Small children sometimes behave in stunningly unfair and shocking ways. They scream at the person who is looking after them, angrily push away a bowl of animal pasta, throw away something you’ve just fetched for them, but we rarely feel personally agitated or wounded by their behavior. The reason is that we don’t assign a negative motive to a small person. We reach around for benevolent interpretations. We probably think they’re getting a bit tired, or perhaps their gums are sore, or they’re upset by the arrival of a younger sibling. This is the reverse of what tends to happen around our lovers, where we easily imagine deliberate slight stupidity and evil. But if we employ the infant model of interpretation, our first assumption about our partners would be quite different. Maybe they did that annoying or hurtful thing because they didn’t sleep well last night and are too exhausted to think straight. Maybe they’ve got a sore knee. Seen from such a point of view, adult behavior doesn’t magically become nice or acceptable, but the level of offense is kept safely low. Being benevolent to one’s partners in a child [way] doesn’t mean infantilizing them. This is no call to draw up a chart detailing when they’re allowed screen time or to award stars for getting dressed on their own. It means being charitable in translating the things they say in terms of their deeper meaning. “You’re a bastard!” might actually mean “I feel under siege at work”, or “You just don’t get it, do you?” might mean “I’m terrified and frustrated that I can’t explain myself”. The partner’s child theory insists that it’s not a unique failing of one’s partner to discover that they retain a childish dimension. It’s a normal, inevitable feature of all adult existence. Indeed, you’re the same. That’s why some of the moves we execute with relative ease around children must forever continue to be relevant when we are dealing with another grownup. Of course, it’s much harder being kind around another adult whose ‘in a child’ is on display than it is being with an actual child. That’s because you can see how little and undeveloped a toddler or five year old is and so, sympathy comes naturally but we need to look beyond the adult surface of our partners and imagine the turmoil, disappointment, worry and sheer confusion in people who outwardly appear strong and grownup but aren’t so much. We’re so alive to the idea that it’s patronizing to be thought of as younger than we are. We forget that it’s also at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with and forgive the disappointed, furious, inarticulate or wounded little person who resides within.