Women are relational by nature and often overly identify with the relationships in their lives.
Within relationships, women can turn controlling, fixate, and become too intense with their partners. Women also at times struggle with femininity.
Over functioning, such as over working and putting in intense amounts of effort is masculine in nature, taking on the quality of pushing to make something work until the job is done.
If women are overly masculine, this effects their relationships. If women nurture themselves, those they love, and nurture what lights them up in life, their relationships would flow and not be so rigid.
Overcoming over-functioning in relationships takes accepting vulnerability.
When we’re open and allowing for moments to unfold, our relationships have space to breathe and take new directions.
It can feel risky and feel like we’re entering unchartered territory, although this is where adventures begin.
A relationship is a journey where two people are on an adventure and there is an unknown entity included on this ride, which is love.
For love to bloom, it needs room to grow.
Over-functioning in a relationship is like watering a plant too much. Too much effort and the relationship will die from oversaturation.
Let it breath, give your partner space, thrive and grow yourself as an individual first and foremost. Sometimes we need to disconnect from others in order to connect with ourselves.
Brooke Campbell, MA, RDT-BCT, LCAT – www.creativekinections.com
Overfunctioning in any relationship often leads to resentment and anger at the other person, even if we know we are responsible for doing it.
It makes for a one-sided relationship that doesn’t fulfill us, and makes us yearn for connection that feels more equal. If we feel we are doing too much in a relationship, we tend to either feel superior to the other person or feel they aren’t pulling their weight. In either situation, we are selling ourselves short and not getting the love we need.
It might be a good idea to figure out why you feel the need to overfunction by looking at past relationships, both romantic and family relationships, as that is often where the roots lie.
Are you overfunctioning because you don’t expect anyone else to be able to meet you halfway? Maybe you’ve been disappointed in the past when your expectations weren’t met, and now you assume that will never happen, so you never actually give it a chance.
Another reason we overfunction is because we don’t want to be dependent on another person, either because we’ve been betrayed in the past or feel the need to be independent because others made too many decisions for us that did not turn out well, so we are determined to not let anyone else have the upper hand again.
We often make others dependent on us by making ourselves indispensable, thinking that will make them less likely to leave us or that they will need us more because of it. Sometimes we believe that no one else can do anything as well as we do, and we don’t want to have to go behind them and correct any mistakes, so we are willing to do everything so we don’t even have to have the discussion.
Whatever the reason for your overfuctioning, it’s a good idea first to take time to notice when you are doing it.
There may be specific situations in which you do it more or less. You may also notice the feelings that come up either right before or right after you do something that you know is too much. All of this is good information for you to use once you try to make the change. Notice how much of it is your choice and how much of it has become the expectation of your partner.
Once you have a little more information, it might be time to have a discussion.
Tell your partner what you’ve noticed, and be sure to let him know that you are the one who is responsible, so you are the one who is trying to change. Notice what kind of push-back you get. Most people will be reluctant to change a situation that is working out well for them, even if they also think it is unfair and want to change. It’s much easier to stay in established patterns, even if we don’t like them, than it is to make big changes.
Take the time to experiment with doing less.
Maybe go to the gym before coming home so that you have more time to yourself and do less. Maybe ask that your partner make dinner one night a week, and don’t make food for them on that night if they fall through on their promise. Find small ways to make changes and just see how it feels.
When we try to do too much at once, we usually fail, so it’s best to take it one step at a time and move slowly. See what feels right, and then do a little more. Keep doing the things you enjoy doing and do more of those things. You’ll begin to feel less resentment and more connection if you’re doing what feels right for you.
This is most likely a process instead of one action, so take your time.
Remember that you will probably fall back into old patterns when you are under stress or you are tired, and be willing to forgive yourself if you do. Also, it’s easy for others to push us back into the role of overfunctioning (intentionally or unintentionally) if that is what they have grown to expect, so be looking out for this, and don’t allow yourself to go backwards. And if you do go back, remember what you did to get out of that, and just do that again. You can have a fresh start at any time.
Finally, ask for help.
If there is more to do than can possibly done by one person or if you stop doing things and no one else is picking up the slack, it may be time to get outside help, either in the form of a housekeeper or a relationship expert who can help you make the changes you are trying to make. Good luck!
Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.org
In my four decades of working with intimate relationships, one of the saddest laments I hear is “My partner won’t come into therapy. Can I change this relationship if I’m the only one trying?”
The question is part of a deeper issue. In many relationships, one partner is trying harder and more often to make a relationship work, or trying to improve it. Most people believe that partner is more likely to be a woman.
And, even though women often are more motivated to maintain emotional bonds in an intimate relationship, many men tell me that they are the ones who consistently bring up their disappointed or disillusioned experiences and are the major pushers to get the relationship back on track.
Sometimes there is an obvious imbalance that one or both partners grumble about, but don’t really do anything to significantly change it.
They may even feel an underlying comfort in the predictability of their interactions. For instance, I’ve known many relationships where the division of labor not only oscillates, but is different in different areas. Each partner is complaining that he or she is doing all the work, but it’s only in the area that is most important to that partner.
Take, for instance, one partner who feels most responsible and concerned about allocation of financial resources. That person might argue for control in that area. Or, one partner has more investment in social networking and takes charge of that schedule.
A partner who doesn’t care about that area may gladly turn over the leadership in that area so long as he or she isn’t invested in a different outcome, or may complain about the control issue, but doesn’t really do anything to change it. The underlying problem is that neither partner respects an area if it isn’t as important to that person.
When one partner continuously and consistently complains that he or she feels generally more invested in the relationship’s continuing to thrive, major problems will eventually begin to surface.
The person “giving” more than the other is in danger of becoming martyred and resentful and the other partner can feel a creeping sense of feeling guilty and obligated. That is especially true if the “over-giver” has a silent expectation of eventual reciprocity and the “indulged” isn’t keeping that tally. That over-devoted partner is adding up an obligation on an emotional credit card that the other partner does not recognize nor will ever feel obligated to pay.
Many times, partners who describe themselves to me as “doing all the work” in the relationship simply have higher expectations of what a relationship should be like than their partners do.
Whether they realize it or not, they are dangerously playing a quid pro quo game. They believe that, if they keep demonstrating more involvement and commitment in the relationship that the other partner will eventually “come up to the plate” and give as much as they are. Unfortunately, that rarely happens in an established relationship where the less involved or motivated partner is comfortable with things the way they are.
Giving to expect reciprocity is most often a fruitless goal, but even when one partner is totally comfortable with that imbalance, it can still have bad results.
Many of my patients over the years have been torn between manifesting their true natures of loving to give ends up creating self-serving behaviors in their partners. “Do I just give less so that I don’t create selfishness in my mate even when it’s my nature? If I hold back, just to make sure there is reciprocity, I feel like I’m not myself.”
Unless the receiving partner doesn’t feel the need to reciprocate in kind and both are comfortable with that interaction, it can work. But it never works if there is not honest agreement and good communication about how each feels.
If one partner is beginning to feel cumulatively resentful as a relationship matures, he or she must find a way to change the balance of give and take or the relationship will eventually be in trouble.
The longer that imbalance has been in place, of course, the harder that is to do. Resentments that have built up are multi-layered and have often spread out to many other areas of the relationship. Some couples actually split up because they can’t right the tilt without bringing up multiple past incidents of accusation and defensive responses. One feels cumulatively under-appreciated and the other feels unfairly depicted as a “taker.”
The sooner these imbalances are created, of course, the better. Any long-standing distressing area of a relationship that has become entrenched will be affecting the entire relationship for both partners. The first step for a partner who feels he or she is the only one holding the relationship together is to explore the depth of that feeling. Here is a good personal questionnaire to help you find those answers.
How Much Do You Feel Taken Advantage of in your Relationship?
Answer the following ten questions with a number from 1 – 5.
1 = Never
2 = Rarely
3 = Sometimes
4 = Often
5 = Most of the time
1. I put more effort into my relationship than my partner does. _____
2. I am the one who makes the compromises that keep us together. ____
3. I go out of my way to make my partner feel valued. ____
4. If we have conflict, I am the one who gives in. ____
5. I think that working hard on a relationship is the right thing to do. ____
6. I believe that my partner appreciates me but just can’t say it. ____
7. I keep my grievances to myself. ____
8. I believe that someday my partner will give more to the relationship if I just keep giving. ____
9. Whatever happens in my relationship, I believe I’m doing the right thing by working hard to make my relationship better even if my partner doesn’t do as much. ____
10. I give more than the other person in many of my relationships. ____
Now score this simple test:
0 – 10 I don’t give myself away in relationships without getting reciprocity from my partner.
