8 Signs You Are Overfunctioning In Your Relationship (And How To Stop)

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Do you feel that you and your partner put equal amounts of time and effort into life’s many responsibilities?

Or are you mostly carrying the load yourself?

If you’re doing far more than they are on a daily basis, then you’re definitely overfunctioning in your relationship.

This doesn’t just lead to hurt feelings and resentment, but can also take its toll on your mind, body, and spirit.

This article will address 8 signs of overfunctioning and offer recommendations as to how to stop.

Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you understand and overcome your overfunctioning behaviors. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.

What is overfunctioning?

In a relationship context, overfunctioning refers to a situation where one partner takes on significantly more responsibility, decision-making abilities, control, and/or emotional and physical labor than the other. 

For example, let’s say one partner has a full-time job outside the house, then comes home and makes dinner, helps kids with homework, bathes them, puts them to bed, and then sits down to pay bills, arrange healthcare appointments, and write out grocery lists.

Meanwhile, the other partner merely did a bit of basic housework, but spent most of their time watching TV or scrolling on their phone.

If this doesn’t look like a fair, well-balanced relationship to you, that’s because it isn’t. It’s a perfect example of one partner overfunctioning while the other is passive and dependent.

Although overfunctioning can be caused by a variety of different reasons, the results are always the same: resentment and burnout.

In some cases, it can even lead to serious health issues. Many overburdened partners have found themselves hospitalized with strokes, heart attacks, and nervous breakdowns because they’ve carried too much of the load for too long.

It’s important to note here that overfunctioning can either be chosen or inflicted.

We’ll get into the causes shortly, but if you feel that you’ve been carrying more than your partner has, be honest as to whether you’ve enabled this type of behavior or if you’ve had little choice but to take on more than your fair share.

8 Signs Of Overfunctioning In A Relationship

Below are eight common signs of overfunctioning. You may not exhibit all of them, but it’s likely that you can recognize several of them in your own life.

1. You take on all/most of the key responsibilities.

When you think of the duties associated with your life as a couple, who’s responsible for what?

Write down all those chores and obligations, along with which task belongs to whom.

People take on more than they need to for a variety of different reasons. For example, they may want their partner to have the easiest, most stress-free life possible, or because it’s simply easier to take on the responsibilities themselves than to explain to (or teach) their partner how to do them.

This is often true in situations where one partner is older, more mature, or more experienced than the other.

2. You neglect your personal needs.

You may not take proper care of yourself because there’s “too much to do.”

For example, if you find that you haven’t been bathing or changing your clothes regularly, or simply haven’t been pursuing your own interests in order to take care of other people’s needs, that’s a huge sign that things need to change.

The same goes for not being able to express your emotions or needs effectively because you’re drained from managing others all the time.

There are enough hours in the day to take care of home and work tasks without neglecting your basic needs in the process.

If you find that you honestly don’t have the time or energy for these fundamentals of life, you need to receive more help from your partner than you’ve been getting.

3. You micromanage your relationship and your partner.

This often involves being controlling or bossy toward your partner, such as insisting that they do as you tell them on demand, or informing them of what they’ll be doing or attending instead of asking them respectfully as an equal.

For example, you may ask your partner to tell you an itemized list of everything they did that day to ensure they’ve been productive enough by your standards.

Alternatively, you might give them a schedule to adhere to regarding tasks that need doing or responsibilities toward themselves, treating them like they’re your child or subordinate employee instead of your equal partner.

4. You experience emotional and physical exhaustion.

If you’re physically and emotionally shattered all the time because you’re out-putting from morning ‘til night, every day, that’s a huge sign that you’re putting in more energy than you should.

A relationship should be well-balanced enough that both partners do the amount of tasks they’re capable of handling, while also feeling supported by one another.

If your partner has a ton of energy and enthusiasm for life while you’re dragging yourself because you’re worn down to the bone, that’s a problem.

5. You feel unable to delegate tasks.

You may feel that you’re the only person who’s capable of doing things the “right way,” so you take on the responsibility of doing everything yourself.

Alternatively, you may not want to rock the boat and risk domestic upheaval by asking your spouse to take on certain chores or responsibilities, so you simply do them instead.

Your partner may be capable of doing a lot more with childcare and home-related tasks, but you either don’t trust that they’ll do them effectively or feel that you’re a less capable partner if you don’t do everything yourself.

The latter often happens if someone feels less capable due to age or health issues, so they overcompensate by trying to take on more than they should—usually to their detriment.

6. You see yourself as replaceable.

This is the opposite of the previous point in which you may feel that everything in your relationship would fall apart if you weren’t the one holding it all together.

