Overfunctioning/Underfunctioning Relationships

Are you a well functioning and responsible person living with someone who is barely functional and irresponsible? Are you someone who does too much, married to someone who does too little? If so, you may be in an “overfunctioning/underfunctioning” relationship.

Roberta Gilbert, in the book Extraordinary Relationships defines a person as overfunctioning when they’re doing things for another that the other person can do for themselves; feeling responsible for others; having goals for others that the other people don’t have for themselves; advise giving; talking more than listening and periodically “burning out” because they routinely take on more responsibility than they can handle.

Underfunctioners, on the other hand, act irresponsible; float without goals much of the time, or set goals and then don’t follow through with them; frequently become emotionally or physically ill; ask for advice rather than thinking things out for themselves; get others to help when they don’t really need help; tend to become addicted to substances; and seem unwilling to do almost anything for themselves.

In an overfunctioning/underfunctioning relationship, one person in the pair does quite well in life, in happy contrast to the barely functional or dysfunctional partner. Both people often think of the overfunctioner as healthier and more complete than the other.

Underfunctioners know that they are not the best intimate partners in a relationship. They typically assume that the other person will do what needs to be done, or feel that whatever they do just isn’t good enough. This person functions minimally, frequently taking very little responsibility for what happens in the household or in the relationship, and is often withdrawn and distant to their mate.

The often resentful overfunctioner feels compelled to do way too much because the underfunctioner typically does way too little. This may include emotional, task-oriented, chore-oriented, work-related or financial responsibilities. Overfunctioners are often caretakers who work hard at pursuing, maintaining and nurturing their relationships.

If you are an overfunctioner, and you would like to change, you must learn how to stop being over-responsible and doing too much. You are in jeopardy of “burning out” because of the enormous stress and responsibility you take on. Your contribution to the problem is that you are inadvertently enabling or allowing the other person to underfunction.

You need to look at how to fulfill yourself and your own needs, wants, wishes, dreams and desires, and quit being a caretaker in your relationships. Figure out how to nurture and nourish yourself emotionally, and how you can have fun, lighten up and enjoy your life more. Quit considering other people and their needs ahead of your own whenever you can, and quit being so accommodating. Draw more boundaries and say “no” more often.

If you are an underfunctioner and would like to change, you need to take responsibility for yourself and your decisions. Permit yourself to do more: you will feel like you have more of a self, and will therefore feel more equal in your relationships. Don’t ask other people for help to do things you can do for yourself.

To change an overfunctioning/underfunctioning relationship, you must not ask how you can change your partner. Rather, you must ask how you can change your contribution to the problem, since you will not succeed in changing your partner, regardless of how much you try. Put the responsibility for your happiness entirely on you.

3 comments on “Overfunctioning/Underfunctioning Relationships

  1. Good morning

    I read your online article about Over/under functioning relationships. I know I am an overfunctioner and I need help. I find myself being frustrated and resentful towards my husband for his tendencies and this also affects our intimacy. Though in the 15 years we have been married I never cheated on him, I find myself thinking about it. I tried talking to him about the situation but all I get are excuses. I have been taking care/providing for our family for all of our married life while he on the other hand hops from one job to the other or not working at all. I am currently in debt due to the mounting responsibilities and I find it hard to just stop paying for our livelihood as these are essential for our survival as a family, my children are also frustrated with him as whatever needs they have, they have to sacrifice as I work alone.Can you please provide any advice.


    • I have always been an over functionar and after 16 years of marriage, I came to the end of my rope..I am 64 an have decided to leaveve it all behind because I have become detached..I have done the man and womans jobs and tasks around the house and have become exhausted.I am now getting well,do my own thing and am looking forward to leaving this relationship behind as it has nevervserved me intimately or any other way…

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