The Absolute Worst Thing You Can Do In A Relationship, Hands Down

If you grew up in an unhealthy family dynamic, this is how it could be affecting your relationship.

Parentalizing Your Spouse Is The Worst Thing You Can Do Yuriy Maksymiv / Shutterstock

A lot of things can contribute to the decline of a relationship — loss of trust, lack of communication, or maybe someone cheating. But parentalizing your spouse is one of the worst things you can do. 

"Parentalizing" your spouse is the act of "trying to get our unmet childhood needs met by this new person," said Neil Strauss, author of The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships in an interview


Strauss said that we often fall for people who have our parents' best and worst traits because our first experience with love is through our parents. "That sets the template for how we see the love and what we want out of love," he said. 

For example, men who saw their mothers as "naggy" as teenagers would find this very same trait in their own partner, even if they're actually not naggy.

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Strauss narrates a story about his wife texting him to come home immediately because a film crew, who had arranged to meet with him, had already arrived. She added that he was being rude for not meeting them there. 


For a moment, he compared his wife to his mother. "I started making up a whole story, because my mom always nagged, like that she's controlling, just let me live my life, and who are you to call me rude?” he said.

Here are 15 signs you're parentalizing your spouse:

1. You wake up your partner in the morning

2. You are overprotective of your significant other

3. You pack your partner's suitcase when traveling

4. You remind them to take their medicine, do something, or be somewhere on time

5. You frequently correct your partner's behavior

6. You fill out forms and paperwork for your partner

7. You buy their clothes

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8. You make doctor's appointments for your spouse

9. You keep track of their stuff, keys, wallet, or glasses

10. You cater to their every whim

11. You do their hair

12. You pick up after your spouse

13. You may talk to them using "baby talk" or a stern parental voice

14. You don't hesitate to make your partner's plate, cut up their food, or make them eat all their veggies

15. You decide what they are going to wear

People with absent parents might see their partners' busyness as a form of neglect. So, if you find yourself parentalizing your partner, it’s OK. Just like with many relationship problems, you can fix them.


You can stop this behavior and start caring and showing your concern to your spouse in a healthy manner. But it starts with recognizing what you are doing.

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How to stop parentalizing your spouse

Strauss said that taking a moment to stop and recognize why your partner upset you allows a deeper understanding of your own behavior. Like Strauss, constantly doing this will allow you to see the signs of your parentalizing.

1. Be mindful of your behavior and stop treating your spouse like a child

2. Accept that they do not like being treated like a child.

3. Don't correct or criticize how your partner does things

4. Make a calendar for the family and have everyone keep it updated

5. Talk with your partner about things that bother you so that you can work them out in an adult manner

6. If your partner makes mistakes, let them face the consequences

7. Refrain from using a parenting voice with your spouse

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Caithlin Pena is an editor and former contributor for YourTango. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Psych Central, and BRIDES.