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Dr. Clive's Blog

Help, thoughts, support and more - right from the Psychologist's chair.

Husband and wife or parent and child

Often working with couples as a counsellor, I see the same dynamic happening over and over. They've come to therapy as a last resort. They're unhappy (or at least one of them is) and there they sit, accusing the other of being the problem. Neither gives any ground. While every couple is unique, what's happening is commonplace. Sooner or later, one of them will say 'it's like being married to a child!' And it's true. One of the partners is usually relying on the other to take the lead, be more responsible for certain things, or one go missing at crucial times. Sooner or later the 'parent' usually gets so tired of calling the shots, of doing the heavy lifting, they start to think "I may as well be single".

It's a sad and lonely place for any partner to come to this conclusion.

Happy relationships are about being partners, collaborators, a team. But here's the problem. Most of us usually enter into a relationship with little awareness of how we are in relationships. Often we are simply repeating what mum and dad did. And Mum and Dad may not have been partners. They may not have collaborated. One may have dominated and the other submitted (sometimes to keep the peace or maybe just for their own protection).

So do you dominate? Do you yell and they go quiet? Do you sneak off, have secrets or simply try to avoid your partner? Do you tell them that what they are thinking is wrong? Stupid?

What about being submissive? Are you actually scared of your partner's anger? Does your mind go blank when they question you? Do you hear yourself saying 'it's better to be quiet and keep the peace? If I just keep quiet this will soon all boil over'.

Take a moment. Remember your own family. Are you following in the footsteps of one of your parents? Did dominating work? Did being submissive lead to a happy marriage?

Don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Dominating and being submissive lead to an unequal relationship and we usually call that dynamic a dictatorship, not a relationship. And remember no one likes a dictatorship. People will do anything to escape. Dictators may seem powerful but they're often lonely. Successful relationships are about partnerships and the truth is you may never have seen a collaborative relationship in practice, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. It doesn't mean it isn't possible. It simply means you need to learn some new skills.

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