Mother-Son Bonding – Repairing the Relationship Breach

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The Father Wound 

Another reason that we are seeing more moral failure today is due to the fatherless generation that was ushered in through the baby boomer generation. Since the 1960s we have seen a steady increase in divorce and fatherless families. This has created an open wound in both men and women today.

Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky in the White House brought shame to him, his family, and the nation. To make matters worse, he tried to cover it up by lying to the American people on national television, and later explained it away as “not being sex.” Clinton will forever be remembered in the history books for his indiscretions. Dalbey explains:

“The shame from moral failure in men urges men into a variety of compulsive/addictive behaviors—from drugs and pornography to workaholism and religious legalism. In hiding his wound, the man eventually fulfills the awful impact of the Malachi 4:6 curse upon the land, from abortions and sexually transmitted diseases to crime and domestic violence. He’s left fearful of women, distrusting of other men, shortsighted in his view of God and, therefore, cut off from his destiny.

"In a classic example, during the shameful exposure of former President Clinton’s sexual sins, few political commentators noted that his father had died when Clinton was in his mother’s womb, and that his several step-fathers were alcoholic and/or abusive. With such a deep wound in his masculine soul and the constant negative models at hand to fill it, the boy could only grow up looking for security in the one constant relationship, namely, his mother. He thereby learned to seek confirmation of his manhood from women. But since no woman is capable of doing that, and if he never goes to Father God with his wound, he’s condemned to the eternally fruitless exercise of going from one woman to another seeking his manhood.

"The nation has paid dearly for this with a skepticism and even scorn for his leadership and authority. Certainly Clinton must be held accountable for his choices and eventually suffer their consequences. But—as destructive as the father-wound is—there’s not enough brick and mortar to build enough prisons to hold the men who are acting it out. It’s a deadly epidemic among us, which hides in the shadow of shame.”

Tiger Woods  

In December 2009 Tiger Woods’ world went from a polished, protected family-friendly personna to a womanizer, shamed and gossiped about throughout the tabloid media due to moral failure and infidelity in his marriage. One of the questions that can often come up when someone like Tiger Woods, who seemingly had the world by the tail (pardon the pun), is “How could he ever want to go look outside his marriage with such a beautiful wife?”

Tiger fits the profile of a man deeply affected by mother-son bonding. Tiger is an only son. His parents divorced after he was an adult, but most likely the marriage had been weak for many years before the final divorce. It was well known that Earl Woods was not faithful to his wife.

Dina Parr, Tiger Woods' high school sweetheart, said in an interview that Tiger would call her crying, upset about his father Earl Woods' infidelity. Parr said Tiger would call her and say, "'My dad is with another woman' ... He would be so upset, so I just tried to be there for him and listen to him.'" Parr went on to say that Tiger loved his father, but he never really got over the unfaithfulness and that it's interesting that Tiger is now doing the same thing.

We often saw Tiger and his mother together and the bond between them must have been very strong. This would have meant Tiger may never have really bonded with his wife Elin, and probably never dealt with the emotional pain from the bonding of his mother. This ultimately would have to lead to resolving the inner conflict in inappropriate ways sexually as he got older. Chances are that because Tiger never really bonded with his wife Elin during the marriage he sought to bond with women outside the marriage through sex.

Symptoms of a Nurturing Void 

If a son grows up in a family that fails to nurture him in his early years with appropriate touch, cuddling and affection, that child will grow into an adult with a greater sexual appetite in the marriage. He will associate sex with being loved by his spouse because he was never touched growing up. He will want to be touched and cuddled in the bedroom but will not want to be touched outside intimate times.

He will find it difficult to give hugs, hold hands or give healthy affection to his spouse. Sometimes a spouse may wrongly conclude her husband has a sexual addiction because of his desire for sex. If there is no pattern of pornography, he does not have a sexual addiction in his life. He has a love and nurturing problem that he never got as a child. Consequently, he will seek to have that need met through his spouse. However, she can never adequately satisfy his need. That's because it's a love need that requires healing from his heavenly Father. Until that is met in him he will continue to place pressure upon his wife to meet his sexual needs.

How Men and Women Deal With Pain

When there are emotional unmet needs in a relationship it can lead to a breach in the marital relationship and the husband and wife learn to cope in two different ways. Larry Crabb has summarized how both male and female use unique strategies to avoid the deep pain when a failure in trust happens.

All of us are trapped by addiction to a desire for something less than God. For many women, that something less is relational control. “I will not be hurt again and I will not let people I love be hurt. I’ll see to it that what I fear never happens again.” They therefore live in terror of vulnerably presenting themselves to anyone and instead become determined managers of people. Their true femininity remains safely tucked away behind the walls of relational control.

More common in men is an addiction to non-relational control. “I will experience deep and consuming satisfaction without ever having to relate meaningfully with anyone.” They keep things shallow and safe with family and friends and feel driven to experience a joy they never feel, a joy that only deep relating can provide. Their commitment is twofold: to never risk revealing inadequacy by drawing close to people and, without breaking that commitment, to feel powerful and alive. Power in business and illicit sex are favorite strategies for reaching that goal.

