Nobody enjoys being told off, corrected, or receiving unfavourable news, and it’s even worse when we receive it from a spouse, especially by the way it typically occurs – in a raging or seething argument. The truth is that almost any human interactive relationship will bear the causes and the effects of parent-child features in the incidence of conflict.
What I mean is that, in transactional analysis terms, when one person criticises another they are acting out of their ‘parent’ role and they are telling off the ‘child’ role in the other person. The natural response to the inner child being told off is to revert to their own parent role and tell the other person’s child off. What we end up with is an emotional interaction, where conflict abounds and the chances of a productive resolution becomes scarcer by the second.
In any event we argue over too many petty issues in marriage, because of the deeper principles of engagement that are transgressed. In simple terms, we do not respect a part of the other person that commands respect, and in respecting this other person’s inner child, we love them. And it is easy for them to love us back. The deeper principle is not the matter we argue over, but whether we feel loved, respected, valued, and accepted.
It is very hard to fight the person who refuses to fight, but it is very easy to fall into the temptation of fighting someone who has not respected us.
We need to get to terms of mutual respect, especially in the mode of conflict, where each person talks to the other in such loving respect that adult speaks to adult.
The parent-child paradox is an irony for the pure fact that the parent role in our communication is actually one inherently childish. Whenever we communicate to someone in a way to tell them off we are acting disrespectfully, selfishly, and immaturely.
Whenever a married couple commit themselves to speaking with each other and to each other with mutual respect – in calm and palatable terms, with care taken in the language used, and be individually responsible for their behaviour – they have committed themselves to rising above the parent-child in each of them. Their commitment is to adult communication behaviour. It has to be a personal commitment as much as a mutual commitment.
Marital communication is respectful and loving or it falls short of the mark. It relies on two mature people being committed to communicating maturely. When both refuse to take on the parent-child role, both are free to be adult. Respect and love for each other is tested most of all in their communication.
The opposite of the parent-child dynamic in a marriage relationship is the love and respect of unconditional acceptance. If we can unconditionally accept anyone it should be our marriage partner.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.