What do you suppose contributes
to the disintegration of a relationship that had once been a good
In my opinion, relationships
begin to fall apart when there is “role confusion”.
This confusion frequently occurs
when the roles each person has in a given relationship are either
poorly defined or inappropriately cross over into other
One need not be an expert in
psychology to recognize that all of us engage in one role or another
at certain times, in certain situations and with certain
Such roles serve an important
purpose to the extent that a particular relationship or
interpersonal transaction becomes largely circumscribed by what
specific role a particular set of “actors” choose to adopt and then
“act out” between them.
If a person comes to me for help
and I am at work, then I may confirm that person’s role-expectation
of me by “getting into role” of a clinical psychologist.
This is neither good nor bad, but
simply is the most effective, efficient and ethical way for me to do
what’s appropriately expected of me.
If that person is a machinist and
I need a part to be custom-made for a piece of equipment, then it
makes sense that I ought to get into role, as may be appropriate, of
a prospective consumer.
Were I to be stuck (fixated) in
my earlier role of a mental health professional, chances are that
person would not know if he should get “into role” of client or
This is an example of role
So too with other relationships,
when we adopt one role indiscriminately for all situations or we
adopt all roles for the same situation, we fail to adapt to the
variable needs, wants or requirements which characterize ongoing
By getting locked into role or by not
getting into role or even by getting into too many roles, our
relationships are set up for failure.
Expectations become violated and
feelings get hurt because our perceptions confirm our thoughts that with
regard to our relationships, “they aren’t acting themselves”, and so we
react to our confusion by ‘backing off’.
The challenge is to develop expertise
with each particular role but keep each role separate from the other
roles and always be respectful and vigilant of the potential for the
development of any “dual-relationship”.
When this challenge is met, role
expectancies do not become violated from role contamination because
others learn to expect and then to know, in vivo, where you’re
coming from, as do you, in relation to them.
If there is any “role confusion”,
then there will very likely be a confusion of all the roles and all of
If there is no “role confusion”, then
there will very likely be no confusion of any of the roles and any of
In my opinion, “role confusion” is
always extremely confusing and, generally, should be avoided at all
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