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In an ideal relationship, both partners are individuals that come together to be equal participants in the unit.
Unfortunately, ideal doesn’t always happen.
The power dynamic can become unbalanced in a way that undermines the relationship or the mental health of the participants.
A person who treats their partner like a child is one such unhealthy dynamic.
It heavily skews the power in the relationship to the person who is acting in a controlling way.
That can have further consequences as that person may be making decisions about how their partner should conduct their life, which may not be to that person’s benefit.
Both partners need to be able to stand on their own as participants in a loving, equal relationship.
Why does my partner treat me like a child?
“We teach other people how to treat us.” is a common phrase that oversimplifies social interaction and doesn’t do a great job of communicating the idea behind it.
What the sentence is saying is that you determine how other people treat you by allowing or disallowing particular behavior.
Allowing behavior tells the other person that you are okay with it.
In a healthy relationship, that should include positive behavior, civil conflict, and problem-solving.
Disallowing behavior to highlight one’s boundaries communicates to the other person that you are not willing to be treated in a particular way.
It demonstrates that the behavior in question is unacceptable, that you’re not willing to put up with it, and that there will be some repercussions for that action.
Those repercussions might range from conflict to walking away from that social interaction.
When a person treats their partner like a child, it’s often because the partner has demonstrated that they are okay with that treatment.
They may not have a strong sense of self, appropriate boundaries, or feel safe conflicting with the other person.
The behavior may also have slowly crept up unnoticed until it finally becomes noticeable.
That is a problem that needs to be addressed because you can’t rely on other people to have your best interests in mind, even people that claim to love you.
Most of the time, they will default to what is best for them because people tend to be self-interested more than anything else.
So, what can you do about it?
Establish boundaries and equality.
There are a couple of different ways to go about establishing boundaries and working on your sense of self.
It may help to start with a soft approach by talking to your partner and telling them something like:
“I’ve noticed that I’ve been extremely passive in our relationship, and I would like your help in changing that.”
Assuming that the relationship is not abusive and the person is not controlling, this should be enough to get your partner on board with helping you through that change.
They will hopefully agree, and the two of you can better formulate ways for you to take an equal stance in the relationship when it comes to decision making, doing what you want to do, and how you want to do it.
In an unhealthier or potentially abusive relationship, your partner will likely push back hard against your attempts to assert more control over your life.
The reason is that abusers need their victims to be compliant. To make you compliant, an abuser may use violence, verbal, or emotional abuse to make you dependent on them to different levels.
Some people go to extremes; for others, it can appear to be more shallow controlling behavior.
If your attempts to establish some identity and equality in the relationship are met with hostility and anger, it would be best for you to seek the help of a therapist who can help you navigate the situation safely (i.e. do not attempt the suggestions in the section below).
An abusive controller may escalate their behavior if they feel like you are slipping out from under their grasp, which may put you in danger.
Assuming it is safe for you to do so, you can start taking on more of the responsibilities and decision making processes of the relationship.
If your partner is supportive, this should be easier. You shouldn’t have to assert where your boundaries are regularly.
If that fails, take a firmer approach.
Not all controlling people are abusive, but sometimes it is hard for a controller to turn it off.
A person who goes to work leading a large team may need to maintain control over that team for 12-hour workdays and then have a difficult time turning it off when they get home.
They may also be an independent person who is used to making decisions regularly and just doing what they need to do.
On the other hand, and what is more likely, is that the person is emotionally immature and doesn’t have a good understanding of empathy.
They may not realize that their actions are harmful or unhealthy because that’s all they know.
They haven’t had the opportunity or time to grow and improve as a person or to understand what it takes to be a quality partner in a healthy, loving relationship.
Neither of these things is a “you” problem. That’s a “them” problem that they will need to work on and try to improve if they hope to have a healthy relationship.
In a situation where a partner is controlling, but not necessarily abusive, you may find that you need to remind them of your boundaries as they get used to this change in the relationship.
Use firm, direct language about the situation, such as:
“I earn my own money. I can decide how to spend it.”
“I don’t need to be told how or when to do the dishes.”
“I’m an adult. I don’t need your permission to do XYZ thing.”
You should expect a little back and forth as your partner tries to figure out where the new lines are and how to proceed.
And they will generally do that by pushing a little bit to see where the edge of resistance is.
Hopefully, they will quickly find these new boundaries and accept them as part of the relationship.
Be prepared to break up if it should come to that.
In an ideal world, your desire to be an equal participant in your relationship would be met with love and understanding.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a complicated, messy world where people make bad or selfish decisions all of the time.
The truth of the matter is, if you are a compliant person to your friends or romantic partner, those relationships can drastically change when you stop being so docile.
They change because the person didn’t really love or care about you; they only cared about how they could use your compliance to their benefit.
In establishing your boundaries, you may find that your partner ends up pulling away because the relationship has changed in a way that they don’t necessarily want to be a part of.
That can be a healthy or unhealthy thing, though it is unhealthy more often than not.
You do not want to be entirely dependent on your partner. You want to have the freedom to make choices that are right for you.
Be working if you can, have some savings, and look for options in case things don’t go well.
And if, for any reason, you feel afraid or the situation starts escalating when you try to make changes, seek out professional help before doing anything else!
Still not sure what to do about your partner and the way they treat you? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
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