Who's Your Daddy? | Behaving Like a Child in an Adult Relationship

I'm into sitcoms, and while I realize that the relationships and story lines are often far from the reality that you and I experience in real life, I can't help but notice something: the way the women in the sitcoms I watch relate to and communicate with their significant others...like adults...like equals. 

During these past 24 days of being apart from my boyfriend, I've grown a lot. I've been more mature...more adult.  I've been taking care of myself, working on my DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills, and crushing down would-be crises. 

Maybe that's why it alarmed me a bit when I noticed that, when he called me the other night to talk about what time he'd be home in a few days, I regressed to a baby voice and was acting like a child.


I was using baby speak (trying to be cute and adorable, I suppose), and when I caught myself doing it, I felt so conflicted inside.  This is the way I behave with him, because some part of me believes that this is how I must be have in order for him to love me and want to be with me.

When I watch television shows where grown women relate to their partners as grown women, I long for that.  It seems like so much more of a balanced, healthier approach to a relationship, but the truth is, for as long as I can remember, I've related to the men in my life this way. It's almost like the proverbial "Daddy Complex."

But I don't want a Daddy anymore. I want a normal, healthy, equal relationship with my partner. The thing is, when I do allow my "real," adult self to emerge, it seems to cause conflict. Maybe he's just extraordinarily confused as to who is the real me.  Maybe he likes the "baby me."  I'm not sure, but this is something I intend to reflect on.

At the moment, I am:

  • radically accepting that this is how I currently relate to him
  • going to take a look at the Interpersonal Effectiveness section of my DBT binder to see what other skills I might practice to gain more balance in this area of my life
  • going to show myself compassion and abstain from judgment, as all things have "cause"

Can you relate?  Do you behave in a more childlike way with your partner but are more confident and adult like in other social situations (i.e. at work, out and about shopping, with friends)?

I wrote these other related blog posts about the Childlike Aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder  and Sometimes I Act Like a Little Girl.  If you can relate to this post, you may like that these as well.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.


  1. I so relate to this. Just recently I have been trying to actively stop acting "babyish" to my partner. I don't act like that during every interaction but when the conversation starts going somewhere difficult, I automatically get into that mode. I put an "ie" on the end of his name, talk sort of high pitched and I definitely do not express myself in ways that I would like to.

    When I'm around most adults, I can flip the switch and out comes a much more put together, somewhat articulate me. Especially in work situations where I feel confident.

    To try to stop regressing with my partner, I end up catching myself mid sentence and usually make a point of restating what I was saying in a more adult way. The way I *want* to be expressing myself. It takes work, I'm no where close to where I want to be, but it feels good to at least be trying to change the way I relate to him.

    Thanks so much for discussing this. I think it's something so many of us can relate to and use DBT skills to get us to where we would like to be.

    1. Thank you for this comment. You are not alone in these behaviors. I am impressed and inspired by the strategies and skills you are using to achieve your goals in this are of your life. Great noticing, describing, and intercepting!

  2. I can totally relate to this. I don't do it so severely but I tend to act a fair bit younger around my girlfriend than with ordinary people. Just cling and use puppy dog eyes and try and get support since I'm used to not getting enough.
    I didn't realize until recently what a strain it put on our relationship, even though we didn't really go out with friends together since we both acted so differntly around eachother than them.

    Do keep posting on the subject. I really like this blog, its theraputic, especially since its so much more personal and belivable than the pristine housewives you imagine behind self help books (well, I do anyway). Keep up the good work :)

  3. Debbie,

    Thank you so much for doing what you do! Your blog came to me while trying to understand myself better and it's been a huge eye opener!

    I'm 24 and recently married. I also act like a little girl when around my husband, but I never even thought this could be a mental illness! Actually, I never put any thought into it until recently. Thinking back, I remember doind this with a previous boyfriend that was much older than me. The little girl appears sometimes with my family, but most of the time with my husband (as now I live in a different country from my family); it never appears in public situations or with other people. It's scary come to think of it! I never imagine I could actually have a deeper problem and just thought as myself as "normal"...

    Have you managed to control yourself whilst with your partner? Do you talk with him about how he sees things? It became an issue in my relationship as he feels confused about my behaviour. He loves the little girl and has fun being with her, but we came to realize it's unhealthy for our relationship and that we should act more like adults. He acts like a little boy as well at times, probably because of me acting like that too. It's fun, I have to admit, but where should we put the limit?

    I'd love to hear more about how your BPD affected or influenced your relationship with your significant other. I can't get professional help (money issues+living in a country where mental ilnesses are not a big thing), so your blog is an absolute inspiration and life saver!

    Big love, hope you're doing great!


  4. sorry i just stumbled onto this blog. I dont have a mental disorder or anything. I act like a child around my fiancee and he loves it.. he adores it... its not a mental illness, i think its just an unconcious instinct.. its like babies being cute- they attract protection, the same way acting like a child invites protection from ur man and also adoration

    1. Hi Qamar -- you're right. Not everything is pathological. :) For some people though, it can become dysfunctional and bring up past issues. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Unfortunately I’ve fallen into this pattern as well. I didn’t start out that way… I’m very independent, somewhat introverted, yet opinionated when I want to get my point across. My boyfriend of 13 years is threatened by any woman who is successful and/or opinionated, and labels them all as bit***s. So naturally, if we were having a disagreement about something, & I expressed my rational opinion in a normal voice, he started putting me down, and name-calling. Over the years, he’s grown even more immature, and all too often, the blame for something HE did wrong is transferred over to me.

    During arguments, he would deflect from the original issue and start yelling at me for my tone of voice - saying I sounded mean, condescending, and rude. Well…when one is having a disagreement, they naturally aren’t going to sound happy!! But since this would impede a conflict resolution, I gradually switched from taking an aggressive tone, to taking the tone of a ten year old. This seemed to work, or at least cut down on the negative reaction from him, so I kept doing it. I’m rather ashamed that I allowed his reactions to turn myself into Pavlov’s dog. Now, any time he or another person starts getting upset, I lower my voice into this disgusting squeak to sound as unthreatening as possible. It’s not the real me, and I feel like I’m lying every time I do it. I never thought of this as a mental disorder either – more of a cause & effect type thing. However, I’m actually thinking about ending this unhealthy relationship, before this starts carrying over into all aspects of my life, even more than it already has.

    1. Ashley, it sounds like you are an intelligent woman with a lot of insight about your situation. I really hope you will seek out the support you need to live the life you want and deserve. It's okay to be STRONG! ♥



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