Is Role Confusion Ruining Your Relationships?

These days, the word "role" can garner a pretty negative reaction - few of us like being defined by anything, much less a "role" we're supposed to play in our relationships. But, the mental health community agrees - roles can actually be pretty useful, as long as they're healthy.

What I often find, however, is that role confusion contributes to quite a bit of distress and conflict, especially in relationships.

Take a woman who is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister. Which role takes priority? In non-blended families, most people would agree that the role of "wife" is the priority role. After all, you were a couple before you had children! However, some women feel pressured to be "mother" first, which sometimes leaves husband feeling neglected.

Or, consider a man who is still his ex-wife's best friend in addition to being her co-parent and ex-husband. How is his new wife to feel? She might be left feeling like SHE should be his best friend. And, this can lead to a great deal of conflict.

Perhaps the most significant role confusion happens between children and parents - what happens when a child is left feeling he must "care for" his parent, instead of the other way around? Maybe one or both parents suffers from addiction. Or, perhaps, in a single parent household, the child is tasked with being the parent's confidant and caretaker. When I see children in my practice, we often do a great deal of "role" work, so they can understand it's not their "role" to take care of others.

In your own life, are there "roles" you should be playing, but don't? Is there role confusion that might be leading to conflict? It's always a good idea to check yourself and find out. Then, change your behavior, so your "roles" are more in-line with what's healthy.


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