It’s 2:00 am, I’m 7 months pregnant and I hear his phone go off. He slowly gets up, checks to see if I’m asleep and creeps carefully out of our bed. He goes into the bathroom and all I hear is: Hey is everything ok? Why are you calling me so late? Okay, I’ll make time to come see you. I don’t know when, but I’ll make sure its soon. I love you too. He quietly slips back into bed, wraps his arms around me and dozes off into a deep slumber. I’m wide awake. I’m seething with anger. It’s taking every fiber of my being to remain calm. The next morning, he rises looking well-rested and in great spirits. I’m tired. I have bags under my eyes. I haven’t slept a wink because I’ve been up bawling all night.
“Girl, if you don’t just boss up and say something already,” shouts the voice inside of my head, but every time I worked up the nerve to broach the subject, the words would escape me.“Hey babe, I’m gonna run out and pick up a few things from the store, I may stop by John’s house afterward. Do you need anything while I’m out?” Exit strategies like this as well as the infamous, “I’m heading to the gym for a few hours” oh and my all-time favorite, “I lost track of time and my phone died” would repeatedly spew out of his mouth just about as often as Toni Braxton’s “Love Should’ve Brought You Home” would replay on my Apple music playlist.
So what was I supposed to do? Leave his ass? And then what? Become a recently divorced single mom with no clue how to recover from the shame, humiliation and heartbreak? Well if I did explore that option, at least I wouldn’t have to deal with the psychological warfare brought about by this situation and I could finally rest with peace of mind. I mean didn’t Queen Bey say it best, “Me and my baby, we gon’ be alright, we gon’ live a good life.” Regardless of how many times, Beyonce’s lyrics, “to the left, to the left, everything you own in the box to the left” stayed on repeat, the truth of the matter is, I wasn’t going anywhere and I was content pretending to be unbothered by this other woman.
Whenever she would text my husband, I’d look the other way. Whenever she would call him, I’d pretend not to notice how he would press ignore, ever so casually, slip his phone into his back pocket, and then find a random reason to excuse himself from the room. Oh, and when we would see each other in public…I’d plaster on a smile and remind myself who the wife was in this whole ordeal. I’ll be the first to admit, it was not easy sharing the same room with the woman who held my husband’s affection, but I was determined to stay in character as long as she respected my position. Eventually, things finally came to a head when I found myself all alone (with the exception of my 3- month old daughter) sobbing uncontrollably on my very first Mother’s Day. I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to say something.
As soon as he walked through the door and set the colorful bouquet of flowers on the kitchen island, all I could say was, “Yo, we need to have a serious conversation.” He looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face and asked if I wanted to at least look at the flowers first. Was he effing serious? No, I didn’t want to look at any flowers. What I wanted to do was grab the damn flowers and toss them in the trash, or better yet ask if he got a two for one sale because I’d bet my paycheck that he probably got her the same arrangement. After taking a second to gather my bearings, I said, “No, but what I do want is for you to make a choice, it’s her or me. If you choose her, I will bow out gracefully and wish nothing but the best for you both.” side note* I said it in that calm crazy-person tone that really makes people question whether to laugh or be afraid, but I digress. After hours of going back and forth, he finally declared that although he loved her, he wholeheartedly chose me and if we were going to move forward in this marriage, I would have to understand how hard this decision was for him as well as the sacrifice he was making. The sacrifice HE was making? Unmmmm…come again.
Initially, this conversation served as a band-aid. He was deciding to honor his vows and I decided to be happy with his decision, but that would only last for so long. We swore not to talk about it anymore, but I would look over at him from time to time and just know that he was thinking about her; that he missed her and that he was completely miserable. I, on the other hand, was still on pins and needles every time his phone would ring or a notification would sound. I was left questioning, was it her? Has he spent time with her recently? Do they talk about me? But the questions that constantly plagued my heart and mind was, “Why does he require the attention of another woman? Am I not enough?” Eventually, things got so bad that I knew it was time for another conversation; the one in which I had been avoiding and never planned on having as a married woman… One day I looked my husband in his eyes and said, “I think we should all meet up.”
He of course protested, but eventually, my persistence prevailed. At first, I was nervous as hell. What would she say to me? What would I say to her? What exactly did I wish to accomplish? Would he change his stance and no longer choose me? My heart was beating out of my chest while all of these questions were rummaging through my mind, just before we met up with his mother.
Yes, the other woman was his mother, his first love and the object of his affection. I’ve always had a fondness for men who adore their mothers so their close relationship never bothered me until I began feeling like less than a priority. Was it wrong of me to ask him to choose? Was I the crazy one for expecting their relationship to change once we got married? I mean doesn’t the Bible say to leave and cleave? Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always admired and adored my mother-in-law; aside from some fundamental differences, my issue is with the blurring of boundaries and the silent tug-a-war game we have going for my husband’s attention.
At first, I thought this was an isolated situation, but over the years the majority, if not all, of my girlfriends have shared similar experiences with their husband’s mothers. I mean I’ve heard it all from, “She’s trying to tell me how to raise my own kids” to “she’s so passive aggressive and he pretends not to see anything” or “there’s a serious Oedipus Complex going on here.”
But why is it so prevalent for a wife and mother-in-law to be at odds? I understand that each relationship has its own distinct dynamics, but I believe the core issue between a wife and her husband’s mother is all about competing priorities by which both parties are an integral part of a man’s life and when one party feels slighted, the husband is left to choose.
Is it selfish that I want to be celebrated on Mother’s Day? I get it, I’m not his mom and in an ideal world we would celebrate together, but given the reality of the situation, what should husbands do? Celebrate their wives or their mothers, when equally sharing or splitting the day is not an option?
Over the years, I’ve grown to respect the relationship between my husband and his mother; while at the same time I’ve learned to establish better boundaries and expectations (ie. do not call after midnight unless it’s an emergency). I’ve also learned that husbands have an abundance of love that’s not solely reserved for just one person. I’ve actually come to terms with the fact that his mother and I are actually more alike than not.
We both love her son and will travel to the end of the earth in efforts to seek his time, attention and affection. It’s taken a lot of humility and patience, but I’ve learned to accept his mother as the other woman in his life. I’ve realized that at the end of the day, its more about purpose than position and we both serve different, yet vital purposes in his life, which neither can compete with. So rather than being at odds and constantly making him choose, I’ve surrendered to the other woman.
I hope you enjoyed reading all about my experience with the other woman. Let me know about your experiences. What boundaries have you had to set with your mother-in-law? Is your husband responsible for establishing and/or enforcing those boundaries? Why do some men struggle with this? Remember, this is a safe space so fill me in!