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The 14 Rules of Long-Lasting Relationships

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Don't Try to Be Their Parent


You should be a lot of things to your partner: friend, lover, companion, confidant(e), ally, comforter. One thing you shouldn't be is their parent. They're a grown-up and they don't need one of those any more, at least not beyond any they've already got.

Your partner is an independent and mature person who can run their own life. They choose to spend it with you, for which I hope you are properly grateful. They don't need anyone else to tell them how to run it. So don't let me catch you telling your partner, "Take those muddy shoes off before you come in here," or "You haven't eaten much. Go on -- at least finish your vegetables," or "You know, you don't exercise enough. You should join the gym."

These are all actions or decisions they are capable of taking for themselves. I'm not saying you should never express an opinion, but there's no need to tell them what they should do. It's just your opinion, Okay? So express it as a point of view and not as an instruction.

I'll tell you what will happen if you do this, because I've seen it happen to couples I know. If you act like a parent to your partner, they will respond in one of two ways. The first option is that they will respond like a child. They will meekly do as you tell them and allow you to become their parent. This might seem to work at first, but in fact it will destroy the equality in your relationship. When you want someone to look after you, they won't seem like the right person any more. They'll expect you to solve all their problems for them, which you won't always be able to do. So you'll both be disappointed and frustrated. That's hardly a recipe for a happy relationship.

The alternative is that they'll act like a rebellious teenager and quite rightly push against your attempts to parent them. This will lead to arguments and conflict as they resent and resist you.

Next: If Little Things Annoy You, Say So -- With Humor

More on: Marriage and Divorce

From The Rules of Love Copyright © 2009, FT Press. Used by permission of FT Press, and Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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