Marry a Partner, Not a Child

If you don’t have time to read many of the articles on this blog, READ THIS ONE. JP

by Kevin A. Thompson at

Two friends want to start a business. They will be equal partners.

This decision has consequences. It’s assumed both will:

  • Do an equal amount of work
  • Be aggressively passionate about the success of the business
  • Support one another in every way to make the business thrive

These assumptions do not mean both will:

  • Do the same type of work
  • Always experience the exact same feelings at the same time
  • Have the same opinions on every issue

When partners begin a business, they bring different strengths, abilities, and backgrounds believing they are better together than apart. They want to leverage their differences to the benefit of both parties. They rejoice in differences because it adds strength to the organization, but their relationship is cemented by similar goals, desires, and ambitions.

This is the only way a partnership can work—in business and marriage.

Sadly, what is common sense to a business is not always common sense to a marriage.

Far too many people wanted to marry a partner, but instead, they married a child. Far too many people pledged to be a partner, but they are acting like a dependent.

Children are great. I will love mine forever, and I love most of yours for about an hour. They are wonderful. But I have different expectations of my children than I do of my spouse.

I do not expect my children to be an equal partner in the family. They will not contribute as much as me and my wife. They will not be responsible for as many things. They will not feel the stress and strain which comes from having responsibility.

They couldn’t handle it, and even if they could, I would not want them to experience it. I want them to be children. But I want my wife to be my wife and she wants me to be her husband.

Many marriages that I see are not partnerships—both parties are not working equally for the success of the family; each spouse is not being responsible for their actions; both husband and wife do not feel they have someone who is walking beside them.

Too many marriages devolve into a parent-child relationship.

One spouse plays the role of the parent:

  • They see the big picture.
  • They make the tough decisions.
  • They prevent the other spouse from doing foolish things.

The other spouse plays the role of the child:

  • They hide things from their mate.
  • They are more focused on having fun than reaching long-term goals.
  • They do not carry their share of the workload or responsibility.

On paper these are marriages, but in practice they are parent-child relationships. And it is unfair to both parties.

The first piece of advice in working with couples in these types of relationships is obvious—tell one spouse to stop being a child.

More times than I can count, I’ve looked a man in the eye and told him, “Your wife deserves a husband not a child. Start being a man.”

Parent-child relationships are not always arranged where the man plays the role of the child, but in my experience it is more often that way than the reverse.

In these cases, I plead with the man to be a man. Their wives deserve a full-partner, not another dependent. They need to do their job. They need to support the family financially, be responsible, stop making foolish decisions, act their age, pick up their things, share the household chores, stop trying to make a career out of hobby, save money instead of spending it, and a host of other common sense actions which a partner in a business relationship would assume is normal.

Yet the second piece of advice is sometimes shocking—I tell the other spouse to stop being the parent.

When I tell that to a wife, she almost always objects, “But if I don’t, who will?”

It’s a fair question. And I almost always respond, “I don’t know who will do it, but I know who needs to stop doing it—you.”

In the same way the spouse who is acting like a child needs to stop acting like a child, a spouse who is acting like a parent needs to stop acting like a parent. This doesn’t mean they put the children in danger or make foolish financial decisions or risk the well-being of the family. It does mean they do what they are supposed to do and stop doing what their spouse should do.

While it is no excuse for the spouse playing the role of the child, one reason many spouses play that role is because they are allowed to do so without any real consequences. So the active alcoholic or relapsed prescription drug user or the wannabe rock star can ignore their family and their responsibilities without experiencing homelessness, separation from their children, and an end to their intimate relationship with their spouse.

Why should they grow up if they never experience the negative consequences of their decisions? If the worst thing that happens to them is an occasional cold shoulder or huff from their spouse, there isn’t a driving reason for them to stop drinking, come home on time, or get a job. (see: If Your Dog (or Husband) Runs, Don’t Chase Him)

You have every right to list your boundaries in regards to your relationship with your spouse:

  • I will help a recovering addict, but I will not live with a practicing addict.
  • I will support my husband in times of job loss, but I will not sleep with someone who isn’t even looking for a job.
  • I will serve my partner to the fullest extent, but I will not be my spouse’s father/mother.

This isn’t controlling or manipulating; it is a clear communication of what you are and are not willing to do.

Marriage can be the most important and fulfilling relationship in a person’s life but it only happens when two people are equal partners. This doesn’t mean they do the same things or have the same skills. It does mean they are equally invested, equally involved, and equally responsible.

Consider your spouse: Is he/she married to a partner or a child?

They deserve a partner.

So what should you do?

If you aren’t married yet: Whenever you pick your future spouse, make sure you choose a man/woman, not a boy/girl. If you think you can mature them, don’t be deceived. It’s never your job to “grow them up.” You can date a boy, but marry a man. (see: Pastoral Advice for Single Women)

If you are married to a child: Make an appointment with a marriage counselor. Your spouse will likely go because most children obey their parents. Even if they won’t go, you go. Begin to work with a professional on how you can stop enabling your spouse and give them the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives. (see: 13 Questions to Gauge If You Need Marriage Counseling andWhat to do If Your Spouse Refuses Counseling)

If you are married to a partner: Thank God and them. Do everything in your power to love them, support them, encourage them, and enjoy them. No marriage is perfect, but it is far easier to navigate life with someone on your side rather than with someone demanding one more thing from you. (see:One Thing You Must Show Your Spouse)