In the early 1900s, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud coined the term “Oedipus Complex.” For those unfamiliar with Greek mythology, Oedipus was abandoned by his parents as an infant. He grew up – and ultimately, killed his father and married his mother, without knowing who they were. Freud used this story to describe what he believed to be the personal relationships developed between children and their parents. In this context, mommy issues in men is such inability to “kill” the strong dependence and connection to a mother.
“When a man acts as if he is seeking a substitute mother rather than an equal partner, or a man responding to unresolved issues with his mother rather than his partner, is someone who has mommy issues.”
Clio Contogenis, “All the best strangers have mommy issues”
A child competes with their same-sex parent for the affection of the opposite-sex parent. He seemed to be more focused on little boys and their personal relationships with their parents because he felt those formed a more complicated relationship. And, in fact, research shows that boys tend to have more mommy issues than girls do with daddy issues.
In short, a man’s relationship with his mother while growing up will carry over into his adult life and impact his romantic relationships with a partner. Let’s unpack the most common unresolved mommy issues in men and how these impact a romantic relationship as an adult.
Why is this important? Because boys, from infancy through early childhood, need to attach to an adult who is nurturing and caring if they are to develop good mental health as adults. And typically, that adult is their mother. And so, as we talk about attachment patterns, we will be talking about those of boys with their mommies.
“Your attachment style from your infancy can influence your relationships with others.”
Coda Derrig, PhD, clinical psychologist
Attachment theory was first developed by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the 1960s. While it was first met with criticism, other psychiatrists eventually came around to see the merit of his theory. Basically, Bowlby identified and described three types of attachment – anxious, avoidant and secure – between boys and their mothers. The fourth, disorganized, style was added later.
Related reading: Male Maturity – When Does It Kick In?
Boys have secure attachments to their moms when those moms are consistently there to provide for their physical and emotional needs. They prefer their moms over anyone else, may have anxiety when they are separated, and feel relieved and comforted when mom returns.
Boys who experience this as infants and young children are able to have healthy adult relationships, including with a romantic partner.
When mom is not consistent with her nurturing and affection, the baby/child learns that they may or may not get the comfort and support they need and want. They develop a sense of insecurity, and a lack of trust, and can be very “needy” in adult relationships with romantic partners. They will need constant reassurance that romantic partners do love them and will not dump them.
When a mother cares for her son’s physical needs but does not provide for the emotional aspect of nurturing, that boy will grow up being self-reliant and will have difficulty expressing emotions or giving emotional support to a romantic partner. Women will find a relationship with him emotionally unrewarding. Unless he is willing to seek professional help or find one woman who has the same avoidant attachment style, he is probably destined to have multiple relationships that don’t last.
Related reading: Is Your Man Pulling Back? Here’s Why
This style usually results from a chaotic childhood – being raised in an orphanage, or foster homes, or experiencing childhood trauma at an early age – perhaps the death of his mother with no mother figure to replace her.
This is the toughest of attachment issues because it causes an adult man to act unpredictably and even irrationally in relationships. They use unhealthy patterns of getting into relationships and then pushing that partner away.
One subset of this attachment issue is known as “reactive detachment disorder,” in which the adult male is unable to form any emotional connections. This can lead to a whole set of anti-social behaviors. They may easily come to disrespect women as well. Professional therapy is a must here.
Now, other than the secure attachment pattern, each of the other three can result in an unhealthy relationship with a partner as an adult.
But attachment patterns are not the only factors of mommy issues in men. A mother-child relationship throughout the growing years can also impact romantic life with a female partner.
For example, you’ve heard the term “mommy’s boy.” This stems from overprotective mothers. Such a mother engages in controlling behavior that has made her son too dependent upon her for much of his needs and decisions that he should ultimately be making independently as he moves toward adulthood. Such a mama’s boy will need her advice and approval for almost everything he does. Mom has failed to set boundaries that make her back off and just provide healthy maternal guidance without the need for control.
On the other end of the spectrum are moms who are just absent or maybe overly critical of their male children as they are growing into adulthood. Sometimes these younger guys have to grow up faster than is normal or suffer from self-esteem issues as the move into adulthood.
And not just from his mom – from his partner, from his boss, from his friends and co-workers. This is the result of either total approval from his mother or no approval at all. This behavior can cause a strained relationship between himself and others in all phases of his life.
This comes from a lack of self-esteem. Causes? An overly critical mommy is one cause. At the opposite end, it may stem from too much emotional coddling as a child. He is now looking for that same emotional support from a romantic partner who thinks he should be much more independent.
This is one of the most damaging mommy issues of all. Throughout his young and adolescent years, Mommy has always come to his defense. She was the one rescuing him from any difficult situations, taking his side in conflicts. By doing this, she basically was never allowing him to work through problems on his own and take the consequences for his actions.
This mother wound up creating an adult man who blames others for his failings and expects to be “rescued” by his partner too if his mother is no longer in the picture. This man will not acknowledge his mistakes and will not apologize. He is emotionally immature and, if he is to be successful in life and love, he will need help from a mental health professional. His mommy, and maybe the other parent too, has created an adult male who cannot function in the real world.
