My partner behaves like a mother or a father, what can I do?

A pair must be composed of two equals. If one overprotects the other, directs or criticizes him, there is a dysfunctional dynamic. We evaluate what to do if my partner behaves like your mother or father.

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 06 March, 2022

If our partner behaves like a mother or father, sooner rather than later we will fall into dissatisfaction and conflict. Therefore, it is convenient to understand what this phenomenon is due to and how we can put an end to it.

More often than we think we confuse the roles in our personal relationships. This can happen to us with our parents, siblings or friends, but it is in romantic relationships where these confusions are most intense.

This distorted dynamic can occur in both directions: Both men and women can feel and act as if they were the parents of their partner, although this happens more often to women.

This type of behavior is so ingrained and normalized that it is often difficult to realize the mistake we are making; however, the consequences are important.

My partner behaves like a mother or father

Both men and women can adopt the role of the parent, although it is more common in women.

There are several noticeable signs that our partner is behaving like a mother or father. As we have commented, this can happen to men and women, but we will speak in feminine for the greater proportion that exists.

  • Carry the mental load. He cares about reminding us what we have to take before leaving home, organizing appointments, keeping an eye on what we need to buy… He keeps all our commitments, obligations and needs in his mind, and takes care of them as if from a secretary or assistant, all with the apparent purpose of making our lives easier.
  • Make the decisions for us. From the clothes we wear to the clients we work with or how we spend our free time. Sometimes these decisions are directly imposed and sometimes they are subtly suggested, but the result is the same: it is the other person who has the reins of our life.
  • constantly scolds or criticizes us. Discuss our tastes, our attitudes and our actions. It seems that he wants to educate us and uses a tone that does not correspond to a conversation with another adult.
  • takes care of everything for us. She washes, cooks, irons, goes to the supermarket, takes care of having the food ready when we arrive, preparing lunch for work and, sometimes, even helping us with our personal hygiene. There is no balance or reciprocity, since the other person does practically everything.
  • Victimized by lack of recognition. You expect his sacrifice to be valued and recognized, and you always feel like you don’t get gratitude from us.

Why are these roles adopted?

For those who do not live it, it can be difficult to understand why someone would treat their partner like this; however, there are several compelling reasons. Among these, those that we will mention below stand out.

Culture and gender roles

We cannot ignore the fact that many of our behaviors are culturally learned patterns and programming. In a traditional way, it has been considered that the value of women was linked to their ability to be “a good wife” and take care of the husband. This belief is still very present in many women and is even transmitted within the family.

Codependency and fear of abandonment

Behind that apparent altruism and sacrifice of those who behave as mothers (or fathers) hides a great fear of abandonment. He does everything for his partner to become essential, so that you need him and can never leave him. She doesn’t consider that she can love him for who she is, so she tries to make her love come from what she does.



Difficulty receiving

A healthy relationship is balanced and reciprocal: both give and take. However, some people they present such a great devaluation that they do not know how to receive not even a compliment. In this case, they dedicate themselves to giving, attending and offering without expecting anything in return.

savior complex

Finally, some women suffer from a savior complex that leads them to dedicate their lives to solving their partner’s problems and difficulties. They usually choose conflictive, complicated and tormented people to be able to exercise this role and, thus, by focusing on the other they avoid facing their own issues by working.



What can I do if my partner behaves like a mother or father?

If we feel that our partner behaves like a father or a mother, the time has come to change the dynamics of the couple.

Although this is a very established dynamic and seems to work (as both roles complement each other), it is important to address it as soon as possible. This confusion can have important consequences such as the following:

  • Difficulties in intimacy, sexual dysfunctions or total absence of sex. This is because no one is attracted to a controlling parent or a spoiled teenager: we are all looking for an equal.
  • Feeling of helplessness and suffocation who suffers from the overprotection of a partner who does not let him live or decide.
  • Frustration at not receiving recognition and the love that you expect from your partner (and that you are buying with your actions)
  • Dissatisfaction in both members of the couple, relationship wear and tear and frequent conflicts.

As we can see, it is an unsustainable situation in the long term; So what can we do to reverse it? There are different options of action which include the following possibilities.

Identify the wrong roles

This is a complicated step, as it is difficult assume that we are playing the role of father / mother or son / daughter with our partner. Let’s reflect on the previous points and if we feel identified with several, let’s not let it go.

accept own responsibility

The member of the couple who acts as a parent is often blamed for their attitudes, but no dynamic is established if both people do not collaborate. A) Yes, Let’s consider how this situation benefits us and how we contribute to it.

It is very comfortable that the other takes care of everything, does not assume responsibilities, does not collaborate at home and does not mature, but this is extremely detrimental to the couple. Let’s accept that the responsibility is also ours.

Set limits and change dynamics

Now that we have identified dysfunctional attitudes, we must make a firm resolution to stop perpetuating them. If we want our partner to stop behaving like our father or our mother, let’s stop acting like a helpless child or an adolescent without criteria.

Let’s take charge of our affairs and obligations, of our tasks and decisions. When our partner is going to take that role again, let’s put a brake and remind him why we are trying to change. Let’s take the first step to rearrange the dynamics.

seek professional help

If these behaviors are deeply ingrained, it can be very difficult to reverse them on our own. This is when professional help can help us identify which specific actions we should modify.

Can help us understand what emotions are hidden behind the roles we play and offer us tools to learn to relate in a healthier way.

Neither parents nor children, life partners

A couple must be an equal, a teammate with whom to work for a common project. A relationship should be made up of two adults who respect, admire and care for each other. If we perceive an imbalance, let us be sure that it will end up affecting our bond. So let’s not postpone the decision and start making changes today.

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