Staying Adult

When someone close to us gets upset, it’s very hard not to nurture them. We wrap our arms around them and want to take away their pain. In short, we become somewhat like a parent in that moment. When another person gets angry with us – in the traffic, at work, or at home, it’s very hard not to get upset or angry. In a way, we become somewhat like a child in that moment. These reactions are very normal and even necessary, as long as they are just moments in time and not all of the time.

You can’t spend the whole day parenting others or having child like reactions. Most of the time we need to stay adult. The adult in us is a rational, problem-solving, decision-making machine. We get through our days functioning as adults. We slip into parent mode when it’s necessary – to comfort someone or to gently chastise a child. We slip into child mode when it’s necessary – to release our feelings of anger, sadness or excitement. But then we revert back to our natural state – the adult who is able to function normally.

Problems arise in relationships when the two people spend most of the time in either parent or child mode. The dynamic is really unhealthy because one person feels like they are being treated as a child and not respected in any way and the other one feels as if they are carrying their partner through life, always having to remind them to do something or reprimanding them for doing something wrong. Over time, resentment builds up and attraction fades. Intimacy disappears and the relationship is in trouble.

Think about how you speak to your partner. Do you ever talk to them as if they were a child? Would you speak this way to a close friend? Would you react like this if a workmate asked you for some help? The sad thing is that we often treat our friends and workmates better than we treat our partners. That’s because we usually treat our friends and workmates as adults.

So the next time you hear yourself saying: It’s as if I have another child in the house, try to imagine how you would handle things if a workmate had forgotten to do something. And the next time you hear yourself saying: How could you? You mustn’t love me any more, try to imagine how you would speak to a friend who had let you down. Practice treating each other as adults and notice how much closer you feel and how quickly the resentment starts to fade.

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