I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I try to parent my husband.
It’s not that he isn’t a capable, functional adult; he really is. It’s just that I’m an emotionally intense wife who is addicted to getting stuff done, while he is a sweet, easygoing husband who sometimes has a hard time actively engaging in tasks. If I am not careful, I can nag, coddle, and condescend; all the while failing to acknowledge that my attitude is the biggest problem. I forget that he is not an overgrown kid, but rather the head of my home and the love of my life.
In the times when I am careful, however, I have discovered several techniques for how to stay out of the parent/child frame of mind. I share those tips with you here and hope that you, too, can stop parenting your partner and, instead, start loving your spouse.
Handle your emotions like an adult
Without realizing it, you have probably fallen into a pattern of arrogance, anger or apathy. Your husband is not responsible for your reactions. As a grown woman, you can take control of your emotions and behaviors so that they are no longer contributing to the problem.
It took me a good long time for this concept to sink in. It’s so easy to get frustrated with my husband when I know he hasn’t started his homework yet, but his neglect does not excuse my immaturity. With frequent prayer, I am able to face situations like an adult, too, and stop internally accusing him of being a child.
Kick the nagging habit
We all have moments when we forget to do things that others, even our beloved spouses, ask us to do. Constant reminders of those tasks, namely nagging, says that you don’t believe in your husband’s competence and you believe your needs are more important than his. When you catch yourself doing this, slow down, rethink your expectations and learn to let the little things go.
If your husband has asked for reminders about tasks you would like him to do, come up with a simple, emotionally neutral way of doing so. For example, my husband has a whiteboard near where he does homework. He reserved a corner of it for me, where I can write, “Babe, would you please…” and he can cross things off the list as he gets around to them without any further reminder from me.
Replace any physical cues that say “mother” with cues that say “wife.”
I am a physically affectionate person, so I am constantly touching my husband. However, when I have the subconscious mindset of mothering him, these gestures can get on his nerves. That’s why I try to actively think of him in terms of “that big strong man I married” when we have physical contact. I also take opportunities to literally look up to him.
I also try to look a little dressy for him when he gets home. It’s OK if dinner takes a few minutes longer as a result. After all, we should still court our husbands after marriage, and the message that we are impressed by their manliness is one of the most attractive ones we can send. Conversely, few things are as emasculating as “Oh, you poor widdle boy!” when something goes wrong.
Stop trying to compensate
Even if your husband doesn’t always contribute as much as you would hope, picking up his slack all the time is just going to make you worn out and your spouse feel irrelevant. This, in turn, leads to frustration and low self-esteem; neither of which helps the two of you function as a loving team that works toward real solutions. It may be time to lower your expectations or call on outside assistance in the form of a cleaning service, an organizational app, or even a counseling professional.
Something that works really well in my marriage is to ask for help at times when my husband is available to do it, not after I am worn out from doing a million things. If he’s browsing the Internet on his phone, I could feel annoyed that he didn’t offer to help with dinner. Or, I can just kindly ask him to come help. A kind request immediately, rather than an exhausted criticism later, reminds us both that he has strengths to contribute to our marriage. It affirms that we are equal partners.
Take responsibility for yourself
When I feel like I’m mothering my husband, it usually means I am taking responsibility for his actions. However, he is an adult and perfectly capable of making his own choices. Yes, his actions do affect me, but I trust him to take actions that benefit both of us. Even if he didn’t, I only have control over my responses to his choices, not the choices themselves.
Consider what you are doing in your own life that makes it rewarding or meaningful. Can you think of anything? If the list seems short, it may be a sign that you are basing your worth on your husband’s choices rather than your own. This naturally creates a mother/child dynamic as well as limiting the joy you bring to your marriage. Next time you catch yourself parenting your husband, spend that energy on something that you enjoy instead. Then bring the satisfaction you feel back into the situation, and notice how unimportant it seems now.
Wives can be a powerful force for good in their husbands’ lives, but only if they love them as equals. Rather than getting angry, manipulative, or desperate, we can rationally persuade, gently encourage, and lovingly respect our husbands. This invites them to protect, provide, and lead in our homes like any good man should.