Perhaps you believe that they are even more capable than you, which instills a sense of insecurity. You may feel that unless you continue proving your worth through action, they’ll leave you for someone else; someone “better.”

As such, you overfunction across the board and refuse to allow your partner to take on more responsibility.

This often has the opposite effect of the one you desired, as you’ll end up wearing yourself thin while they end up feeling infantilized and disrespected.

7. You have difficulty saying “no.”

Do you feel obligated to do things that your partner asks of you even if you’re utterly drained or have no desire to do so?

People who tie their self-worth to their productivity, or who feel insecure in their relationships, often have difficulty saying “no” when a request is made of them.

Even if they’re exhausted to the core of their being, they may agree to do things they really don’t feel up to doing simply for the sake of maintaining harmony and remaining in their partner’s good books.

8. You feel a great deal of resentment.

You may look at your partner and feel more resentment than love or appreciation, especially if you’ve been forced into overfunctioning due to circumstances you “never signed up for.”

Alternatively, you may have unrealistic expectations of what your partner “should” be capable of based on your own capabilities.

For example, if your partner has executive dysfunction from ASD or ADHD, you may not be able to understand why they can’t do things effectively.

As such, you may develop intense resentment for having to manage their life in a parental-type role instead of simply being able to rely on them to do things that need to be done.

Primary Causes Of Overfunctioning

Now that we’ve examined the various signs of overfunctioning, let’s delve into the contributing causes for it:

Obligation (actual or perceived).

In many cases, people don’t overfunction because they want to take on significantly more responsibility, but rather that they don’t have much choice in the matter.

For example, if their partner has a physical or mental disability that renders them less capable of doing their fair share, then the other partner has little choice but to take on more labor.

Even if they were originally capable at the beginning of the relationship, life circumstances may have changed and either illness or injury now prohibits them from being able to do as much as they’d like to. Or need to.

In some cases, the less-functional partner may be fully capable of doing significantly more themselves, but they like being taken care of and thus allow the other partner to shoulder most of their life burdens for them.

Alternatively, the over-functioning partner may be too over-doting and won’t allow them the opportunity to do more, even if they want to.

The feeling that micromanaging is both required and justified.

A person who intentionally micromanages others may do so for a number of different reasons.

The most common one is that others in their lives are either incapable or unwilling to do things “properly,” so they need to be hovered over and directed in order to meet certain standards.

While this may seem extreme, it’s a scenario that’s common to many people and often comes about due to extenuating circumstances, rather than personal neuroses.

For example, behaviors that result in you micromanaging your relationship may include your partner not paying bills on time (resulting in financial strain), or that your partner’s absent-mindedness has caused property damage like bathroom floods or kitchen fires.

Similarly, your partner may not wake up on time (and thus risk losing their job), doesn’t wash dishes properly (potentially resulting in illness), or is lax with personal hygiene.

This puts tremendous strain on the overfunctioning partner, and causes resentment in the one being micromanaged.

Ultimately, it often results in a parent-child relationship that neither of them enjoys.

The need to be in control.

When someone feels that they have little to no control over their own lives, they may find a sense of peace in controlling the lives of others.

This often happens with people who deal with severe anxiety, or who have past traumas from loss or extreme hardship.

In an attempt to prevent potential negative outcomes, they overfunction as a means of keeping things running smoothly, or to keep their loved ones “safe.”

Since whatever bad thing happened to them in the past was beyond their control, they try to create a false sense of security and self-empowerment by controlling everything they possibly can.

In their mind, as long as they’re juggling everything efficiently and taking care of every possible contingency, nothing “bad” will happen.

Of course, there are other reasons a person may feel a pressing need to be in control.

Cinderella programming.

A person who was raised in an environment in which they were forced to take on many responsibilities early on is often programmed to think that this is simply what they’re supposed to do.

This often happens with older children who were parentified in their youth and became caregivers and maintenance staff rather than receiving the support and care that they needed and deserved.

People often repeat learned behavioral patterns, which results in them overfunctioning in their relationships the same way they were forced to overfunction in adolescence.

They may gravitate toward partners who treat them the same way their parents did, thus repeating the cycle in which Cinderella keeps on doing everything whether she wants to or not.

In fact, this partner may not even realize that there’s a different way to live: their life has simply always been this way, so their overfunctioning is merely maintaining the status quo.

Perfectionism.

Some people are extreme perfectionists and overfunction for a number of different reasons.

For example, they may have clear ideas as to what a “perfect” relationship should look like, and thus they take charge and go above and beyond their fair share of duties in order to maintain the image of their ideal partnership.

