When It Feels Like You’re “Parenting Your Partner” in a Relationship


Nagging is common, and unwelcome, in relationships.

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.

How Do Couples Wind Up in Parenting-Like Dynamics?

Learning how to stop blaming others begins with examining childhood experiences. Were you blamed by your parents, like the little girl pictured?

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.

What Happens When Someone Feels Like They’re Being “Parented” in a Relationship?

Holding onto resentment like the angry woman pictured not only hurts you, but hurts those around you.

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 get 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.

How Do We Stop Parenting Our Partners?

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. Can you tell your mate, “Wow, I just sounded like my mother/father” or “Wow, that sounded just like me when I was twelve?” If so, you may 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?


Develop Better Communication Patterns to Reset the Situation

Read a Book About Making Relationships Work

'Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship.' A book by Linda Nusbaum.

Learn more about how to communicate with your spouse by reading Linda’s book, Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship. It has conflict resolution strategies, tips for feeling heard, and suggestions on how to express your love and celebrate your relationship. Give it a read.

Get Couples Counseling

Come in for couples counseling. Couples counseling can help you and your loved one get the most out of your relationship. It'll equip you with coping strategies and tools for communication that can help you argue less and love more.

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