While everybody's parents made mistakes, went through tough times, or didn't always know the exact right thing to do, some people were raised by truly toxic parents, and it can show. If your partner's mom is toxic, the effect she had on them may still be sticking around — even years later. And it may even be dragging down your relationship.
That's why it can be helpful to recognize these signs, not only to better understand why your partner acts the way they do, but also so you can be a better partner yourself, and help them through it.
Which, of course, is totally possible to do. "While we are all products of our parents, it’s very possible to overcome their negative influence and live happy, independent lives," Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor and co-founder of Double Trust Dating and Relationships, tells Bustle. "But, it will require a lot of effort and courage."
And it may take a lot of time, too. "Expecting someone who spent [their] formative years with a toxic parent to change overnight is unrealistic," Bennett says. In order to heal, your partner may need to cut off contact with their mom, make amends, seek therapy, or learn how to see through world through a healthier lens. Here are a few signs experts say may mean your partner was raised by a toxic mom, as well as what you both can do about it.
1. They're A True People Pleaser
It's great to be with someone who loves to put others first. But have you ever thought of your partner as total and complete people pleaser? Do they go out of their way to make others happy — often at the expense of their own happiness? If so, it might have something to do with how they were raised.
"Toxic mothers usually demand total loyalty and unconditional acceptance from their children," Bennett says. "As a result, many adults raised by toxic mothers have a need to please. It could involve pleasing you as a partner, but also others in their lives as they crave acceptance and validation (especially [from] their mom)."
2. They're Codependent
While parents obviously need to be caring and involved in their children's' lives, toxic parents tend to go a bit (or a lot) overboard. "Toxic parents typically create a ... codependent relationship with their children," Bennett says. "They actually thrive on their children’s dependence." If your partner's mom was toxic in this way, she likely relied heavily on them for support, treated them like a best friend, or made it so that they "needed" her 24/7.
When a mom is like this, it can "cause their adult children to seek out romantic relationships that involve codependency issues," Bennett says. "They look to their partners for guidance, acceptance, and even an identity."
If they are codependent, your partner might want to speak with a therapist to learn how to undo this habit. But it can also be helpful to offer them support and understanding, so they learn that it's OK to do their own thing.
3. They're Not Assertive At All
"Toxic mothers can be very overbearing and cause children to embrace a dependent and submissive role," Bennett says, which may explain why your partner lacks the ability to be assertive in your relationship.
"If your partner seems to be timid and lacks assertiveness, it’s possible [they were] raised by a toxic mother," he says. "This is especially true if your partner always 'gives in' to requests from [their] mom."
4. They Live To Make Their Mom Happy
If your partner lives to make their mom happy, that can be kind of adorable. When someone treats their mom with love and respect, it's a sign of good character.
But there's a big difference between a person who wants to help out their parents, and someone who lives in fear of them. So take note if your partner lacks assertiveness with their mom, or tries their best to make her happy — even if it negatively impacts their life.
If "their mom’s happiness comes before their own or your relationship, they likely have a toxic mom," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "If their mom is unhappy, they are unhappy. If mom needs or wants, they jump." Again, the best thing your partner can do if this is the case is to seek help from a therapist or other loved ones. You can offer your support by showing them you're there for them if they need it.
5. They Get Nervous When She Calls
To figure out what kind of dynamic your partner has with their mom, check their body language whenever they interact with her. "If their mom was toxic, they'll be more likely to walk on eggshells whenever she calls," Dr. Klapow says.
Typically, the children of toxic parents carry the effects with them into adulthood. So even though you and your partner may live far away, or have little contact with their family, they still may have a negative reaction whenever they do interact.
6. They Withhold Affection
Not everyone shows their feelings in a physically affectionate way, so it's not a guarantee that your partner had a toxic mom just because they don't enjoy cuddling.
If they use affection as a weapon against you, however, it may be a sign. The child of a toxic mom might "not hug or kiss you, [or they might] refuse sex in order to make you feel bad," therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle.
This is likely a habit they picked up from their mom. If she was toxic, she too many have withheld affection as a form of punishment when your partner was growing up. And they've learned to do the same. The best thing to do in this case is to talk to your partner if this dynamic has been set, and suggest they find outside help if their childhood may be to blame.
7. They Don't Have Any Boundaries
On the flip side, if your partner grew up in a household with a toxic mom, there's a good chance they don't know anything about boundaries.
"If they share your personal business with others or are too intrusive," it could be a sign, Hershenson says. While you really can't blame your partner for not understanding boundaries, if they never learned them growing up, you can start to make a change as a couple, to ensure this toxicity doesn't affect you going forward.
By establishing healthy boundaries in your relationship, you'll both know what to expect of each other. And by standing firm within these relationship rules, your partner will hopefully begin to change.
8. They're Constantly Criticizing Her
If your partner can't stop talking about their mom in a negative way, there may be a reason for it. "She looms large in your relationship because your partner has been badly affected by her," Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle. "They frequently bring her up somehow during negative situations, as if she is responsible for all [their] past and present unhappiness. And even when nothing is going wrong, they're criticizing her for something or other. They're stuck on what she's put them through and have trouble moving on from it."
9. They Get Passive Aggressive When They're Upset
We learn from our parents how to react to stress, so if your partner immediately responds to conflict by shutting down or becoming passive aggressive, their mom might be to lame.
As Hershenson says, "If they have difficulty telling you how they feel and instead expect you to be a mindreader," it could be due to growing up around a toxic mom who expected the same.
Since this can lead to problems in your relationship, you'll want to work on it together ASAP. While it's obviously up to your partner to be aware of how they act, and to make an effort to change, it's something you can still work on together.
10. They Are Hypersensitive
Hypersensitivity can have roots in a myriad of places. If your partner is anxious, for example, they might read into everything that happens in your relationship, or always expect the worst.
But hypersensitivity can also come about due to how they were treated by their mom. "People who are raised by a toxic mom were manipulated and often brainwashed by criticism, negativity, and putdowns," GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, a counselor at PsychPoint, tells Bustle. "Since it is their norm, people will tend to twist words from their partner into something negative, even if they did not mean it to be that way."
Obviously, this can lead to arguments and your own version of a toxic relationship. So you might consider bringing this tendency to your partner's attention. By figuring out better ways to handle conflict (or even perceived conflict) history won't have to repeat itself.
11. They Avoid Her At All Costs
It can hurt when your partner doesn't want you to meet their parents. After all, once you've been dating someone for a while, it's expected that you'll become a part of their family in some way — maybe through holidays, weddings, reunions, or even simple dinners on Sunday nights.
But if your partner's mom is toxic, they might make "excuses to not interact," Dr. Klapow says, or "try to get out of social situations that include their mom." If that seems to be the case, it's important to not take it personally.
It's up to your partner to decide how much contact they'd like to have with their mom, and you to support them in that. Things may change in the future, but for now all you can do is be there, be understanding, and make sure this toxicity doesn't start to affect your relationship.