“Shall I keep the tickets?” I ask my husband.

He looks at me like I’m a dog that won’t stop jumping up on him.

Okay, I get it, he’s got the tickets... but should I maybe keep the passports?

I open my mouth to ask him and then clamp it shut. I remind myself I’m not his mother, and my husband frequently flies on his own without my help, and he hasn’t lost a passport yet. I, on the other hand, have.

A few days before this airport exchange I read a tweet that said something along the lines of, “At the airport people-watching, amazed how many women think their partners need another mother.” My first reaction was to think, well isn’t my husband lucky he gets to fly with me? But standing in the airport listening to myself mother my husband I realized I am one of those women. I hang on to the passports because I think he will lose them. I spend my time saying things like, "Have you got the luggage?" and “I think we must eat now.” Instead of treating my husband like an adult, I treat him like someone who needs me to look after them.

Acting like my husband’s mother was something I never thought I’d struggle with. I decided at the airport to start treating my husband like the grown up he is, to be aware of my own behavior, and see in what other situations I’ve crossed the line between ‘mother’ and spouse.

These were some of the key warning signs for me:

  • If my husband replied with, “Yes, mom” then I knew I’d probably been speaking down to him or demanding he do something my way.
     
  • If I felt like my way was the right or only way and I wasn’t open to his thoughts on how something should be done.
     
  • If I felt the need to take over a task my husband began because I thought I could do it better.
     
  • If I found myself telling my husband what to do because I thought he wouldn’t remember on his own. Also known as nagging.

Identifying my mothering instincts was one thing; figuring out how to behave differently was another. The first thing I realized was the need for me to take responsibility for my own behavior. Ironically, I had been frustrated that he acted like a child without owning up to how my own immature behavior contributed. It is always easier to pray, “Lord, change him” but I realized I needed to start praying, “Lord, change me.”

My next step was to start trusting that my husband is competent. Instead of stepping in and trying to “fix” a project, I’m learning to stand back and watch him solve problems on his own. His way of approaching something often isn’t my way, but the end result is usually the same. It’s not that his way of doing things is the wrong way; it is just a different way.

I’m also learning that communicating is key in this area. Before, I would often intervene when I saw a different way of doing things. Now I’m trying instead to ask, “Could I help you try figure that out?” and to be respectful and back off if he says he has everything under control.

In all of this I’ve been watching my tone of voice. Is it harsh or demanding? Am I telling my husband what to do instead of asking him? I hate it when I hear the “you’re stupid” tone of voice creep in. I would feel disrespected if someone spoke to me like that. So why do I use it to communicate with the man I love? I haven’t figured out yet why I act this way, so I’m praying and asking God to show me where this desire to talk down to my husband stems from, and in the mean time I’m trying to hear myself when I speak and apologize quickly when I hear a nasty tone.

Finally, I’ve been working on better communicating my needs to my husband. If I need help with supper, I ask him if he can help. If I want the bed made in the mornings I tell him why it is important to me to come home to room that feels ordered. Just because I'm communicating more clearly doesn’t always mean that I get the results I want, but I’m learning that a kind request in my time of need has more effect than a frustrated complaint hours after the fact.