I see “overfunctioning” happening all the time in relationships. It is most easy to spot when looking at the roles of husband and wife in and out of the home. You may find the woman overfunctioning in her duties to run the household, complaining all the way and grumbling when the man tries to help her out and ends up folding the towels the “wrong way”. We handle our anxiety by emotional overfunctioning. We then tend to lose our sense of self as we have sacrificed the “I” for the “We”. Another common scenario is when the man is overfunctioning and working the overtime hours and is never around for his family. This guy, by the way, can’t figure why nobody has any gratitude for his great sacrifice to bring home the bacon. Our men often handle anxiety by emotional distancing. In other words, He will sacrifice the “We” for the “I”.
If I could just write advice on my forehead for everyone to get the message, I would grab my sharpie and write “balance”. Everything in moderation my dears. As I am learning from Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., when one person over-functions in a relationship, they really don’t leave anything left for the other person to do. It’s easy to see when one person cleans the whole house top to bottom that there is nothing left for the other to clean. When one person works two jobs, there is no need for the other person to get one.
Over functioning is more difficult to spot when it comes to emotions. It is most common for women to take on a “rescuing” or “fix it” position. We often act like it is our responsibility to get our partner into shape and solve their problems and even further – we assume we have the power it takes to do so. As we work our tails off trying to bring them up to speed our emotions can range from annoyance to anger and despair as they continue to… well, just be themselves. When we see our acts to change them aren’t working do we try something different? Oh no, we rev up our efforts and continue to rage at their “underfunctioning” and never change our approach. Does this sound similar to the definition of insanity?
The simplest way to put it is that when we overfunction for another individual, we end up angry and facilitate the growth of no one. The good news is, there is not just one person to blame. It’s a cycle and once a couple is in it, they both perpetuate the situation. While that may not sound like good news, it is because it is half your problem and you can always control yourself. It’s up to you to behave differently, to become less reactive, to restate your case, to do something different. For example, if you are excessively worried about your children and it appears your partner doesn’t seem to care at all, you might ask yourself if you are overfunctioning in this area and not leaving them any room to have thoughts or feelings on the matter. Are you always complaining about your in laws? My guess is, your partner has the same concerns you do, but if you are always voicing your thoughts on how terrible they are, there is no room for your partner to do anything but defend them. Catching on yet? If one of you is overfunctioning, the other one is underfunctioning. You might as well take inventory and see where things need to be tweaked. You’ll be amazed at the shift in your partner when you adjust your level of functioning. Sit back and enjoy as things begin to balance out.