When Relationship Partners Act Like Parents or Children Towards One Another

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Marina Edelman, M.A. is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern in private practice in Westlake Village, CA and is a member of CAMFT. Marina ...Read More

Recently Courtney Cox and David Arquette have been in the news announcing their separation. David went on the Howard Stern’s radio show to discuss the demise of his marriage. What came out of the interview is David admitting to taking on the child role in their marriage and Courtney becoming tired of being the mother.

This dynamic is unfortunately very common in marriages and becomes toxic overtime if behavior is not changed. To get a better idea about the dynamic watch some past episodes of “Jon and Kate Plus Eight”. In essence one spouse assumes the parent position while the other spouse assumes the child position. The “parent” partner typically nags, prods, controls, dictates, scolds, and makes most of the decisions. The “parent” can be emasculating at times and cause the “child” partner to harbor resentment. The “child” in turn can be rebellious, immature, passive-aggressive, and irresponsible. I work with many couples every week that portray this dysfunctional pattern.


Intimacy is the first thing to usually go because nobody wants to be intimate with their parent. Nagging and irresponsibility are not sexy traits. Second is communication on a mature intimate level ceases and instead gets replaced with more of a business language. One spouse asks another to do something and then follows up to see if it was done. The one assigned the task usualy doesn’t complete the task on purpose and the cycle continues.


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First acknowledge your perspective roles and agree to change.

Second, the parent partner needs to enlist their partners help in the marriage. It looks like this, instead of assigning a chore discuss a situation with your partner and ask your partner for suggestions and advice on how to handle the issue. Compromise and give the child partner ownership of the task at hand.

Third, the child partner needs to become an active participant in the relationship and not see themselves as the victim. Take charge of chores/situations and see what response you get from your partner.

Keep Reading By Author Marina Edelman, MA
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