Pivotal Roles in Relationships

This can be a very helpful way of viewing ourselves in relationships.


Individuals play out all three of these roles in their daily lives. They can do this when with others. Equally, they can play them out whilst alone. Parenting is both positive, nurturing, leading with encouragement, advice giving, boundary setting, rulemaking. This is the NURTURING PARENT ROLE.

It can also be negative by being controlling, constraining, domineering and over-protective. This is the CONTROLLING PARENT ROLE. Adults, on the other hand, can be seen to be rational, sensible and clear thinking. Decisions are made on logic part (left side) of the brain. THIS IS THE ADULT ROLE.

Sometimes when we communicate in the adult role we may appear abrupt or without emotion but what we are doing is talking about facts, “what is happening right now?” or reality checking. We can get things done in this role, we can also make love! The feeling person, the child is the one who laughs a lot, who has joy and fun, this is the HAPPY CHILD ROLE. However, this role can also feel sadness, hurt, fear and distress in the life experience. THIS IS THE ADAPTED CHILD ROLE. They are the emotions resulting from the feeling part (right side) of the brain. There is also the REBELLIOUS CHILD who appears willful, stubborn or uncooperative perhaps experiencing a partner in a CONTROLLING PARENT ROLE.

The feeling person may often be similar in age to the age when undergoing an acute period of emotional distress as a feeling person or young person. This age may manifest itself in ways that are apt and appropriate for that level of understanding, insight, and maturity, ability to communicate and reason and for that individual’s acquired skill base.

So for example if you think you have the feelings of age:- 2 to 3 years old – then you may have difficulty being verbal, not crying or understanding complex reasons or explanations. 7 years of age – you may demonstrate some difficulty with rational discussion, organisational skills or seeing the other person’s perception. 13 years of age – then you may appear arrogant and overconfident in an inappropriate way and may lose some sensible person vocabulary. Experiencing all the different roles in an intimate partner relationship is normal and healthy.

So you can be the HAPPY CHILD if your partner is a NURTURING PARENT. Conversely, you could be the ADAPTED CHILD TO an OVERPROTECTIVE PARENT role played by your partner. If this is always the case then you could always feel in the child role and have difficulty being able to be in the parent or adult role.

Many times couples come into therapy with this dynamic being played out. Once the therapist is able to point this out, the couple can be shown how this affects their relationship and what to do about it so that it becomes a more healthy way to relate to each other.