Posted by: counselorcarmella | July 12, 2011

Adult To Adult Relationships

Originally published on


We all know  forty year olds who can act like four year olds or forty year olds who treat their spouses like four year olds.  We also all know couples  who both can act like four year olds. I see a lot of messed up couple dynamics  in my  role as a marriage  counselor.  I see clinginess, bullying,  tit for tat spitefulness,  pouting and lashing out, lying and  infidelity,  addictions and all kinds of irresponsibility.  I see people  afraid  to disagree, feeling defeated because they can’t make another person happy, rescueing, and all sorts of power and control issues that have left the couple off  balance.  These  patterns are great breeding grounds for  resentment and worse.  Oftentimes, one or both partners isn’t functioning like a true adult.  This article is a reminder to myself, and to anyone else reading this, what “healthy”  ought to look like when it comes to   couples.

When people who are legitimate adults both in age and maturity decide to  enter into a dating or marriage relationship, they seek out someone who is also functioning as a “for real” grown up. That means the other person has also lived away from family,  pays  their own bills,  can hold down a job, and   lives in a way that is generally “responsible” and “mature.” It is an adult to adult  relationship. They enter the relationship as equals. There is not a hierarchy. They are peers and neither of them  is in a “one up” position  to have more power or authority or say in the relationship.  They bring different personalities and perspectives, but different  is viewed as simply “not the same,” rather than  as better or worse. 

This  means   neither person feels  they have the right to  try and push  personal agendas or control their partner. They choose to get involved  in a relationship because they want to be with the other person, not because they  have to be.     They aren’t with  their partner to make someone else happy, to  have a roof over their head, or   because they need to   be a rescuer or to be rescued.  

In an adult to adult relationship, both  partners are willing to take responsibility for their  own choices and   behaviors.  They can each decide for themselves what they  will and won’t do or what they will or won’t tolerate as far as the other person’s  behaviors. They are aware of, own, and are able to articulate their thoughts, feelings,  and beliefs. They honor their differences and  appreciate their partner for  the unique  perceptions, experiences, and  preferences that make that person who they are. 

They decide together how  to be a couple. They  agree on some basic terms for how they will handle  issues such as   relationship boundaries,  finances, chores, and  parenting. In an adult to adult relationship,  spouses  are sensitive to each other’s feelings and  opinions and  keep the other person and the   relationship in mind when making personal choices. They take each other’s feelings and  concerns  into  consideration, but don’t feel  forced to do or not do things because  of “shoulds” or “should nots”  set out by their partner. . Its not about “permission” or “being allowed” to do something. Decisions are made colaboratively in a climate of mutual respect and caring.

Adult to adult relationships don’t involve  emotional eggshell walking or fear.  In adult to adult relationships, partners don’t try and  change each other through manipulation, bullying, threats,  guilt trips, or  emotional blackmail. They  don’t demand that  their spouse or date conform to their expectations or wishes.  They don’t pressure or badger the other person to “give in” when  they’re not getting their way.  They don’t throw tantrums, pout,  turn on the waterworks, or  resort to  verbal “low blows.”  They  don’t insist on always getting what they want or  on always being right.  Relationships that operate this way are  parent/child relationships, even if both partners are    adults in actual age.

Another type of parent/child relationship is  the one in which one partner does most of the  “grown up work,” such as having a steady job, paying bills,  watching the kids, and  keeping a budget.  Another example is the couple where one  defers to the other about all decisions, constantly agrees with their partner, appears helpless and dependent, and seems to constantly be in need of  someone to take care of him or her.

Some couples both engage in behaviors that make it seem like they are in a child/child relationship.  Neither of them behave like grown ups. One cries and pouts while the other  slams doors and  throws things. In this dynamic, they both do immature things like name calling,  hanging up on each other,  trying to make the other  person jealous, or  pushing buttons just to get a reaction.  

Everyone  deserves to be treated with kindness and respect in their close relationships.  No one’s marriage or romance is  perfect or happy all the time, but  its important to feel valued  and as though you  are  seen as an adult. If  you are confused about how healthy your relationship is, it may  help to talk with  a third party you feel comfortable with. This could be  your personal physician, a  pastor or  other religious leader,  a family member or friend who seems to be in a solid  relationship, or  a qualified counselor or relationship coach.


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