Whether you have kids of your own or not, people joke all the time that if you’re married, you have at least one kid. What a terrible joke, to say that the loves of our lives are mere children! Unfortunately, sometimes we treat our spouses like children.
On The Good Doctor, one of the staff members made a statement (paraphrased below) that describes the difference between parents and spouses: “Parents know their sons as boys, but wives know their sons as men.” How true that is! Even when I was a little girl, I imagined my Prince Charming, not as a little boy but as a mature adult, strong enough to stand by my side and valiantly face whatever life throws at us. Although it is my job to help my husband grow into maturity, why is it so tempting to talk to him like he’s five?
Generally, women are more guilty of talking down to their spouses, but men do it also. I can only speak from the experience as a woman, but I’m sure men could learn from my words as well. In our society, the pendulum has swung in the exact opposite direction, from “submit to your husband” (as in, “your husband can do with you as he pleases”) to “parent your husband.” It may be a control issue, it may be payback for a patriarchal society, it may even be a response to how our spouses were raised, but it’s time that we treat our spouses like adults.
After all, the more you treat your spouse like a child, the more your spouse will act in childish behavior.
Start by praying to see your spouse as an adult. God calls us to maturity, and as spouses, we should be helping our spouses to grow in faith and character. Our spouses should be doing that for us as well. Pray that God would give you eyes to see your spouse the way that God sees him, and pray about your speech and your behavior toward him.
My husband and I do not have any children yet, but we are having conversations about our future parenting styles. If you don’t have children yet, but are treating your spouse like a child, write down or make a mental note of statements you make to your spouse that sound more like a parent than a spouse. After reviewing the words you say, decide if that is even how you would want to parent your children! It can be a learning experience for both of you to talk about how it feels to be spoken to that way, so it might hurt your children if you talk to them that way as well.
Finally, I think we need to stop congratulating our spouses as a form of positive reinforcement. My husband put away some dishes that I left out, and while I appreciate what he did, I didn’t make a huge deal out of it. We are both responsible to keep our space neat and to put everything back in its place. I pick up Lenny’s socks from the floor (NOT all the time!) but no one throws me a party. Why do I have to make such a big deal over Lenny doing me a “favor”? Let’s have a conversation with our spouses about the expectations for our household chores and finances. That way, our spouses will actually do what we expect from them, instead of guessing what we want them to do.
Generally speaking, people work in different rhythms. I may ask my husband to do something for me, and it may take him five minutes just to get up from his chair. In my mind, what I need is an emergency, but in his mind, it can wait. Our conflicting personalities in this way have grown my patience and have grown my husband’s efficiency. Just because he doesn’t get up right when I ask him to, doesn’t mean I should treat him like a child. He’s an adult; he can make his own decision about when to get up from his chair. Unless I’m bleeding or the house is on fire, there is no need for him to rush.
Overall, have grace with yourself and with your spouse. You don’t have to control your spouse; you have to be patient and let him do it in his own time. Your spouse also needs to have patience with you, since it’s frustrating when your spouse treats you like a baby. Have an honest talk about the communication in your marriage, and make steps to grow each other into maturity instead of keeping them locked in childish behavior.