Others may be so sensitive to potential criticism that they overperform in order to avoid any type of negativity or conflict.

Alternatively, they may be neat freaks or other type-A personalities and thus require everything to be done a certain way.

They’ll get immensely frustrated with their partner for not hanging the toilet paper the right way around, or not stacking cans in the pantry with their labels facing outwards.

As such, doing everything on their own is the only way for them to maintain a sense of peace and harmony in the home.

Mistrust of their partner.

A person who lacks trust in their partner might overfunction because they don’t have any faith that their partner will either get things done or do them correctly.

We touched upon this earlier in the case of being lax with dish washing, but it could also relate to finances, making or keeping appointments, ensuring the doors are locked, and more.

For instance, you might take on all the responsibility for grocery and clothes shopping because you don’t trust your partner to adhere to a budget. This could be due to their past overspending habits, or because a previous partner of yours did so and you don’t want a repeat performance.

Alternatively, you may not trust them to remember to do things like buy birthday or holiday gifts for their own parents or children (or not the “right” gifts in your mind), so you take that duty on so they don’t screw up.

Insecurity or fear of abandonment.

Some people overfunction in order to make themselves invaluable or irreplaceable to their partner.

This often goes with a line of thinking such as “nobody else could do as much for them or love them as much as I can, so they’re less likely to leave me.”

In other situations, people who have erred in the relationship (such as cheating or otherwise hurting their partner deeply) try to go above and beyond to make up for their missteps.

A person may also overfunction because they have an insecure living environment. This means that they feel their continued ability to remain housed and fed depends entirely on how much they output on a constant basis.

For example, someone who can’t work because of a mental or physical disability and is thus entirely financially dependent on their partner may feel that they need to prove their worth by going above and beyond or risk potential homelessness.

Even if their partner is fully supportive and reassures them that this isn’t the case, they feel obligated to earn their keep and more, since they can’t contribute financially.

Narcissistic “mission creep.”

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, you may have noticed that they don’t show their true colors all at once. Rather, their desire to be catered to and doted upon reveals itself bit by bit.

A narcissistic partner may start off passing one responsibility onto their partner because they’re “so much better at it.”

They may even pretend to be incompetent at it so their partner will take it on so as to avoid damage—also known as weaponized incompetence.

For example, all they need to do is burn dinner a few times or turn laundry pink for their partner to say that they’ll take care of that chore from now on.

This “mission creep” will intensify over time, with the overfunctioning partner taking on more and more responsibility in order to avoid conflict and keep things harmonious.

If and when they ever express that they’re overwhelmed and need help, their narcissistic partner may express disappointment in them or even act hurt or betrayed in order to manipulate them into remaining in the role they’ve been eased into.

Societal or cultural role expectations.

Depending on the society in which you live, there may be expectations as to who is responsible for what, regardless of whether these expectations are fair or evenly matched.

For example, there are many places in which a male partner is expected to be responsible for all finances and family decisions, while the female partner is expected to take care of all domestic chores, childcare, shopping, cooking, as well as all the mental labor involved in mediating conflicts, remembering important dates, organizing schedules, and providing emotional support for all members of the extended family.

In contrast, there are other situations in which the male partner will run himself ragged, working day and night to support his family financially, tend the garden, see to home repairs, chop firewood, and take care of other forms of manual labor that exhaust him beyond his limits. Meanwhile, his trophy female partner spends every dime he makes and insists on being taken out shopping or to dinner on a regular basis.

How To Keep Your Overfunctioning Tendencies In Check

There are several ways that you can stop taking on more than your fair share, as well as learning how to be less bossy in your relationship.

You ought to consider seeking professional help from one of the experts at Relationship Hero as counseling can be highly effective in helping people to understand their behaviors and motivations to make their relationships healthier.

Figure out how you got to this point.

First and foremost, you need to determine whether you’re choosing to overfunction, or if overfunctioning has been thrust upon you.

When you look at all the ways in which you overfunction, can you honestly say that all of it is your own choosing? Or have you been forced to take on this responsibility against your will?

Figuring out how you got to this point is vital, as it’ll dictate where you go from here.

For example, if you’re overfunctioning because your partner—whom you love dearly and want to stay with—is battling a serious illness, then potential solutions may be to ask your social circle for help, or to arrange respite care with your local healthcare services.

In contrast, if you’re overfunctioning because you feel a need to micromanage everyone around you, then you’ll need to figure out why you’re doing so.

Learn how to delegate.

This may be difficult if you and your partner have had established roles for years, but it is necessary unless you want to burn out completely.

