There is nothing unusual about role-playing in relationships. In fact, it’s common — with most of us taking turns to play a variety of ever-changing roles. For instance, you may find that sometimes you’re the nurturing and supportive one, while other times you’re the one in need of support. Sometimes you’ll be joyful and childlike, other times you’re more the responsible adult.
Why roleplay is healthy in relationships
The beauty of this kind of role-playing is that it comes from a conscious place. There’s a natural flow as the couple adapts together by choosing to be whatever is required from them at any particular time. When it works, it’s harmonious and effortless.
But it’s not always that straightforward, or fluid. Problems arise when one or both parties get stuck in certain relationship roles, or when a role is adopted from a sense of duty or obligation. Unchecked, a person might perform a relationship role for years without ever realizing it or questioning why.
They may be the main caregiver, breadwinner, or decision-maker in their relationship purely because they think that’s the way it has to be.
Why do we do it?
In essence, we develop a blueprint of how to make relationships work from a variety of sources: our parents, our friends, the films and fairytales we know so well, and society and culture as a whole.
On top of that, most of us are also naturally interested in what our partner needs and that sense of caring may lead us to take on relationship roles and behaviors to be the person we think they want.
Please know there is nothing wrong in choosing to be the caregiver, the breadwinner, the responsible one, or the funny/passionate/goofy one. The key word here is choice: a role is only problematic if you play it because you think it’s what’s expected of you.
If you want to know how to improve your relationship using role play, remember that you must not limit yourself to one role, the role that is expected out of you.
How to know if a relationship role is limiting you
The biggest clue is that the word should appear in your thinking — a lot. If you believe you should be a certain type of person or behave a particular way, this is a big hint that you’re acting out of a sense of obligation. There’s no space for choice — and no space for YOU — when you function from ‘should’.
Another clue is that when you think of the relationship roles you’ve taken on in your relationship, you feel trapped. You may also experience a sense of heaviness or constriction, and you might be incredibly tired: being someone you are not is exhausting.
The danger of limiting roles
In buying into the idea that we have to be a certain way to be accepted, appreciated, or loved, we literally separate ourselves off from our true nature and greatness. We force ourselves into a box that’s too small for us, cutting parts of ourselves off in the process.
The result is that we live a half-life rather than the full life we could have access to. Moreover, we don’t give our loved ones the chance to really know, value, and enjoy us.
As easy as it might be to repeat limiting patterns of behavior, and as safe as a role might make us feel, life is a thousand times easier and more joyful as soon as we start to actively choose how we show up in the world and in our relationships.
Breaking free from relationship roles
If this is resonating with you, you can begin letting go of limiting relationship roles by first trusting that you have a deep knowing about what is right for you and about you. Sure, it’s scary to step out from behind a mask — and it’s scarier when you don’t — trust me. More importantly, trust yourself.
Get an understanding about why you may have taken a relationship role on in the first place by considering the templates you’ve been handed about how relationships should be. Also, notice any beliefs you have about gender roles. Who do those beliefs belong to?
I recommend you ask, who does this belong to? to every sense of obligation or ‘should’ you notice in the next few days. This simple question can initiate a huge shift as you start to identify that the limiting roles you’ve been playing are not yours. From there, you can choose something else — something that’s right for you.
Consider how you’d like to be in your relationship — and share this with your partner. Go further and get curious about the limiting roles they might be playing. Could you help them to step out of their very own box of limitations?
Finally, view your life and relationship as a creation rather than a fixed experience. When you actively create your relationship with your enjoyable other from an open, truthful and appreciative place, bonds strengthen, levels of peace and joy increase, and together you choose what creates the most for your future.