When One Person Feels Like the Parent

Sometimes in a relationship one person feels like they are being told what to do.  This situation usually feels awful.  The one being told often feels like a child. It also puts the one who is directing in the awkward position of sounding like a parent.

I see this situation in some couples.  Both have dug in to their positions. They may have figured out a way to survive the imbalance, but both remain annoyed at the other person and sometimes there’s even resentment.

So what causes this difficulty?  I believe it stems from the roles we assumed when we were young.  If you were the oldest child, you might have bossed around your younger siblings.  You might also be comfortable taking care of others.  You meet your mate and you just naturally fit into your role of taking care of your mate and telling him or her what to do.  That’s a behavior and a way of communicating that you learned from your family and it worked there, but your partner might not want to hear your guidance.  He or she may not be interested in being directed.

Being told what to do can remind a person of being a child, and a misbehaving child at that.  No one wants to feel they are in trouble, but being told what to do and being reminded that you are not doing things right can feel that way.  The person who is always directed or criticized may want to rebel, just like they did when they were a teenager.

Teens like to ignore their parents.  Maybe you use this technique on your mate.  Sometimes teens like to roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders; another way to disregard the advice giver.

When couples are locked in these roles, one is the boss the other is the disrespecting child, no one wins.  Both feel cheated.  The one who does the directing feels disrespected.  The one who does the ignoring feels hounded.  No one feels good yet many couples suffer in this way.

What to do?  The first step is to understand your predicament.  Get some awareness of the role you are playing in the relationship.  Come to grips with how it feels.  Do you feel dissatisfied?  That’s the place to start.  Understanding that you are not happy is the first stage.  Listening to yourself direct the other or ignore is the next step.  Hearing yourself be a parent or the child and noticing when you are in the middle of reacting.  If you can   say to your mate, “Wow, I just sounded like my mother/father,” or “Wow, that sounded just like me when I was twelve,” you will begin to notice your automatic response.

The next step is saying something authentic like, “I don’t want to have this back and forth with you anymore.”  That would be the beginning of true conversation, not just knee-jerk responses.

You could also turn to couples counseling. Clinicians are able to help couples find new ways to communicate so everyone wins.  Both of you want to feel loved, appreciated and supported.  Isn’t life too short to feel anything else?

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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Always Mad at Your Mate

One tip off that you are perpetually mad at your partner is how you feel when you are about to see them.  Does the thought of being with him or her excite you?  If so, this is a sign that you are in a healthy relationship.  But if the idea of spending time with your mate drives you up a wall, or even makes you tense up, you may want to take a closer look at your partnership.

If you get stressed out while driving home, or if you get stressed out when your loved one is about to return home, you may find yourself living in various stages of distress. This distress can cause chronic stress and anguish.  Maybe you tense up, trying to gage what kind of mood your mate is in.  Maybe you can’t relax until you hear them greet you so you’ll know how to react.  These states cause anxiety, and that condition is hard on any body.

If you live like you walk on egg shells, maybe it’s time to examine your partnership.  Most relationships start off in a good state, as if being there is the best place in the world.  People can’t wait to see the other because they feel so good being around each other. It’s the best time in a relationship; everything is right with the world and the couple is happy.

So what happened to the happy couple? Now they hunker down in their respective positions, waiting to witness and react to the oncoming daily drama.  This is a situation many couples find themselves immersed in.  No one feels good when locked in this routine.   When the situation gets bad enough, some couples seek professional help.

As a counselor I work with many couples in this predicament.  They tell me their stories about how terrible the other person has been.  Both feel empty and wronged by their partner.  Sometimes there’s bitterness, sometimes resentment, in each case there’s loss; loss of what was, that perfect relationship where you both felt terrific.

Couples feel terrible in this state.  As a therapist I am grateful for anything that would bring a couple in for counseling.  I know that what ever feels like a break, is really an opportunity in disguise.  A rupture in a relationship often leaves people feeling vulnerable and at risk.  I see it as fertile ground for growing in new ways with each other.  For me, it’s all about what comes after, helping the couple understand what needs healing and repairing.  That’s when couples learn new bonding skills; how to listen, and how to ask for what each person needs from the other.  Couples learn how to feel connected again.  It’s a way back, a way back to what was good in the first place, a way to remember without all the heartache, another chance to get it right.

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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