May 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
At some point during the course of your marriage, you may have uttered some version of the following phrase: “I have three kids: A 6-year old, a 10-year-old and a 45-year old.” Because sometimes all the feeding, clothing, reminding and directing extends beyond the kids. Donna and Leo, married for 25 years, are locked in the same sad cycle. She feels like she has to monitor and pester him constantly, and he feels like she’s being his mom.
Donna’s turn Her husband is the most irresponsible person on earth. He forgets to pay the mortgage, refuses to monitor his diabetes, comes home late without calling and won’t involve her in their finances. Donna went through a bout with colon cancer, and all he did to help was to tell her she’d be fine. She’s always run the show since childhood, when her parents worked long hours and she was left in charge of the household chores, so she’s assumed the same role in her marriage. Her husband always compares her to his mother, whom he doesn’t seem to like: When his mom says to do something, Leo does the opposite. Donna hates that he’s not affectionate in any way, and their sex life is on autopilot. He doesn’t appreciate all she does for him, and she’s finally fed up.
Leo’s turn The way he sees it, he’s just trying to protect his wife. He was the only child of loving parents and didn’t grow up expressing his affection, so he doesn’t understand why Donna can’t see that because he supports her financially and stays faithful, he loves her. She worries too much, so he tells her things will be fine or leaves her out of managing their finances so she won’t stress over them. He hates her micromanaging of his health, so he “forgets” to take his pills or eat properly to spite her. And he only kept repeating that everything would be okay when she was diagnosed with cancer because he thought that’s what she needed to hear and he was terrified to lose her. Despite everything, he’s desperate to keep his marriage alive.
The counselor’s side It was clear Donna had hit her breaking point and wanted a change. Both spouses continued patterns established in their childhoods: Leo was emotionally distant, so Donna tried to win his approval by being competent and detail-oriented, and Leo was happy to let Donna fall into his mother’s role but resented it like a teenager would. He longed for her care but rebelled against it by sabotaging her efforts. Donna had to learn to stop trying to parent her husband, let him deal with his illness on his own and deal with the consequences if he didn’t take as good care as she’d like. Once she stopped treating him like a child, he was happy to do the things she asked instead of rebelling, like calling if he would be home late and sharing their finances. The parent-child dynamic contributed to their dull sex life, which improved when their behavior changed. Donna really wanted someone to take care of her and be affectionate towards her for a change, and once Leo learned how, their marriage was back on track. Read more of the counselor’s advice here.
What’s your take? Can a childish spouse ever really grow up?
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