What Does the "Child" Role Look Like in Parent/Child Dynamics

First, a definition.  Parent/Child Dynamics are when couples interact in a way that has one partner (typically the non-ADHD partner) most often in control - taking responsibility for making things happen in a relationship, while the other partner (typically the ADHD partner) has less stature in the relationship...waiting to be told what to do, and with an opinion that is undervalued.  The child figure is often scolded, nagged and more to try to get that partner to take on more responsibility.  This tends to set up feelings of resistance or hopelessness.  You have likely experienced this dybamic in your own relationship, and it kills your intimacy, kind feelings towards each other, and more.  To thrive, you MUST get out of Parent/Dhild dynamics.

What does being a 'child' in a relationship look like?

First, you have little power.  You feel as if you are being told what to do all the time.  You might think 'why should I bother trying?  I'll never be good enough.'  You make decisions based upon trying not to 'get into trouble.'  You are dependent upon another to guide you or picl up your messes.  Most importantly, you under-function in the relationship.

These things are usually directly tied to under-management of ADHD symptoms (such as promising to do things, but then consistently not doing those things; not managing your time well, etc) and also can be linked to feelings of shame or feeling 'less than' others (low self-esteem).

Here's what it looks like:

  • You promise to do something, but rarely follow through.
  • You say to your partner 'I'll do what you want, just make me a list' rather than participate in guiding your own actions
  • Rather than call the other people with whom you are carpooling with to set up the schedule, you ask your partner how to do it
  • You shoulder little or none of the responsibility for joint responsibilities, such as childcare, even though you have the time
  • You do not stand up for your opinions or ideas in a constructive way
  • You throw tantrums or think it is okay to go from ) to 120 mph instantly, in order to get your way - an have no plans to address your anger issues
  • You subvert your partner's requests as a way of getting back at him or her
  • You require that your partner pick up after you at home, even though s/he doesn't have time or desire to do so

None of these things sound very complimentary when read in a list tlke this, and it can be hard to confront our own child-like behaviors.  Particularly if you are having trouble accepting or managing your own ADHD.  So here's what it looks like in your partner when you are acting like a child:

  • You get bossed around all the time
  • Your partner, who didn't used to seem to be a perfectionist,  is chronically angry with your lack of performance
  • Your partner nags you
  • Your partner disciplines you or creates consequences for poor behavior, in an effort to hold you accountable.

I'm not saying these are good strategies (they aren't) - just that this is what you will notice.

What to do?

First, if you're in a child-like position in your relationship, it is hurting YOU most of all.  So take it seriously.  You want to be a full partner in your relationship, and only you can be the initiator of that process.  Yes, your partner has things to fix, as well - for s/he cannot continue in the parenting role, either.  But don''t waid for your partner to change.  Work on your own issues, and your partner will come along.

Your first step is to do a better job of managing your symptomatic behaviors.  Start with my online treatment guide (download this from the home page).  Make sure you have the professional support you need - a doctor, therapist, coach, etc.  If you are struggling to set up support systems that help you implement your plans, a coach could be a good choice.  Consider meds if you haven't tried them - they have the hightest effect rates and can make a huge difference, though there are also other Leg 1 treatments, as well (see the guide!)

Set up structures that give you more power - such as weekly chore meetings in which you get to participate in setting your own assignments.

Don't ask your partner to organize for you.  Hire a coach to teach you how to organize yourself

Learn to say 'no.'  It's better to say no and explain why (calmly) than to take on a task you don't actually have time for.

Talk with your partner about which home tasks would most benefit your relationship if you took them on.  Then, don't try harder...create a system that works for you that you can sustain.  That's 'trying differently' the ADHD way.

If you have an anger issue, deal with it.  Out of control anger hurts you as much as anyone else - those you love will learn to be wary of you and avoid you...which feels 'easier' in the short-term, but which degrades and/or destroys your relationship in the long.

The good news...

Getting out of Parent/Chlid Dynamics tales time and effort, but it is one of the singly most productive things you can do to make your marriage a happy one again.