtly — what a terrible, crime-ridden place me and him are living in any chance she can get. (Though she has never said this when I am present.)

    He laughs it off. But I find the whole dynamic so disturbing… though I push it in the back of my mind most of the months and try not to think about it. Otherwise, you just go crazy.

    There’s no rhyme or reason to it. No way to fix it. All you can do is let it lie and walk away.

    I know she is a lonely soul who fears abandonment and that is a part of why she lashes out… which in turn causes people to turn away from her and repeat the vicious cycle over and over again of her holding them closer in a vice-like grip… which just makes them want to run farther away.

    She never sees herself to blame for why they turn away from her. It is always that they are ungrateful. Garbage. Easily manipulated. Dumb. It’s depressing.

    Despite this, I don’t wish her harm. I just want my freedom. And I want my fiance to be at peace.

    It’s heartbreaking that she boasts of her emotional intelligence and yet cannot see the pain she causes her own kids.

    She has always been perfectly cheery and charming to me as she cuts down her child on the next day or storms out when she isn’t getting enough praise.

    Mark used the word ‘accommodate’ above. That word has really stuck with me. I have been far too accommodating with these types of personalities in the past.

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