(LifeWire) -- Kristen Rounds, 26, admits that she's a little gaga over her man. "I'm like his mommy," the Monterey Park, California, resident says with a laugh about her fiancÚ, a first-year medical student.
Case in point: She picks out his clothes before they go out, styles his hair, makes his lunches (complete with "I love you" notes inside) and takes it upon herself to apply the toothpaste before handing him his toothbrush each night.
And then there's bathing. "When he's in the shower, he calls me in to wash his back," says Rounds, a publicist.
Over-the-top behavior? Rounds says no way. "He loves to be taken care of."
It's a scenario familiar to many relationship experts, who say that first comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes the husband in the baby carriage.
Nurturing gene on overdrive
Women find themselves mothering their husbands because of societal pressures to be the ultimate woman, says Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"We've been taught that the way to show love is to do for others," she says. And, according to Schwartz, some women believe that the more they nurture, the better a woman they are.
"I was at a dinner party once," she says, "and I watched a woman lean over and start cutting up her husband's meat."
A bad idea? "It can work for some people," says Les Parrott, a clinical psychologist, an author on marriage and relationship topics, and a professor at Seattle Pacific University. He describes one couple he knows: "She packs his suitcase for him and takes care of him like a little kid. But it works for them."
Even so, Parrott and other experts are quick to point out that while a certain amount of nurturing is harmless, it can escalate and lead to relationship trouble.
"First you're tucking in his shirt," Schwartz says, "then you're wiping his mouth, and at some point, it's going to become a problem."
It was a problem for New York City resident Linda Franklin's marriage.
"As a woman who mothered her husband for too many years, I can report it's about the worst thing a woman can do," says Franklin, 55, a writer and lifestyle coach for female baby boomers. "It makes your man lazy, unwilling to be proactive in his own health care and for the most part a boy who refuses to grow up. It took me a long time to understand you can be compassionate and loving without being smothering and controlling."
Franklin says she resisted the urge to mother her husband so much, and the result has been a happier marriage.
Blame it on the hormone oxytocin, says Florida-based psychologist and social worker LeslieBeth Wish. "It makes women feel tender, close and cuddly to their newborn and other children, and maybe husbands, too."
Endorphins also play a role, says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California, and the author of "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage." "Endorphins flow heavily in new mothers, and [they] are the same hormones we feel when we connect to a husband. It's pretty easy to confuse the two."
How to tone down the 'mommy'
Ever found yourself nagging your husband to take his daily multivitamin -- or, worse, bringing it to him with a glass of water? Don't go there, Schwartz says. Instead, "put it on the table, tell him you love him and then shut up."
The same goes for other coddling behaviors, like pestering him to eat his vegetables. Too much of this type of communication, she says, and your relationship is likely to signal an S.O.S.
Babying the man in your life can mean two things, Tessina says: A. You've been spending too much time being mommy and may need a break from the kids, or B. You need more adult contact, whether it be a weekend away with the girls or a few hours at the mall while the kids are with a sitter.
Tessina says that normal nurturing -- cooking for him, massaging him, tending to him when he's sick -- can feel motherly if you're too controlling about it. "Instead, tell him what you'd like to do to help him, and ask him if he wants that kind of help. This evens the field and makes you equals," she says.
And, if you catch yourself talking to him as if he's your child, switch modes, Tessina says. "Exaggerate to make a joke out of it: 'Would snuggy-uggums wike a widdle kissy?' followed by 'God -- I am so tired of talking baby talk, but I can't seem to change gears!' "
Bottom line, Schwartz says: A normal amount of nurturing is fine, but to keep a relationship healthy, show your affection in a respectful way. After all, one thing is certain, she says: "He doesn't want to be married to his mother." E-mail to a friend
LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Sarah Jio's work has appeared in "Gourmet," "Health," "O, The Oprah Magazine," and many other publications.
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