12 Feb When one partner plays “parent”

When one partner plays “parent” and the other plays “child”:

They say opposites attract, but in practice it’s not always rewarding for couples who have created a relationship dynamic that’s mismatched at some fundamental level.

An oldie but a goody is the “responsible/capable parent” married to the “incapable/helpless child” dynamic.

It’s an arrangement (usually unconscious. Sort of) whereby one partner’s strength as “decision maker/responsible person who is in control of things” interplays with the other partner’s “vulnerable/relatively weak person who needs protection/guidance and gets to avoid taking responsibility”.

These somewhat opposite characteristics seem to dove-tail seamlessly together. Until they don’t.

Whilst this parent/child dynamic “works” for both partners in many arenas, couples come to marriage counselling when they become increasingly aware that it’s limiting their respective personal growth and also their relationship’s growth. In short: when it’s no longer working.

The way forward may be as much about one partner “stepping up” as it is the other partner “stepping down”. Usually this involves new communication skills as well as personal and relationship insights for both parties.

For the “over functioning” partner it’s often about learning to be a better listener, to surrender control over decision making, and gain trust and confidence in the other’s capabilities. And for the “under functioning” partner it’s often about improving self-awareness, learning how to speak up (without fearing that it’s aggressive or inflammatory to say what you’re thinking, feeling, or needing), and to accept responsibility when decisions go right as well as when they occasionally (and inevitably) also go wrong.

Each marriage and relationship is unique, but common questions that I might ask couples wanting a more balanced, collaborative, and equal partnership include:

In what ways do we each individually benefit from our current “parent/child” dynamic?

In what ways does our partnership benefit from this dynamic?

On the other hand, what price do we pay, individually, and as a partnership?

If we were to change the current dynamic, what would we stand to loose? And are we OK about this?

What might we each expect to feel when the dynamic starts changing? Good feelings? Uncomfortable feelings?

When couples want to work at creating a happier relationship, it’s new information, new insights, and new behaviours that will pave the way. Ask yourselves questions (like the ones above) that generate both personal and relationship awareness. Discuss them together. There’s nothing wrong with whatever relationship dynamic that works for you, so long as it also makes you both personally and collectively happy.

Want to learn more about how to create the relationship you’re really wanting? Contact Pamela here. Sunshine Holistic Counselling loves helping couples create relationships that thrive.