Being socialized female, from an early age we are expected to perform care-giving duties. We are being groomed, explicitly and implicitly, to be mother figures, to take on the emotional problems of others, to provide both gentleness, warmth and understanding, while at the same time stability, organization, and thoroughness.
And although our history as women includes (and continues to include) our bodies being sold off as property from one male figure to another, the emotional legacy we are also grappling with “because Patriarchy” often manifests as men being transferred from one mother figure to another- the first his actual mother, and the second his “wife” or partner.
We continue to assume these roles almost unconsciously, whether we agree with them or not. Women from all walks of life, regardless of socio-economic status, race, or sexual identity may find themselves in relationships where they are emotionally coddling or being over-attendant to their partners (in queer relationships this is still true where one partner represents more of the female energy/role in their relationship).
(AUTHORS NOTE: **Smothering can also DEFINITELY happen from men/ masculine-leaning folks towards women/ feminine-leaning folks. There are whole other reasons for those dynamics, that also have to do with patriarchy. ALSO! Mothers are KICK ASS AWESOME AMAZING HUMANS. But, we don’t want to/shouldn’t be expected to perform “mothering roles” all the time, towards everyone. Certainly not our partners.)
If you’re an 70’s, 80’s or cuspy early-90’s baby in North America who wasn’t raised by hippy parents with no televisions, you probably got a good dose of terrible mother-son marriage dynamics from pretty much every single television show available to you at the time, including cartoons. Whether you were watching The Flintstones, The Simpsons, Home Improvement, Martin, Married with Children, Coach, and following not far behind, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond…I could go on, you were showcased the same relational dynamic that we could refer to as the “Oaf and the Shrew”, which the article by Modern Primate describes as
“A semi-overweight, blue collar guy is married to a much sexier wife… and they have at least two, but usually three or four, kids…The husband must do dumb things or ruin important stuff each week and the wife must get really angry at how inconsiderate and stupid he is, but get over it by the end of the episode.”
These dynamics are a dying breed now in Television, but they persist as part of our collective psychology in North America about how relationships will/should look. We may call it a “Homer Simpson Hangover”!
Thank goodness for Queen Latifa and Golden Girls for trying to offer up something different in this time of TV championing these types of unhealthy dynamics! “In a 90’s kind of world, I”m glad I got my girls”-indeed, Queen Latifa, Indeed. But I digress…
So, funny enough, when I googled “how to not mother your partner”, I got tons of articles on how not to SMOTHER your partner, which is basically just the word mother in disguise with an S in front (like if a mother put on a swirly moustache sideways?) So for the rest of this article, I’m going to use the word “s/mother” to represent similarly-linked tendencies. It also lead me to find this most-likely unfortunate movie surprisingly starring the never-unfortunate Diane Keaton which I may watch while eating all-the-popcorn later today:
A quote I liked from “Lovepanky.com” on the topic of “smothering” says
” You don’t smother your partner because of love. You smother someone with affection because you crave for their affection, you want their attention, or probably because you may want to help them with their troubles, or you may want to protect them.”
I think this is true. S/mothering often happens when a partnership feels unequal, and you are actively seeking to gain more from the relationship by adding your own energies to it, when really what you need is for the other person to put their energies into it. It’s a negative feedback loop for both partners. If you feel like you might be acting out some s/mothering tendencies in your relationship, maybe have some real-talk with yourself by asking the following questions:
- Do I trust that this person knows how to take care of me?
- How do I want/need someone to take care of me?
- Do I trust this person to take care of themselves?
- Have I ever told my partner what my needs are?
- Has my partner told me what their needs are?
- Do I respect the way my partner conducts themselves in the world?
- Do I respect the way my partner conducts themselves in this relationship?
- Does my partner actively ask me questions about how to shift their behaviour to better take care of my needs?
- Am I “teaching” my partner how to behave more than waiting to see how they naturally respond on their own?
- Am I waiting for my partner to “grow up” or “grow out of” who they are now?
If some of these questions were challenging for you to answer, you may be dating a Homer Simpson like character, or you may be s/mothering someone who is actually capable of taking care of themselves, if you just gave them a chance! Healthy relationships have to be based on trust and mutual respect, things that are often missing in s/mothering relationships. Here are some things you might think of implementing into your relationship to actively combat your s/mothering tendencies:
1. Ask directly for what you want. This requires you to actively think about what your own specific needs and desires are, and feel worthy of having them. This is a lifelong, fluxuating and ongoing process. You might not always want/need the same things, and that’s ok. If you ask for what you want/need and that person can’t provide that, they might not be the right person for you (or, you might need to have lots more direct dialogue to work out how to balance your needs with theirs)
2. Give them opportunities to “fail” or to “prove you wrong”. If you are constantly coddling or controlling every aspect of the relationship, it might be because you don’t actually trust your partner to make the right decision, say the right thing, prove they love you, etc. This avoidance tactic is common and keeps relationships “going forward”, but only by walking on eggshells. Make space for them to make their own choices. Maybe they will let you/themselves down. But these moments can be used to have constructive conversation, which can’t often happen if nothing ever goes wrong. To use a motherl-y example, it’s a little like taking the training wheels off your child’s bike: if they’re ever going to learn to ride the big bike, they might have to fall a bit while they are learning, and you’ve gotta LET them fall.
3. Ask them about their point of view and what they want/need. A great tool to understand how others operate in relationships is the Five Love Languages. Most of us have not been emotionally equipped with how to talk about our feelings and needs. This tool helps to shape and form the basis of those types of conversations and can be totally revolutionary for how you relate to your partner.
4. Break up? If you are truly with a person who is totally disinterested in doing any work to be a more mature, understanding, better partner and human being in general, maybe you need to stop sheltering them from the real world. Maybe they need more nights of eating craft dinner alone to make them realize that being with you/a responsible female is AMAZING and a fucking MIRACLE!
Got your own thoughts of how to avoid being in these s/mothering-type dynamics? Comment below or email us at theliferescriptedacademy @gmail.com