Sometimes when we are in an intimate relationship or marriage, our roles can get a little “out of order.” When it comes to a healthy partnership of equals, this can lead to one partner seeking absolute control at the expense of the other’s voice and place in the relationship. In these situations, it can sometimes feel as if one partner is the parent, and one is the child which can then create the parent-child relationship in a marriage that rarely leads to a healthy relationship.

In relationships there can be one partner who acts more like a child than the other. A relationship that typically survives by sharing responsibilities and power is then replaced with the parent-child roles where one has the urge to be more controlling.

So, how do you know if you are parenting your partner in the relationship?

There are obvious signs of someone taking that role as the parent and these can involve:

  • Demanding interactions
  • Financial control
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Blatant disrespect for the other partner
  • Inflexibility in the relationship

Usually, the partner who is considered a “child” may be overly emotional and in this case the “parent” partner may but often psychical, emotional, and/or verbal punishment for expressing any disagreement or any thought whatsoever. The “child” partner can sometimes act out through emotionally immature behavior and poor decision making. This type of relationship often leads to the feeling of walking on eggshells.

Why does this happen? Typically, those relationships that have a child-parent relationship are usually due to there being inequality between the spouses. This is where the spouses are not equal in the relationship. In order for a relationship to be healthy and thrive, both partners need to feel that they are respected, supported, and act in a flexible manner with each other. Both partners need to know that no one is either the parent or the child in the relationship and that they work equally together.

What can be done?

Marriage therapy with a trained professional might be necessary in order to work through that already built parent-child dynamic. During this marriage therapy, the couple often explores the system, rhythms, and stressors that might have led to the uneasiness and eventual imbalance of power between the two. The counselor will give the couple tools designed to bring insight into the relationship, and lasting change and healing.

Let’s remember what a “healthy” relationship and marriage looks like. A marriage is a partnership between two adults that includes mutual love and respect for each other. It can require both partners to be emotionally mature, compromise, sacrifice, forgive and be honest with one another. Those in a relationship will accept each other’s personality, individuality, and lead balanced lives where they nurture their relationship and look after themselves individually.

Here are some tips on how to stop parenting your partner

1. Be direct

Work on not being passive-aggressive. If you want or need your spouse to do something, then be direct and polite and ask them. Work on not making sarcastic comments about the situation. If you are ignored or not heard, then it is important to have an adult conversation with them about the mutual responsibilities that you share.

2. Know your part

Instead of blaming your partner, try acknowledging your part in creating this type of relationship. Work on trying to not lash out, scold or punish your partner when you get frustrated or angry. Acknowledge your part and work on changing how you approach this.

3. Decide and comprise tasks and roles

Make a list and schedule of certain things you each are assigned to do. This will allow you to feel like the relationship is more equal and that everyone is doing their part in the relationship. Strengthen your relationship by deciding who does roles such as housekeeping, parenting, or financial planning. Be willing to communicate what your partner is doing well and what you think might need more attention. Making sure that you communicate what roles and who is responsible for what is important in making sure that you and your partner are having equal responsibilities.

-Kelsey Rosson

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