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  • Why am I parenting my partner?

    I recently had a client ask me what was going on that sometimes he acted like a parent to his partner. I had to give that question quite a bit of thought to offer a potential explanation.

    Overall, I think it comes down to your sense of safety in a relationship. Consciously or unconsciously we are always striving to be safe. So, the balance of power in a relationship is always in our awareness. Much like when walking in a strange neighborhood we are highly attuned to who is around us and do they look safe or dangerous? 
    This client had just transitioned to a new environment, living with his partner, sharing finances, talking about buying a house together, etc. The partner had more resources (assets) than the client, and in this new environment, the partner was in a position of more power, the client moved into his partner's home, the partner helped pay some credit card debt, the partner had a better credit score, and the client experienced some loss of independence as he gave up his apartment and moved to a new part of the city. The partner was doing more of the leading and my client was doing more of the following. It makes perfect sense that it is this way, but it also can set off the emotional alarms in your unconscious that there is an imbalance of power. Past abuse can also make someone very sensitive to imbalances of power in relationship, too.
    One way to bring the balance of power back in the client's direction is to become more directive, expressing wants and needs more (which is also a good thing), insisting on having things your way, telling your partner how things should be (being parental) or what to do, looking for quid pro quo circumstances (you got this so I should have this), etc.
    Seeking to balance the power will happen unconsciously, its just part of being human, trying to ensure your safety. If your partner really does want to control you, then its an adaptive response to the situation. But if your partner really isn’t trying to control you, and its more a function of the situation (resource imbalance) then it can be destructive to the relationship. Your partner may feel confused or unappreciated or disrespected as a result.
    Being aware of this dynamic can help prevent it from escalating. When you notice yourself being parental, stopping yourself and asking the question “What do I really need right now? Is this control that I am exercising over another human being really what I need? What’s going on inside me?” By asking these types of questions, we can bring ourselves out of the immediate moment and gain more perspective on what is happening and what you really need for yourself. Refocus on yourself, rather than on what your partner is or isn’t doing. Perhaps you just need a hug, or some reassurance. 
    This is just one possible explanation for why someone might act like a parent in a marriage or partner relationship. I hope sharing this can help illuminate how complicated being human really is.