I remember learning about Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis in my Psychoanalytical Method and Theories course in grad school. It provided a way of evaluating human interactions. The Parent-Adult-Child Model was one of those paradigms that floated to the top for me and I have found it relevant in working with couples over the years.
Berne proposes we have 3 states (Parent, Child and Adult). This state is reflective of our mindset.
The Parent is the voice of our actual parents and authority figures in our life. It is the voice of right and wrong and the proper way to do things. It is intentional and mindful.
The Child state is more spontaneous, pleasure-oriented, impulsive and unintentional.
The state of the Adult mediates between the Parent and the Child. It is not correcting nor controlling, nor is it indulging or reactive.
We relate to our self from these states, but we also relate to others from one of these states. In watching couples it is interesting to see the dynamics that marriages take on.
The husband who comes home from work parking himself by the television for hours with a six-pack while his wife cooks the dinner and wrangles her small children in-between loads of laundry and cleaning, is operating from the state of his child.
He is taking no real responsibility for what is going on in his home or the lives of his kids at that moment in time. He is not stepping up and being a partner to his wife.
A wife will respond to her husband from her child, parent or adult state.
The child in her would throw a tantrum or slam things and huff and puff. The nagging parent in her would correct and criticize` him.
Ideally, she would go into an adult state which would not throw a fit nor nag nor correct. An adult would share honestly and make a request without demanding. An adult would continue to take mindful responsibility but not in a way that was judgmental or superior. An adult would set boundaries where appropriate without trying to control.
Interactions may also start with parenting behaviors on one partner’s behalf. Sometimes wives act childish and sometimes wives are parenting.
We talked about a childish husband in this scenario, but in other couples its the husband barking orders and correcting his wife, who then might respond as a rebellious teenager, resisting, overspending, overeating, indulging in social media or complaining.
Although we want to blame our response on our partner, all of our feelings and behaviors start with what we are thinking. We are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We are not responsible for the other person’s actions.
We like to justify our actions by how our partner is behaving when really it is our thoughts about our partner’s behavior that determines how we feel. We cannot change our partner, but we can change our thoughts, thus our feelings and actions in our relationship.
The next time you think your husband is acting childish, consider what you are telling yourself about his behavior.
Does that thought come from the voice of your inner parent, child or adult?
Consider how you might respond to a co-worker or another adult acting the same way. How do you want to think about your husband in a given situation? Is your current thought serving you?