Again, there are two extremes here. If he and his mom were just too close (uncomfortably so) or fully distant, he will grow into adulthood not understanding normal boundaries in relationships. Women can see him as smothering and unable to give them their own space. Or they may see him as uncomfortable with the normal closeness of intimacy. He may avoid physical affection apart from sex.
Another result can be commitment issues and being rather “closed off” from a close relationship.
Here’s the thing about impulsivity. It can be the result of finally being free of an overbearing and controlling mother – almost a rebellion of sorts. Because his mother has controlled everything, he has yet to develop skills of thinking things through before he acts. This can happen in all aspects of his life, and that behavior can cause a toxic relationship with women.
He may make impulsive purchases, cheat with other women without regard for the consequences, and even start arguments with his SO or at work.
Being impulsive is not one of the more severe mental health issues in men with mother issues, but it can really hurt having deep connections with women.
He may still live at home with his mom, counting on her for advice and consulting her about his financial decisions, job/career choices, and even his clothing. And the man’s mother actually loves that they are so close and that she is still so involved in his life. He has never developed independence.
Even if this man should eventually move out on his own and maybe meet a girl, she will soon find that his mother remains a major force in his life and that he must still consult with her about almost everything. These types of mommy issues affect his love life, usually in a very negative way. There are not many adult women who will stick around in this situation.
This is usually the result of mommy issues from growing up in an environment where criticism was frequent and common.
Once free of that environment, on his own, and in the world of work and relationship, he will have difficulty accepting criticism, especially from his partner, even if it is constructive. “You’re not my mom!” may be heard frequently.
These types of mommy issues in men make it almost to have a disagreement without him taking that as criticism and becoming very defensive, whether that is with his partner or even best friend.
We’ve all known men who become “babies” when they are sick – probably because in the “secure” pattern that’s what happened when they got sick as children. But as an adult, if he exaggerates this to a lot of other parts of his life with his partner, then it is one of the clear signs of mommy issues.
These mommy issues present themselves as expectations of what his partner should be doing for him to make his life as easy as possible. For example, making sure that he has his personal care products all the way up. Or coughing up money for them to go out, have cable TV and set up Wi-Fi. This is all a sense of entitlement that he learned as a child.
Can he overcome mommy issues like these? Probably not without some counseling/therapy to achieve self-awareness enough to change some of those behaviors.
Wow! Way to ruin a relationship. Whether the comparison is used positively or negatively, it is one of the signs of mommy issues that will turn most women off pretty quickly.
People who do not engage in regular communication when they are upset about something but tend to hold it in will often explode when everything builds up. In this case, chances are the man was not allowed to voice his emotions or disagreements growing up.
This is a learned behavior that carries into adulthood. So, when he has issues with his partner, he holds them in and then ultimately has a huge burst of anger that far exceeds the issue at hand. All of the other unresolved issues just bubble up to the surface.
These types of outbursts can be clear signs of men with mommy issues. And so, they need to be dealt with in the same way as other mommy issues – some counseling to learn how to regularly communicate problems when they appear. Otherwise, he will live in an emotional void over them until the inevitable explosion.
He is looking for a mother figure. And if he finds a female who is a “giver” by nature, he has found the perfect match. She will act the part of the mother he no longer lives with.
These are mental health symptoms on the part of both partners. The guy has mother issues but so does his partner. A man with mommy issues of this type needs love and constant validation and is looking for the parental love that he either never got or now misses. His self-worth is often dependent on this validation from someone outside of himself.
Men with mommy issues that have them seeking such a co-dependent relationship will not easily get over this need. An independent female who looks for a balanced relationship will never stick with such a man.
First and foremost, if you love this man, you have to have compassion and empathy for his situation. Certain factors in his childhood determined who he is now – a domineering or enabling mother, a mother who has provided enough nurturing and guidance, a trauma (e.g., the death of his mother at a young age), and such. You need to understand them and find an adequate resolution then.
Review the symptoms in this article, and identify those you might be seeing:
Before acting, you should identify which exactly mommy issues your man has.
Men with mommy issues may not have healthy boundaries about their mother’s role in your partnership or in what they expect you to do for them. Be clear in setting those boundaries and communicating them to him. If he cannot deal with those boundaries, you will need to move on to the next step.
You can’t fix mommy issues that result in co-dependence, the continual need for validation, trust issues, lack of independence in normal adult activities, and inability to accept constructive criticism/suggestions for improvement. Trying to do it all on your own will be a big fail.
He needs counseling and you should be involved in at least a part of that if you two are to have a healthy partnership based on love and adult behaviors. If he is unable or unwilling to get some therapy, it may be time for you to move on, as painful as that may be. But more painful will be living in this relationship that will never be fixed.
Romantic relationships are complicated. If you are in a difficult relationship because of what you believe to be mommy issues, you have a choice. You either commit to the hard work in developing a healthy relationship will take – or you walk away.
Whatever you choose, just be kind. You do not really know and understand all that he has experienced. A male develops mommy issues during his growing years that will result in mental health symptoms. But you don’t know what has turned him into a mama’s boy or a man who hates his mother so much that your relationship is impacted. If you choose patience and understanding, realize that it will be a process. If you can’t make that commitment, walk away now.