The Parkers Need Therapy
I’ve heard people say that they come from dysfunctional families but they always have each other’s backs. I’m not sure if I agree with that or would even want it to be true. Why trust someone that has repeatedly hurt you? I’m guessing that this is the point that Kindred (Harry Osborn) has been trying to make since he arrived in Peter’s life. Kindred told Spider-Man "You accused me before of going after the people you loved. That's not true. I haven't done anything to them. You have, though." (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 5) #54) Peter almost always saves the day when it comes to saving the lives of his loved ones, but he has done them no favors when it comes to their mental health. The reason for that is complex and is deeply rooted in his family dynamics with his aunt May and wife, Mary Jane.
Peter is Aware of the Damage that Being Spider-Man Does
Peter doesn't set out to hurt his loved ones and of course has saved their lives many times. At the same time, he even questions why he is Spider-Man. When he was in college, he told himself "I was just a young, unthinking teenager when I first became Spider-Man. But the years have a way of slipping by, of changing the world about us, and every boy sooner or later must put away his toys and become a man." (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #50) That intention clearly didn't last long, and he still says he enjoys being Spider-Man. In that way, he hasn't matured from his teen years.
Peter Treats his Friends Poorly
His personal life can be chaotic but he’s a grown man that makes excuses for his behavior. Betty Leeds decided that she still loved Peter, even after marrying Ned. Ned was understandably furious about this and demanded that Peter tell them if he was going to stand between them and ruin their marriage. Betty told Peter to say that they cared for each other. Peter made a lousy decision and told her “Care? Don’t make me laugh, Betty. You were just convenient, you showed up when Mary Jane jilted me.” She slapped him in response. (Amazing Spider-Man #195) Yes, he was conflicted about how he felt about Betty and the fact that she was married but it didn’t bother him too much. Betty had kissed him suddenly and he didn’t exactly fight back. (Amazing Spider-Man #188)
Peter flat out manipulated Deb Whitman and really treated her badly. He went on dates with her but was never really interested. On one date, Deb noticed how happy he looked and assumed it was because of her. He was actually thinking of the sexy new neighbor that had move into their apartment building. Deb kissed him and he was surprised at it but thought to himself “to me she’s a nice kid. Period.” That changed when Deb started seeing Biff Rifkin. He left them alone but kept thinking about the kiss. (Amazing Spider-Man #216) At the Physics Department, he noticed that Deb was back from an absence and she was surprised he had noticed. Peter offered to buy her some coffee but she left with Biff. He left, unsure how he felt about her. (Amazing Spider-Man #218) At a Renaissance fair, she wanted to see some art and he was uninterested. He just couldn’t see her as girlfriend material. Deb left when he talked to Alicia Master more than her. (Marvel Two In One #90)
It all ended very badly when Deb figured out Peter’s secret. She was afraid that she was losing her mind and started seeing a psychiatrist. (Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #72) She still suspected Peter was Spider-Man but constantly second guessed herself. Peter eventually went to her apartment dressed as Spider-Man and let her take his mask off. She came to the conclusion that he had dressed up as Spider-Man to help her get over her paranoia and she thanked him. She then left New York to start her life over again. (Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #74) It was abusive and manipulative of Peter to let Deb think that she had lost her mind. When she doubted her own memories and her sanity, she was showing signs of abuse called "gaslighting."
Aunt May Needs to Back Off
May doesn't respect boundaries in Peter's life. May has always been concerned about her nephew to the point of being possessive. Any time he tries to assert himself, she cuts him down. He wanted to travel to Hollywood (to accept an offer to star in a movie, a message delivered to him by the Green Goblin under false pretense) but May initially refused to let him leave, telling him he is too fragile. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #14) As a college student, she went to get him milk when he claimed to be sick, despite her friend Anna Watson telling her that she babies him. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #94) When he dropped out of graduate school, she was ashamed of him and refused to speak with him for quite a while. She told him that the opinion of a silly old woman didn't matter to him. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #271) She was giving him the silent treatment, which is a form of emotional abuse. She used silence to punish Peter for leaving school. The silence went on for an extended time and was used to make him feel guilty. The long term effects on Peter caused him anger and distress.
May really has zero respect for Peter's relationships with other women. While she approves of Mary Jane, she often crosses boundaries in their relationship. Mary Jane had taken a modeling job, which included some racier photos to be taken. May opened the envelope containing them in their apartment and fainted from shock. MJ found her and May apologized for fainting but she didn't approve of the pictures. She told Mary Jane that she knew they would do the right thing but if the photos caused Peter any embarrassment, she'd "dock" MJ. They laughed because she meant to say "deck," as in punch. MJ decided that she didn't want to take photos like that and burned them. (Web of Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #43) Later on, she walked in on Peter and MJ in bed to bring them milk and cookies, and claimed to forget that they were married. (Web of Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #50) Either May was showing signs of cognitive decline or she was asserting power and control over both of their lives. She’s never been shown to have any kind of mental health issues.
Years after those events, Peter's mind was taken over by Otto Octavius. He called himself the Superior Spider-Man and began a relationship with a scientist named Anna Maria Marconi. May had been unaware that Anna Maria was a little person, and was rude when she met her. Later, she told "Peter" that she was concerned about any potential health concerns that their children may have. She also forbade "Peter" from working with Spider-Man at Parker Industries. Otto flew into a rage, stunned that May would dare to forbid him from doing something. (Superior Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #24) Otto is a grandiose narcissist but in this instance, he was right to be insulted.
