Does your marriage function like a parent-child relationship?

We can also experience a lack of attraction (obviously being married with a pseudo parent-figure isn’t attractive), anxiety, and if it continues for long enough, contempt. Contempt is a relationship killer.

Think about when you and your spouse have discussed your marriage whether positively and negatively. Did you walk away feeling or thinking, "I'm not your child, and I don't like it when you speak to me that way?" or "I'm not your child, and I don't like it when you treat me that way?"

Here’s how you can tell if you're in a parent-child marriage (take a deep breath before reading):

1. There is an attempt to control or be “rule-makers.”
Giving ultimatums or punishments are common signs of a parent-child dynamic. Think back to when this happened to you as a child and how helpless and powerless you felt. Adults feel the same. Ask yourself: Do I feel this way in my marriage?

2. There is enabling.
Enabling is when we do something for someone when they could do for themselves, and this leads to negative consequences, long-term. This is common when spouses come from codependent homes. Ask yourself: Am I “bent on” helping my spouse when he/she doesn’t need my help; or ask for my help?

3. There is acting out to get needs met.
Examples: spouse disappears, turns off phone for periods of time, acts out emotionally with someone else, ignores, gets angry, retaliates, draws from an addiction, or makes “you never” or “wait until you need something” statements. Ask yourself: What have I noticed in my spouse when I have said, “no, I can’t do that” or “why can’t you do it for yourself?”

These behaviors are child-like that often show emotional unavailability.

4. There is a belief spouses can and should meet all our needs.
Children attempt to have every need met by their parent figures, which is impossible. Ideally, (with time), we learn to accept people’s limitations. Ask yourself: How do I feel when my spouse can’t meet my need? Or when he/she wants to change my need to something he/she thinks is more reasonable?

5. There is a belief that people can mind-read.
Children are in an egocentric place of development where they believe that people can read their minds. Sometimes, we carry this expectation into adulthood. To have our needs met, we must clearly communicate. Ask yourself: “How do I feel when I think my spouse should know what I need/want without asking (they know me well), but I don’t receive it?”

If you notice these dynamics in your marriage, don’t panic. It’s quite common to fall into these patterns. However, if we stay in these patterns, resentment can build. We can also experience a lack of attraction (obviously being married to a pseudo parent-figure isn’t attractive), anxiety, and if it continues long enough – contempt. Contempt is a relationship killer.

Here’s how to get out of this pattern:

1. Have an open conversation about the parent-child dynamic. Change starts with transparency. (Remember, as a rule of thumb, men withhold their feelings, but not their thoughts. Women divulge both their feelings and thoughts. Be careful, don’t allow feelings to get in the way).

2. Set boundaries for yourself and ask to set for your spouse.

3. Notice when you’re entering the “parent mode.” Be honest with yourself and understand the underlying feelings you’re having (usually frustration or fear).

4. Clearly communicate your needs but be ready to not have them all met. Sometimes, we have to find a workable need that fits the marriage and not the individual.

5. Work together on your emotional maturity and how you cope with stress/relationship conflict. Identify weaknesses from strengths in each person’s emotional maturity. Be gentle when you’re identifying weaknesses.

TIP: Compliment each weakness with a strength. This gives balance.

6. Learn healthy repair (see step 5 above). If you’re still practicing emotionally immature behavior, it is a sign you’re still unhealthy and need further healing. Healthy repair reveals changed behavior. Talk this through with your spouse. Ask your spouse: What does healthy repair look like for our marriage?

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