Runaway Husbands and “Mama’s Boys”

If your once loving, doting husband has committed spousal abandonment, and has always had a seemingly odd relationship with his mother- then this post if for you.

It should be noted that not all Runaway Husbands fit into this category. Some Runaway Husbands are described as having wonderful parents with no familial issues. With each situation being slightly different, I will attempt to capture the distinct group of men, who are Runaway Husbands, and also “mama’s boys” and the specific issues that contributed to their abandoning behavior.


Mama’s Boys is a term loosely referring to boys who have very close bonds with their mothers. In modern society, this is usually viewed as ‘cute’ and something boys grow out of once they reach their rebellious teen-aged years- the stage where children develop their own identities separate from their parents.
Men who remain mama’s boys into adulthood may not have gone through that developmental phase of detaching their identity as “little boy”. This can be due to both internal and external factors that occur during these vital teenage years. Insecure attachment, as well as emotionally enmeshed families, may contribute to suppressing teens from creating their own secure identity, morals, values, and self.


Profile of an Enmeshing Mother

  • Unsolicited advice giving
  • Threatened by son’s independence
  • Needy, care-taking, or alternating between both
  • Emotionally unavailable, turbulent or absent relationship with her son’s father
  • Fear of abandonment
  • “All-or-Nothing” relationship with her son
  • Lack of Boundaries
  • Disapproving of son’s relationships with women
  • Usually unaware of their boundary-crossing, enmeshing behaviors

Signs of an Enmeshed Relationship between a Mother and Adult Son

  • His mother repeatedly disrespects him or his wife. She talks down to him, tells him what to do rather than ask, and overall communicates to him like he is still a child. She may also view him as incompetent, unable to make decisions, and pry into the most intimate details of his life and give unsolicited advice.
  • He puts his mother’s needs before anyone else. She is able to get him to do anything she wants, and knows intuitively how to make her grown son do something he doesn’t want to do. He may also desire her approval and love, and go out of his way to assist her even if it means putting his family on the back-burner.
  • Competition from mother to wife. The mother may attempt to assert dominance towards his wife, like a competitor. This can take the form of the mother acting similar to a jealous girlfriend, to her acting like she is trying to mother her son better than the wife. She may also make allegations against the wife towards her son, or behave passive aggressively towards the wife, to create a division of loyalty or validate her role as #1.
  • His primary identity is “son” and not “husband” or “father.” Rather than the traditional “leave and cleave” that occurs with marriage, his role of “husband and father” becomes secondary identities to the role of “child son”. This is also reinforced if he comes from a family where women are disproportionately dominant figures.

Traits of the Runaway Husband Caused by Maternal Enmeshment

  • His relationship with his mother: is either a parent-child dynamic, “married to mom” or she is cut out of the picture entirely (due to relational tension)
  • Low emotional maturity. Will retreat to childish tendencies, especially when under pressure. Poor ability to problem-solve relational tension.
  • Fear of Engulfment. Has an -overly strong desire to have freedom, no rules and no obligations. Fears not having a full-range of freedom, fears having others expecting things of him.
  • Overly sensitive to feeling “controlled”. Considers being held accountable as being ‘controlled’ and may rebel, hold resentment, or hold a grudge against the person expecting him to follow through on his commitments.
  • Views his wife as a mother-figure. She is seen as the one who holds responsibility for upkeep, moral lessons, family events and social obligations, while he is able to live carelessly
  • Avoidant-Attachment Style. This is a type of insecure attachment that, when under relational pressure, will cause a tendency to retreat, avoid and behave with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality
  • Lack of identity. Is unsure of who he is, his needs or wants, his moral compass, or his capabilities and shortcomings- due to suppressed development as an individual.

Traits- Expanded

(From Traits of a Runaway Husband)
Mother issues. There is a trend with runaway men having some sort of abnormal relationship with their maternal figure. Whether it’s an insecure attachment, engulfment, neglect or emotional incest. Sometimes these men seem to be “married to mom” and/or have never quite outgrown the role of “little boy.” Other times the mother is absent, whether emotionally or physically, and the son is unable to develop into a stable adult. Sometimes the mother is demanding and knows no boundaries. Either way- the relationship with the mother is a large factor because when it is unhealed, it sets the tone for the relationship a man has with his wife. The man may also treat his wife like more of a mother figure than an equal partner, and seeks maternal approval from her in order to soothe his childhood wounds.

Emotional Immaturity. There is a trend of runaway husbands who act as if they are teenagers who never grew up, and treat the abandonment as if they had just rebelled against their parent.These men may retreat to do childish activities, such as play video games, neglect responsibilities, make crude jokes, ignore phone calls, stay out at odd hours, and hang out with other adults who lack responsibilities. They can become irrationally angry at any attempt to bring them to their senses or remind them of their commitments. It seems like they see their wife as a parent figure, and themselves as an adult child, likely related to childhood issues they have with their own parents.

Fear of engulfment. No one likes to be smothered by someone, but an intense fear of engulfment can prevent people from forming meaningful connections. This is the opposite of “fear of abandonment” and also stems from unhealed childhood issues. Fear of engulfment can express itself as extreme sensitivity to anything that doesn’t allow them to act freely and independently. Men who have this fear might be described as having “commitment issues” whether they are married or not. There are many things that factor into why someone might have this fear. Just like abandonment fears stem from being abandoned, its presumed that fear of engulfment comes from being engulfed- usually when they are a child. This forms a “need to escape” reaction when they begin to feel uncomfortable in social settings, and can impact their levels of commitment within their long term relationships or marriages.

Unstable self image. They rely on other people’s approval or disapproval to gauge how they feel about themselves. They can alternate between feeling like they are superior, to feeling worthless. They don’t know who they are and take feedback from others as their identity. If someone sees them as having negative traits, this hurts them so deeply that they may cut that person out of their lives, making claims that the other person is flawed. They only talk to people who reflect back to them that they are lovable, worthy, and successful. This may explain why some do not have many long term, genuine or close friendships, because those people are able to see his true and authentic self, including flaws that he is desperately trying to deny. He tries to get rid of those flaws by avoiding the people who see them and associating those people with the bad feelings he has about himself.


In Summary

Runaway Husbands who also had an enmeshed relationship with their maternal figure have been set up for failure for any future relationship they have with a woman. The issues developed here are deeply rooted and not easily changed.
If your husband fits this category, know that his deficiencies will take form and eventually come back up in any future relationship he pursues or returns to, until he has revisited these childhood wounds.


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One thought on “Runaway Husbands and “Mama’s Boys”

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I found it very beneficial. I am going through a divorce from a long term marriage. I am in so much pain as I loved him dearly but now see as on one of our former dates we played a game that said he was a mommas boy. So true

    Like

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