Peter Prioritizes May Above Others
Peter owes his aunt for much in his life. She and Ben took Peter in as an infant despite being poor. He was indirectly responsible for the death of his uncle, whose death made providing for him even more difficult. At the same time, their relationship is a little too closely tied together. After Harry Osborn became the second Green Goblin, he kidnapped Mary Jane, Flash Thompson and May Parker. He told Spider-Man that they were being held in three different locations and the one he cared about most was attached to a bomb. (Flash Thompson was an option? Harry should have put more thought into the choices.) Spider-Man went to save his aunt, which proved to be the correct guess. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #137) Not that long after, he was fighting for his life against Spencer Smythe's spider slayer robot. It was when he thought of Mary Jane that he found the strength to break free from the robot. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #150) You could say that Peter had fallen for MJ in the span of those issues but he still kept a strong attachment to his aunt.
Early in his marriage, Peter gave up his powers. Yet in the same issue, he went after the Tarantula. His thoughts were that if he died, he hoped May would understand. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #341) In a moral dilemma, he went to ask May if a powerless person should help a person in danger. She said that they should, or wouldn't be welcome in her house. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #343) Considering that he had just gotten married, Mary Jane would have been the more appropriate person to talk to about these decisions. Of course, I have to mention the offer made by Mephisto to save May's life after she was shot. He could save her in return for ending Peter and Mary Jane's marriage. The deal was ultimately made by MJ herself but Peter was still unable to make a decision. He actually had to think about saving his elderly, comatose aunt's life (even after she told him in a mind reading session with Madame Web that she was at peace with dying in Sensational Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #39) with the price being the rest of his life with his wife. The deal was made, May survived the gunshot and Mephisto changed history so that Peter and Mary Jane never married. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #545)
Mary Jane’s POV
MJ is an enabler, which is someone that contributes to continued maladaptive or pathological behavior in another person. The enabler is usually a friend or loved one that quietly allows or unknowingly encourages the bad behavior in the other person. The enabler is often aware of the dangers of the other person's actions but feels unable to stop them. She complains about Peter breaking promises to stop being Spider-Man but never upholds consequences. During "Maximum Carnage," she wanted Peter to stay away from the rioting and mass murder happening in Manhattan but he didn't. When he returned home with broken ribs, she tried to bandage his abdomen. He didn't help his case when his enemy, Venom, came to him for help after being defeated by Carnage. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #378) Mary Jane left the apartment, refusing to watch him be killed. (Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #35)
Despite it all, she still encourages him to be Spider-Man. She frequently complains about the fear she feels, wondering if he will come home safely. Other times she tells him to go after someone, such as when the Chameleon discovered Spider-Man's identity. (Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #244) Sometimes she fixes his costume for him. (Spectacular Spider-Man #225 & Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #22)
Mary Jane's relationship with Spider-Man is complex, to put it mildly. As a college student that had only just met Peter Parker, she saw Spidey as a thrill seeker, a fellow free spirit. However, being his wife has been a reality check for her. She has had to lie for Peter and his absences, to the point of committing crimes in doing so. When the Stalker/Mad Bomber was terrorizing her, the lives of innocent civilians were in danger. She and Aunt May had been put into protective custody by the F.B.I., which proved ineffective when the bomber managed to attack the building she was being held in. The Bureau needed more information from her, besides what she had told them about the harassing phone calls, threats and bombings. They wanted to know more about Spider-Man's involvement as well as an explanation as to why Peter was always missing. She told them that he had personal business to attend to that night and she didn't know where he was located. (Peter Parker: Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #12)
While leaving a hospital after seeing Kristy Watson, Peter asked how she was coping. She blew up in frustration over her life savings being tied up in court, her modeling career was on hold, and they were living with Peter's aunt. The needs of everyone else were taking priority over her own. (Web of Spider-Man #54) She was right to be angry, she is routinely asked to make sacrifices for Spider-Man. I'm not sure if Peter consciously lies to Mary Jane but he does often tell her that he'll not be Spider-Man for some relatively short amount of time and then doesn't do it. When they accidentally met in the Denver airport, he asked her to come back to him. He was nothing without her. She did come back to New York but nothing changed. (Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #50) This is a form a manipulation called "hoovering." The manipulator pulls at the heart strings of the target to get them to come back. Years later, Spider-Man and Boomerang left Mary Jane with a creature from another dimension called Gog. It was capable of growing to huge sizes, and had in fact just climbed a skyscraper after it's size controlling neck brace was destroyed by Bullseye. Bullseye had been hired by Wilson Fisk, so Spider-Man and Boomerang left Gog with MJ to deal with Fisk. Leaving Gog with the Fantastic Four or Avengers might have been a better idea. (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 5) #62)
The Parker family has a lot of issues with respecting each other's boundaries. May treats Peter like a child, and he lets her do it. Peter puts his aunt ahead of his wife, girlfriends and friends. May disrespects Mary Jane and his other girlfriends, while still acting sweetly towards them. It's a Karpman drama triangle in comic book form. Any woman that Peter dates can expect to be on the outside of the three of them. Mary Jane, at the same time, needs to work on her self esteem and learn that she can do better.