It will also require you to learn how to ask for help when it’s needed—even if that makes you feel vulnerable or less capable—and to say “no” when you’re feeling overwhelmed or overburdened.

Delegation works best when tasks are divided by skill set. For example, if one person is more cerebral and the other is very physically capable, then let the former take care of financial responsibilities and home-related planning while the other one does a bit more vacuuming or snow shoveling

Everyone feels much more confident with assigned tasks that are in their own comfort zone.

Let go of preconceived notions of perfection.

Although you want to control everything in order to avoid potential negative repercussions—or appearing as imperfect in other people’s eyes—it’s important to realize three things:

  1. You can’t control everything
  2. Problems always have solutions
  3. There is no such thing as “perfection”

Many people get overly controlling because they dislike stressing out when things don’t go as planned. As such, they don’t overfunction because that’s fun for them, but because they want to avoid feeling that type of stress.

Similarly, they don’t want others to think poorly of them in any way, so they burn themselves out trying to maintain a facade of perfection that’s both unrealistic and unattainable.

It’s important to note here that messing up isn’t going to cause the destruction of all life on this planet. If your partner misses a dental appointment because you forgot to remind them of it for the 100th time, then they’ll have to reschedule it, and that doesn’t mean that you have somehow dropped the ball.

Similarly, if the laundry didn’t get done because they forgot to put it in the dryer, they’ll have to wear something else. Should they freak out because it’s a mandatory work uniform or similar, then this will be a valuable lesson to them that they need to step up and be more responsible for themselves, rather than expecting you to take care of everything for them.

Allow your partner to take on more responsibility.

This one might be intimidating or worrisome to perfectionists and control freaks, but if you want to have a healthy, equal partnership that stands the test of time, then you’ll need to give your partner the opportunity to step up and do their share.

If your partner struggles with indecision or executive function, they might freak out at the prospect of having to take on more responsibility. You may experience push-back because they’re afraid of doing something wrong, but this is where you need to set healthy boundaries while also reassuring them that you’ve got their back.

The key here is to help your partner to make their own decisions so they get more comfortable with the prospect of tackling things on their own in the future.

For example, if it’s their turn to do the weekly grocery shopping and they freak out because they don’t know where to start, you can sit down together to do some meal planning.

Ask them what foods they’ve been craving lately, or what vegetables and fruits are in season. From there, they can take the lead when deciding what should be on the weekly menu, followed by which ingredients will need to be purchased to create each dish, and so on.

This is empowering to both of you and a very healthy activity for the two of you to do as a couple. It’ll make your partner much more confident and ease your burden in the long run.

Sort out your control issues.

If you’re in your current overfunctioning position because you’ve chosen to take on all responsibilities, then you really need to work on your control issues.

This is especially true if you’ve been infantilizing your partner instead of respecting them as an autonomous adult, thus not only preventing them from playing an equal role in the relationship, but also from growing and evolving as a human being.

When we take on all the responsibility for various tasks, we deprive others of the opportunity to potentially learn from their mistakes.

Sure, we may end up with perfectly cooked food or immaculate caulking, but those skills are learned through trial and error.

You weren’t perfect at everything you did from day one: you had to learn how to do everything, and that included finding ways to navigate challenges and learn from missteps.

Let go of your idea that everything has to be perfect, and instead grant your partner the courtesy of allowing them to expand their own skill sets and techniques.

Determine whether you want to be in this relationship or not.

After doing a lot of soul-searching, have you discovered that you’re overfunctioning due to obligation rather than because you chose this role?

If so, you’ll need to figure out whether you want this situation to continue, or even if you want to remain in this relationship.

You may determine that you want to stay with your partner provided they take on more responsibility, at which point you’ll need to work together to even things out.

The two of you may benefit from couples counseling to help you get through whatever has led you to the circumstances you’re in so you don’t end up falling into old behavioral patterns.

Alternatively, if you’ve been in a parent-child relationship for so long that you can’t reverse the situation even if you tried, then it’s likely time to part ways.

They’ll be forced to step up and start doing more “adulting,” and you’ll have the burden of overfunctioning lifted from your shoulders.

——

No matter which direction you choose to go in, it’s always beneficial to chat with a trained therapist about what’s going on in your life.

They can either help you get to the root of your chosen overfunctioning role, or help you determine a path forward from the one that’s been forced upon you.

Either way, know that you’re never trapped, and there is always a solution to be found.

Still not why you overfunction or what to do to combat it?

Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours.

Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a certified relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.

While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through in their relationships without ever being able to resolve the issues that affect them. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.

About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.