3 Ways Husbands Act Like Children — And How To Get Them To Stop

Even good husbands sometimes fall into this trap.

handsome man with devilsh smile in cafe all kind of people / shutterstock.com  

As a marriage therapist, I see a lot of frustrated wives. Women initiate couples therapy more than men, and often their husbands are acting like children. 

These women tend to be angry, hurt and resentful. They want him to grow up, or else!

We also know that women initiate divorce more often than men on average. Numerous studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of divorces are initiated by wives. In 2015, the American Sociological Association suggested that two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. This number jumped up to 90 percent among college-educated women.


Wondering why? The leading reasons stated by women for divorcing their partners are:

In my own practice, wives often complain that their husbands “act like children”.

While these behaviors might be tolerated in the beginning, they wear on the relationship over time. This is especially true after the couple starts their family and there are actual children to care for.


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Childish behavior on the part of the husband can ruin a marriage and land the couple in divorce court.

Men are likely not doing this on purpose. Maybe they saw the same dynamic played out in their parents' relationship, or absorbed the message that it is "normal" from the TV and movies they watched growing up.

After all, the stereotype of a wife or mom who has to wrangle not only her children, but the father of those children, too, was a common one in the 1980s, 90s and even early 2000s — just when the husbands of today were growing up and learning about relationships.

Often, the men don't realize their behavior is a problem.

Whether they know they are doing it or not, this dynamic can have painful long-term effects. 


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Here are three ways in which even kind, well-meaning husbands often act like children.

1. Taking no responsibility

A very common complaint is from women who feel overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility and work they do in what should be an equal partnership. They find that their husbands are overly dependent on them or incapable of completing simple tasks on their own.

Let’s take the example of Ann and Bob. This couple came to therapy because Ann had become very angry at Bob after their child was born.


Before their baby came, Ann and Bob had settled into a routine where Ann worked at a high paying career, shopped for groceries, cooked, organized their social life, arranged for the house to be cleaned, and balanced their finances. Bob also had a high-paying career which left him exhausted and depleted.

He frequently played video games online with friends in the evening, golfed on the weekends, and took naps. Bob’s mother had always taken care of everything when he was young, and he had just assumed that Ann would too. Ann’s mother had also modeled this behavior in her marriage to Ann’s dad.

Ann knew that it was her job to sacrifice personal time for the good of her relationship because after all, that’s what her mother had done!

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As Ann’s career gradually got more and more demanding, she began to question these unspoken roles. She was exhausted much of the time and began asking for more help and support from Bob.

He usually promised “to try” but would slide back into his need to relax.

Once the baby came, Ann had had enough.

She cried, “he takes no responsibility for anything—not the marriage, our child, the running of our house, our social life, our finances—for anything! If he doesn’t step up, I’m leaving. I’m doing everything myself anyway. Divorce won’t be any different.”

In therapy, with respectful, structured communication, Bob was able to hear Ann’s distress and begin to make changes. Slowly, he began to take on some of the household tasks and took over the finances.


Together, they set out a plan for healthy, shared co-parenting and Ann began to relax and appreciate their collaboration. Both were able to see how they had unconsciously re-created their parents’ marriages and needed to consciously create their own.

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2. Playing too much

In 1983, Dr. Dan Kiley wrote a book called "The Peter Pan Syndrome." Although not an actual diagnosis, it was adopted by our culture to describe men who refuse to grow up or get trapped in childhood behaviors.

Many a frustrated wife describes how her husband plays too much. While dating she may have been attracted to his playfulness. His fun-loving attitude and ability to be silly were refreshing.


Later, years into the marriage his commitment to playing may be experienced as isolating and disruptive to their connection. Instead of doing things together, these men are frequently off with their buddies. They can be found in bars drinking at happy hour, smoking weed, or doing recreational drugs.

They spend time gambling, going to strip clubs, playing or watching sports, working out at the gym, or spending long hours golfing.

Relaxing, socializing, and having fun are all important to do, but when done in excess the wife waiting at home can grow lonely and resentful. She can begin to feel like she’s married to Peter Pan!

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3. Being emotionally immature

This is perhaps the most common complaint heard from women about their spouses. Wives often feel that they are carrying the emotional weight of the relationship. They feel lonely and disconnected from their husbands. They are frustrated with his inability to meet her emotionally.

Frequently, wives describe their partner’s inability to listen and empathize when she’s unhappy about something. There are a number of common refrains:

  • He doesn’t listen. He gets defensive and then I end up taking care of how he feels about what I wanted to talk about.
  • He only listens long enough to figure out how to solve it. I want him to hear me, validate me, empathize. I don’t need him to solve my problems.
  • He refuses to talk about certain things. He stonewalls and avoids anything serious. He minimizes my concerns.
  • He makes promises but doesn’t follow through. Then, I must have another conversation about the same thing. It’s like ground-hog day…very frustrating.
  • He has narcissistic tendencies: He’s self-centered and sometimes “gaslightsme. He makes it sound like I’m the crazy one to have a need or a desire.
  • He isn’t present. He can’t or won’t give me his full attention. He’s distracted or acts bored. He says “I don’t know” to get me to stop talking.

It’s easy to see how these three major ways that husbands act like children could ruin a relationship if not fixed. Over time, a wife is likely to grow resentful and give up trying. Eventually, she may end up in divorce court, disillusioned and defeated.


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If a couple can get to couples therapy, like Ann and Bob, they can make important changes in their dynamic before it’s too late. Some things to work on if you’re the wife of a childish man include:

  • Set up a time and space to clearly communicate your needs and desires.
  • Set realistic expectations for change and check in regularly to track progress and challenges.
  • Draw appropriate boundaries and stick to them.
  • Identify how you might be contributing to your husband’s behaviors and what you can do to help change these patterns.

It’s hard work to shift the dynamic between two people in marriage.

If you love each other and want the relationship to work, it’s worth fighting for. Be sure to reach out for help if you find yourselves stuck and thinking of throwing in the towel out of desperation. Good therapy can help even the most steadfast Peter Panners grow up!


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Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, is a Certified Couples Therapist who works with couples to improve communication and deepen their emotional and intimate connection. She shares her insights via her newsletter and Facebook.