The Devouring Mother

Most men that I speak to one-on-one in my coaching find me because of a book I wrote called, “The Dead Bedroom Fix”. These guys have a common problem: They NEED more physical intimacy within their marriage, but they see no real path to overcome their particular set of sexless circumstances. The biggest hurdle that gets in the way of their marital success? “My wife has A LOT of anxiety.”

I hear it almost every single day.

Women, as psychologists will tell you, tend to rank higher in what we call “trait neuroticism”. Neuroticism, or “being neurotic” sounds like an insult, but it’s a genuine psychological term and one of the “big five” personality traits. It means a propensity for negative thought. If you’re constantly overthinking and stressed out, you’re a “neurotic” person. Not all women are “highly neurotic,” but it’s known that those people who are considered the MOST neurotic tend to be women.

Trust me, I know for a fact that very very neurotic men exist (I tend to attract these men to the DSO world), but I also recognize that these men aren’t a valid representation of the population as a whole. If you were to put a bet down on which member of the couple, the man or the wife, ranks highest in neuroticism, you should be betting on WIFE if you want to lose your money.

When men tell me that their wife “has issues with anxiety,” my next question is usually, “Has she always been an anxious person, or did this come on later in your marriage?” Most of the time, the answer to that question is some semblance of, “Well… she’s always been a LITTLE anxious, but she really went into overdrive after our kid was born.”

Make no mistake, having kids completely changes the landscape of a marriage. As I often tell guys, the progression of relationship difficulty goes like this:

Dating → Marriage → Kids → Multiple Kids

Dating is the most stress-free (and sexual) time… Having kids represents the opposite end of the fun/sexy spectrum. Why? Well, books have been written on how the comfortable/domestic/secure slowly chips away at female sexual desire, but for many, the answer is super simple: Being a mother sends their anxiety into very unhealthy territory. Anxiety ain’t sexy. It’s crippling. It can destroy the individual, and it can destroy a family.

One of the most unhealthy frames for a woman to be in is what Dr.Carl Jung famously called “The Devouring Mother”. To quote author Caroline Miss: “The Devouring Mother ‘consumes’ her children psychologically and emotionally and often instills feelings of guilt at leaving her or becoming independent.”

Here are some very real lines I have heard from men:

“My wife insists that our kid sleeps in our bed. He’s four. He’s been in our bed every night for the past three years. I moved to the guest room last year. I’m starting to think she uses the kid as a shield to keep me away from her.”

“My wife refuses to go out on a date for a few hours, let alone a weekend away. She says she feels way too guilty about leaving the kids alone.”

“My wife doesn’t trust anybody to watch our kids. My parents, her parents, my siblings, her siblings, the neighbors… nobody. She says she doesn’t ever see that changing.”

“My wife still breastfeeds our three-year-old. She loves to point out that breastfeeding keeps her sexual desire away… but it’s still best for the child.”

It’s no secret that many women completely wrap themselves in the cloak of MOM and drop any and all semblance of the spunky, feminine individual they used to be. These women will frequently reach a breaking point, and find themselves saying, “I don’t even know who I am anymore. I’m just a mother. A baby-producer. A wife. I’m ‘John’s wife’ and ‘Billy’s mom’. That’s it.” These are the women who find themselves going through a midlife crisis and running off with the bad boy from spinning class.

Many times, women will point to the husband and his lack of domestic “help” as being the cause of her rapidly increasing child-centric anxiety. “I feel overwhelmed. I feel like I do everything.” In men’s defense, a lot of the men I speak to do MORE than their fair share of work around the house and with the kids. Unfortunately for them, it always seems that the wife is trying to outpace their efforts. He agrees to take over 18 of the 20 tasks needed per day (because codependent men try to do ANYTHING to save their marriage), only to discover that the wife has increased the total task number to 48. He ends up saying what every guy in that situation says:

“Who the hell told you to do all that stuff, anyway?!”

Her anxiety did.

The wife volunteers for every child-oriented activity.

She breastfeeds until WAY past the time the pediatrician suggests she stop.

She takes the kid to the doctor for every single sniffle.

She insists on homeschooling because she can’t trust others to teach her kid properly.

She won’t allow her kids to go to sleepovers. “He may get hurt!”

Later, she convinces her teen son to not date. “You can’t trust any girls”, or worse, “Why do you need any of them? You have me!”

This is the quintessential “Devouring Mother”. To put it simply, this is the woman who has no sense of her own self, so she consumes her child emotionally. She is both holding on the eternal infant who needs her 27/7 to survive,, and living vicariously through the child’s achievements as they get older. If little Suzie is in 19 extracurricular activities, that means she is super mom extraordinaire! Meanwhile, her husband is banging the secretary at work because she told him he had nice shoes.

Like most women in this scenario, she’s probably trying to right the wrongs of her own childhood. Her own mother didn’t dote on her enough, so she will swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and become Super Mom… at the expense of her own sanity, the future mental health of her children, and her marriage.

Can any of you relate to this? If so, get the wife help. Today. This doesn’t get better on its own. She won’t suddenly wake up and decide to devote all her attention to her husband. The kids running off to college (and running away from neurotic mom) probably won’t result in a rekindling of the marital sex life. If anything, it will lead the mom to feelings of utter loneliness and despair.

Get in front of the problem before it is too late.