Secrets from counseling

by Lesley on September 7, 2012 · 3 comments

in lessons learned

Did I get ya with that title? Do you think you’re going to hear about all the deep, dark things I learned at counseling? Nah. You’re not. Most of them aren’t very deep and dark anyway…but a few weeks ago I promised to share something everyone can benefit from.

A big nugget of wisdom I’ve taken away from my time with Lori (counselor) is the realization that in a marriage relationship, it’s common for people to take on parent and child roles. Here’s an example from

Bob complains that his wife, Sue, is nagging, overbearing and controlling.  He says, “She won’t leave me alone doc.  She’s always on me about something I’ve got to do and micromanaging me the entire time.”  Meanwhile Sue says, “Of course I do!  If I didn’t push, nothing would get done around here.  Bob’s just not responsible.”  Strike any chords?

Essentially, Sue is playing the role of “parent” spouse to Bob’s “child” spouse.  Just as a parent naturally is in charge of a small child, Sue is trying to be in control of Bob.  Similar to how children react to overbearing parents, Bob has reacted by becoming defensive, avoidant, and passive-aggressive.  In this parent-child dynamic both partners are seeking to control the other.  This invariably results in an unhappy relationship.

Really interesting, right? If you’re married I’m certain you’ve seen this dynamic at least once before.  Fortunately in our marriage, the parent and child roles don’t emerge too often. But I think both of us would admit to taking on these roles at various times. When we do, it’s easy to send the other person deeper into their role. So when I’m controlling and demanding– (“You NEVER _______” and “You really should just do _______”) then Jonathan is more apt to keep sitting on the couch and watching the Seahawks game…which just makes me angry, which just makes me more controlling and demanding. The cycle could really go on and on and on if one of us doesn’t decide to act like an adult.

And that’s really the goal, people. Act like an adult- not a parent, not a child.

It’s important to understand the tendency to take on these roles in a marriage, but it’s equally important to realize these roles can also make an appearance in friend, sibling and other relationships too. (I’ve actually even seen it with a former boss and employee in one of my first jobs out of college. Yikes.)  If you are in any kind of strained relationship, I’d encourage you to really ask yourself- “Am I acting like an adult right now?”

{And that’s the end of today’s public service announcement.}

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I've seen that inmarriages and workplaces too, Lesley. In extreme cases between couples, it's stomach-churning! What really worries me though is that Jonathan is a Seahawks fan. Is there any hope of recovery from such a condition? Tim P.S. Thanks again for stopping by on my blog's opening day Monday!


This is very interesting and definitely true.... how do you get out of this situation though without sacrificing the end-result? ;)


"that’s really the goal, people. Act like an adult- not a parent, not a child." Million dollar phrase, right there. Good stuff!