What Role Are You Playing in Your Relationship?

By Elise White

Transactional Analysis suggests that we all take on the characteristics of the Parent, Adult or Child in our relationships. Which role do you play?

Loving relationships are a gift that frequently bring us great joy. However, as one of the closest and most intense types of relationship that we can form with other people, there’s no denying that they can also be extremely complex.

We all spend a lot of time analysing our interactions with our partners – wondering if we said the right thing here or did the right thing there, but do we really know what’s happening underneath the surface?

For any relationship to be successful, it’s important to know what you’re putting in, in order to get the right things out. A theory called Transactional Analysis has identified three roles that we all fall into, in our relationships with other people. Do you know which one you play?

Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis is a model of people and relationships. It was developed in the 1960s by Dr. Eric Berne and suggests that we all fall into one of three ‘roles’ when we interact with other people.

These roles are known as ‘ego-states’ and are divided into Parent, Adult and Child. They all represent a particular way of dealing with and interacting with others, and are a very common model used in relationship therapy.

Let’s look at these roles in more detail.


The Nurturing Parent

There are two possible roles that you can take if you’re playing the parent. The first is the Nurturing Parent who is caring, concerned and often acts as a mothering figure. They seek to keep the other person in the relationship or ‘child’ contented, by offering them a safe haven and unconditional love.

Tip: If you’re playing the Nurturing Parent in your relationship, you have a lot of qualities that your partner should be thankful for. However, make sure that you aren’t being taken advantage of – relationships are about being equal and someone needs to be there for you, just as much as you are for them.

The Controlling Parent

The controlling parent tries to control the ‘child’ and can often be very critical. They may also try to force their values and beliefs onto the other person.

Tip: If you feel like you sometimes step into the Controlling Parent role in your relationship, take a step back. Let the other person be who they are, criticising only when necessary, and try to avoid being judgemental and high-handed.


People who take the child role in their relationships tend to be care-free and all about having fun. They thrive opposite a Parent role, which allows them to spend their time playing, with little sense of responsibility. There are three roles that you can take as the Child:

The Natural Child

The Natural child lacks self-awareness and makes a lot of non-speech noises such as ‘yahoo’. They are open, vulnerable and love nothing more than to play.

The Little Professor

The Little professor is curious and loves exploring and trying new things.

The Adaptive Child

The Adaptive Child’s character is driven by their reactions to the world around them. They either rebel against this or change themselves to fit in.

Tip: Playing the child in relationship can be very destructive, resulting in a lack of deep fulfilment and a high level of vulnerability. There are lots of warning signs that you are playing the child, which can alert you to the fact that you’re taking on this role.


The Adult can be seen as our ‘ideal self’ – so if you’re playing the adult in your relationship, well done! The Adult is the most balanced of all the roles, and is capable of being aware of both their own needs and the needs of the other person.

They can express issues clearly and reasonably whilst looking for solutions, are neither cold nor overly emotional and can appreciate the importance of a relationship, whilst at the same time knowing that they’d be OK on their own. They don’t feel the need to be controlling and will search for the best possible solutions to problems.

Tip: In relationships, it’s easy to automatically assume that your way is the right and reasonable way. If you believe that you play the role of the Adult, think carefully about it – you could be missing the full picture.

It’s important to make sure that you know what role you’re playing in your relationship, if you want to make sure that you’re getting as much out of it as possible. If you are taking on a damaging role, awareness of its characteristics can help you to change the way you behave.

If you feel that the roles are too entrenched in your relationship, a spiritual reading or couple’s therapy can be helpful.

Do you think you’re playing any of these roles in your relationship?

Bio: Elise White recently tied the knot and is now enjoying matrimonial bliss is in Bristol. She believes that all good relationships require work, and is an avid reader of relationship blogs in search of tips and advice.

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