We inhabit multiple roles in our lives. We are offspring, sibling, student, mentor, friend, partner, and parent. We are employee, boss, artist, and dreamer. We are the fun one, the nag, the serious one, the organizer, the planner, the spontaneous one, and the partier. We cut our losses and we remain loyal until the end.
Some of these roles we chose–because they are an expression of our values, or because they seem exciting or pleasurable. But many of the roles are roles that were chosen for us or are ones we fall into unconsciously–because we think it’s “what we’re supposed to do” or because we don’t know anything different.
Either way, it’s rare that we choose a role or fall into it AND consciously decide how we want to inhabit that role. In other words, we may get married because we think that’s what people do when they’ve been together for a long time. Or we may get married because we deeply love the person we are with and we value the institution of marriage and we want to live within that institution with this person we love. But how often does someone choose to get married and then actually sit down with their partner and think about how they want to shape that marriage? How they want to define their roles as partners, how they want to resolve conflict, what role they want extended family to play, and all of the many aspects of their relationship and married life that make up a marriage.
Most of the time people step into roles unconsciously, simply mimicking the way they’ve seen it done (no matter if it’s the best way or not), or fulfilling them in a way they fantasize it should be done, or doing it in survival-mode–doing whatever it takes day-to-day to make it to the next day. It’s rare that people think about how to do it best, take the time to educate themselves about it, and think about how to fulfill the role in a way that fits with who they are and how they want to live their life.
This means that frequently people find themselves deeply unhappy in the roles they inhabit. They are in a marriage and don’t feel seen and loved for who they truly are. They feel resentful of their children. They feel stuck in a career they weren’t sure they ever really wanted to begin with or drinking heavily at family events to make it through. In the words of the Talking Heads song Once In A…