March 15, 2017

What to Do When Your Spouse Scolds You Like a Parent Would a Child

Written by Rachel Eddins

Wife scolding her husband like a parent

Few things are as humiliating as when your spouse scolds you like a parent would scold a little child.

It’s demeaning when your boss criticizes you in an unkind way, but it’s crushing when this sort of treatment comes from the person you love and cherish.

Of course, conflict is part of any relationship. At times, it may even escalate into a full blown angry argument.

But a consistent parent-child dynamic in a marriage is unhealthy and destructive.

Instead of nurturing mutual respect and understanding, it creates an imbalance in power that causes frustration, resentment, low self-esteem, and ultimately destroys any marital satisfaction.

What can you do if your spouse frequently nags and scolds you like a parent?

white couple kissing with red heart in front of faces couples therapy

What to Do When Your Spouse Has Fallen Into the “Acting Like a Parent” Trap

Keep in mind that neither one of you probably created the parent-child dynamic on purpose. But there are specific factors that can lead to this problem in a romantic relationship, including:

  • personal attitudes,
  • patterns passed on by your own parents, and even
  • cultural expectations. *

To create an effective communication dynamic based on an adult-adult model, consider taking the following steps:

1. Analyze your part in it

As with any other relationship conflict, there are always two sides to the matter. “But, wait! I’m not the one being condescending and demeaning,” you may say. “It’s my spouse. I’m not doing anything.” And maybe that is exactly your part in the issue.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I often reluctant to take on a task? Why?
  • Do I simply forget because I’m tired from work?
  • Am I feeling unsure about being able to handle the responsibility?
  • Do I perhaps not consider the matter to be my duty?
  • Am I prone to procrastinating and putting off a chore because I want to finish watching the Houston-Denver football game or the next Matt Houston episode online?
  • Or have I actually tried doing it, couldn’t seem to complete the task to the satisfaction of my spouse, and simply found it easier to let them handle the matter?

2. Communicate like adults

A healthy marriage is based on love, trust, and respect. You may feel that by acting like a parent, your spouse is not showing respect or appreciation for you. But they may also feel that by your reluctance to handle tasks, you depreciate and disrespect all they do.

Talk to your spouse when you’re both calm. Be open, honest, and respectful.

Find out what goes through your spouse’s mind before they lash out.

  • What are they feeling?
  • What exactly is bothering them?

Then, explain your concerns. Tell them how you feel when you’re being scolded. Ask what you can do to cause them less frustration.

It’s give and take. You will both have to make adjustments.

3. Conquer the parent-child pattern as a team

Put your daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities on a list. Decide together how they could be shared in the most ideal way for your family.

Write it out, so that both of you are clear on what your individual responsibilities are and what they encompass.

If the quality of either of your work becomes an issue, discuss your differences of opinion.

Show trust in each other’s capabilities. Give one another commendation and express appreciation for handling responsibilities conscientiously.

white couple learning to communicate in an adult-adult dynamic

Next Steps

If you and your spouse have a hard time applying these suggestions, you may want to consider seeking the help of a counselor.

Couples therapy can help you respond constructively to interrupt this bad communication pattern and make a successful transition from a parent-child dynamic to an adult-adult relationship. 

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online with one of our Houston, Montrose, or Sugar Land therapists.

(Note: In many cultures, the role of caregiver traditionally falls to women. For that very reason, it’s often women that slip into the pattern of treating their husbands like a parent would a child. However, men can also fall into that trap.)

older black couple smiling

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