11 – 20 I tend to give more than my partner but sometimes he/she does give back.
21 – 30 I’m usually the one who does the compromising and relationship effort and I feel a little taken advantage of but the positives in the relationships overshadow the negative so I’m sort of okay.
31 – 40 I am beginning to feel used and unappreciated in this relationship and I don’t see my partner wanting to change the good deal he/she has.
41 – 50 I am resentful and discouraged but I’m used to not getting fair reciprocity so I will just have to accept things the way they are.
I hope it is obvious that moving towards a high score will not work create long-term success in any relationship.
Bitterness and martyrdom show in indirect ways by withholding love and storing up resentment. If you genuinely feel you have co-created a bad deal, it is crucially important that you do two things: the first is to be completely accountable that, though you meant well, you are equally responsible in allowing an imbalanced giving to build up without asking for more.
Second, tell your partner that you would like to renegotiate a more equitable deal. You may be surprised that your partner has no idea of the extent to which you are distressed and will be willing to look at things differently.
If you get a strong resistance, you may have unwittingly created a relationship where your partner doesn’t value you as much as you do him or her. Still, bringing that out in the open can start a more authentic dialogue that can help you make a better decision about what kind of relationship you want to be in.
Here are some related articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Internet Blogs.
What Keeps me from Changing?
Selling Out – Compromising Integrity in Intimate Relationships
If we Weren’t Already Married, Would you Choose me Again?
Is Your Partner Driving you Crazy?
Contrasting Expressions of Love
The Myth of Romantic Relationships
Is Lying part of Loving?
When it is time to Let a Relationship Go
Nagging or Avoiding Won’t help you find Love Again
The twelve Most Common Ways Partners Manipulate Each Other
Bitterness – Love’s Poison
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
People overfunction because they have learned that if they don’t take care of things, bad things will happen.
It’s a fairly automatic control response to anxiety. By the time we are adults, it tends to be a fairly well established.
Overfunctioning begins in childhood.
Something in the child’s environment creates anxiety that causes the child to take on too much responsibility for the family. The child may perceive that the parents are underfunctioning. For instance, an alcoholic parent could consume enough of the family’s resources that the children are left less secure than they ideally would be. In that scenario one or more of the children might step up and take on adult responsibilities as a way to stabilize the family. That overfunctioning child will carry that role into adulthood.
On the other side is the underfunctioning counterpart.
Underfunctioners dealt with their own childhood anxiety. They often had a critical or perfectionistic parent. They got the message that nothing they did was good enough. In response they stopped trying because they believed their efforts would be futile.
Over and under functioners are like peanut butter and jelly.
They just naturally go together. Overfunctioners and underfunctioners need each other. They enter a relationship with equal amounts of anxiety. One manages that anxiety by finding someone who will allow them to be in control; the other finds someone who needs somebody to take care of them. It’s a match made in heaven, except that after a while both usually feel a lot of resentment. Nobody really likes to be controlled, just as nobody is really ok with doing the majority of the work. Inevitably, problems arise.
These roles are unconscious. They are an outgrowth of childhood insecurity that don’t work well in adult relationships. In fact they can be crippling to the growth and happiness of both partners.
This is important: Underfunctioners almost never break the pattern.
Although they complain about feeling controlled, they are too comfortable and really too afraid of failure to step up. Almost always, it’s the overfunctioner who gets fed up with doing all of the work. However, when you stop overfunctioning you lose control, and that can be very scary to the overfunctioner.
You can see that this is not an easy pattern to disrupt, as underlying it are some fairly negative and sometimes scary childhood experiences. Basically, we are all trying to find the safety that we didn’t have growing up. But the over/under functioner dynamic ultimately seriously undermines personal and relationship growth and harmony.
Really in this case, therapy can be very helpful. But in any case, change almost always starts with the overfunctioner defining her limits and just not doing more. Think of it as allowing a space for the underfunctioner to step into. There’s no guarantee that the underfunctioner will step up, but if the overfunctioner doesn’t stop, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he won’t.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com