The Happiness Connection  

Don't mother hubby

Happy Mother’s Day, not only to the biological moms of the world, but to all women who have played a role in the upbringing of a child.

This includes aunts, teachers, and the lady next door. It takes a village to raise a child.

I’m sure there are many wives who feel they have played a role in rearing their husbands. I have been known to suggest that my sweetie is my oldest and least successfully raised child.

This makes female audience members laugh as they understand exactly what I mean.

My husband is less amused and I want to apologize to him and all the men reading this. I don’t mean to offend. Yet, there is a certain level of truth in many marriages when it comes to women feeling that their husband is more like a child than a partner, and men feeling their wife is mothering them.

The idea behind modern marriage is for two adults to work together to create a better life than either could have on their own. When this happens, it creates a strong foundation for a happy union.

When this typical template is thrown to one side and the relationship takes on a different form, it becomes dysfunctional. It doesn’t function the way it was designed to, and it doesn’t provide the same opportunities for happiness and fulfillment.

It may not surprise you to discover that one of the most common types of dysfunctional marriage occurs when rather than being partners, the couple act more like mother and child.

I can’t imagine too many people get married specifically so they could be a perpetual child or parent. Why does the shift from husband and wife, to mother and son happen?

The explanation is more complex than you might think. One major reason has to do with social norms, the unwritten rules of acceptable behaviour. Humans are hardwired to want to belong, so they are susceptible to doing what it takes to fit in.

Although times have changed, many of our social norms have not. Men and women are subtly influenced to take two very different roles within a family, roles that may have made more sense a century or two ago.

Women are encouraged to be the responsible one. They make sure appointments are made and kept, homework is completed, and family occasions are marked with special dinners and gatherings.

Traditionally, while moms were busy taking care of family business, dads would come home from work and take time to relax or unleash their inner child and play with their children.

They weren’t concerned with making sure the laundry was done or dinner was cooking. As they weren’t helping their wife manage the family, they were more like an additional child.

If you don’t have to worry about the running of the home, it is easier to be playful and relaxed and this is what social norms dictate for Dad’s role. Mom is the responsible parent and Dad is the fun one.

It may not be this way in your family, but by understanding what you are being subtly influenced it accept, it is easier to understand how couples can fall into dysfunctional roles that keep them from experiencing the benefits of a functional marriage.

The good news is that women being responsible and men being playful is a learned behaviour. Females do not carry an accountability gene that is missing in males, nor is there a playful gene that is only in the Y chromosome.

You watched your parents and internalized their behaviour, and they did the same with their parents.

With social norms expecting women to take on domestic responsibilities, it is easy for wives to fall into the trap of mothering their partner. For men who enjoyed being pampered by Mom, this may be a comfortable experience.

The mother and child roles can slip into your relationship regardless of whether you have children. If a woman is strongly programmed to take charge and nurture and her spouse is content with being mothered, dysfunction may be sitting on their shoulders just waiting to jump into the mix.

No one is surprised to hear that mother-child dysfunctional marriages are common, yet few people caught in them realize that they one of the statistics. How do you prevent your spousal relationship from turning into a parent and child one?

Make sure you both have areas of responsibility in your domestic life.

In some relationships this is a two-step process.

Step One 

  • List all the domestic responsibilities you have and then divvy them up, so you share accountability. That may seem simple, but if you are in a marriage where one person is more diligent than the other, it is easy for things to slide onto the shoulders of one. To avoid this, go to step two.

Step Two

Remove the safety net.

If your fun-loving husband/wife knows that you will pick up the slack for whatever they don’t get around to doing, things are unlikely to change. I had to learn this the hard way.

It has only been relatively recently that I realized I was enabling my husband to shirk certain domestic responsibilities. I would task myself with making sure he did everything he was supposed to, and if he didn’t, I would swoop in angrily and do it myself.

He knew if he didn’t get around to I would take care of it, which I did, but not with much grace. It wasn’t a situation that provided either of us much happiness, yet this was our pattern for years.

I no longer provide a safety net and for the most part there is no need for one. If my spouse drops the ball, it is up to him to pick it up. It took self-control and a fair amount of eye closing on my part, but I needed to learn to trust he would do it, and he needed to learn that the buck stopped with him.

Ensure sure you both make time for rest, relaxation, and fun.

If you are the type of person who needs to get your work done before you can play, or you believe the needs of others outweigh your own, it’s time for some personal development.

A good life is a balance of responsibility and fun. Close your eyes to the messy house and inches of dust and take time to enjoy life. Recognize that if you aren’t happy, your family won’t be either.

Be vigilant about treating each other as equals.

Family roles have changed dramatically since I was a child, but social norms haven’t. Don’t thoughtlessly fall into the patterns your parents modelled; work together to consciously choose what your marriage should look like.

When you find something that works adopt it, but don’t expect it to stay that way forever. What is good today, may not be the best division of labor in five years.

If you believe your marriage has already started down a road of dysfunction, remember social norms are learned behaviours. You can learn new behaviours and get back on track to a healthier relationship.

Look at how you and your spouse interact. Are you equals who are both happy with the roles you have assumed, or is one of you resenting in silence? If you feel like you are mothering your husband, or you believe your wife sees you more as a child than a partner, talk about it.

Awareness is always the first step to transformation.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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