What You Cover, God Uncovers 

When Tiger tried to cover up his sin, he only made the humiliation factor grow in his situation. If he had been forthright by repenting in the beginning the level of humiliation would have been less severe.

If you are a believer and you live in compromise, you lose confidence in the faith dimension of your life. The Bible says we are to confess our sins one to another. The very act of bringing your struggle into the light brings healing. My friend Ford Taylor often says "What we cover, God uncovers. What we uncover, God ‘covers.’" If we try to hide our sin Satan has a legal right to humiliate us and will do so publicly. The more public a figure you are, the greater the humiliation. If you choose humility by initiating repentance, God will cover you by His grace and your restoration will be quicker.

Why Won’t He Talk to Me? 

If the mother-son bonding remains unresolved, the negative behavior becomes a part of his personality at a subconscious level as he grows older. Until he is conscious that his behavior is abnormal he lives in a world of independence, denial and conflict until he understands there is a problem. The wife struggles with thoughts and feelings like, “Why won’t he talk to me? Why is he so defensive to my input?”

The way out of this is to come to the knowledge of the truth for the husband. The scripture says that the truth shall make you free. Men need God to heal their hearts of the pain in their lives that has been caused by this bonding and repent of the pain they caused their mates through their behavior. God will often force us into a crisis in our marriages to deal with the issue. The husband must deal with both the root and his behavior. He must acknowledge his failure to love his wife because the spirit behind this issue is an unloving spirit rooted in the mother-son bonding. He must actually tell himself “She is not my mother, she is my wife!”

Most men will not begin to change until they can understand the problem. It is not enough to complain to your partner that something is wrong. Until the man understands the reason for the problem and the way to fix it, he will not have the motivation to change. This is important because if our heart is not healed we will try to solve the problem through performance in order to relieve the pressure, but the root issue will never be healed. And the temptation for men is to get their validation as men from their wives or other women instead of God.

There is another factor at play here as well. If a son grows up under a mother who is volatile and angry he will grow up fearing a woman’s anger. The father often withdraws from his wife’s outbursts, often abandoning the son to her emotional fits. The son grows up fearing confronting any woman for fear of conflict and possible outbursts, and fears the woman will leave him. By succumbing to these fears the boy grows up to be a man who abdicates his strength to the woman. This can open the door to a “Jezebel Spirit” in the marriage. “Ahab” yields leadership to the woman in the home.

The solution to this is for the man to exercise his true manly strength through servant leadership. Usually the woman will resist his new strength at first because she will perceive it to threaten her control over the man. A godly woman must come to a place of recognition that she actually needs his strength and will ultimately desire more of this. An ungodly woman, who has simply replaced his mother in this scenario, will leave him.

A Word to Mothers 

If you are a mother and want to know how to avoid falling into the trap of mother-son bonding, the key is to ask yourself a question as it relates to the way you relate to your son. “Am I trying to get an emotional need met for myself by how I relate to my son, or am I trying to help my son grow up into a mature man?”

Often you will discover whether your relationship is healthy or not by simply asking this question. A mother must help her son enter into manhood. She must find ways that he can interact with other men who can help him develop into a healthy man. The Jewish bar mitzvah is a way the Jewish culture helps a young man recognize his manhood by his father. It is a rite of passage every young man needs.

The mother must let go of her son emotionally and encourage the separation to take place as he enters into his late teen years. If you do this, you will find your son will develop into an emotionally healthy male. Healthy relationships with other male figures are needed in the boy’s life to invite him into manhood.

A Word to Adult Sons 

If you are a husband/adult son and recognize that you have been impacted by mother-son bonding you must make some immediate changes. You have never effectively “leaved and cleaved” to your wife emotionally. You may or may not have to speak with your mother about this issue. However, you must begin to:

Set boundaries with your mother. She must know that your wife is first priority in your life. This can be a difficult transition for many men because it will feel like you are betraying your mother, but you are not. You are cutting one unhealthy bond so you can love and emotionally bond to your wife.

Ask your wife to help you. Ask your wife for input. Tell her to let you know when she is feeling like a third wheel when in her and your presence. Your vulnerability will prove to your wife you are serious about changing.

Invite input from your wife. Mother-son bonding creates a “feeling” of being controlled by your wife when she may simply be trying to connect emotionally. You will have to consciously say out loud to yourself when you have internal feelings that you feel controlled, “She is my wife, not my mother.” Eventually those feelings will dissipate as you love your wife emotionally.

A Final Word to Men 

The enormous increased level of dysfunction in our society due to absent fathers and broken marriages has ushered in a generation of adults who carry a lot of brokenness and pain. Men, it is important to recognize the subtle lie the enemy of our soul tells us. That lie is “I cannot live without her.” We have elevated a woman’s sexuality to the point of idolatry in our culture.

The more you have been impacted by the mother-son bonding, the more you are prone to buy into this lie. Our source of strength cannot be the fair-haired woman; this can only be met by God if we are going to be Godly men. Healthy marriage can meet legitimate needs of both partners, but God must be our source for both spouses.

Os Hillman is author of Change Agent, Overcoming Hindrances Fulfill Your Destiny and He is also president of Marketplace Leaders, an organization whose purpose is to help men and women discover and fulfill God’s complete purposes through their work and to view their work as ministry.

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