What are your relationship’s job titles?

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My partner Andreas and I celebrated our 15th hookupiversary last New Year’s. Next year will be our 10th wedding anniversary. People, that’s starting to feel like a pretty long time. I remember being 22, already chewed up and spit out by two dysfunctional long-term relationships, feeling like I was already so old and jaded and damaged. (Oh, sweet baby Ariel! Adorable!)

15 years later, we’ve had a lot of time to figure out what works best for us in our relationship. About five years in, we realized that our relationship responsibilities generally fell into these job titles:

I was the Director of Logistics. He was the VP of Emotional Support.

Like any job titles, our responsibilities have shifted and grown over the years. Andreas is a better traveler than I am, so when we travel he is totally Director of Logistics. As I’ve mellowed out and become less histrionic, I’ve become less dependent on his Emotional Support services. (Less freaking out: always a good thing for the entire Fetzllings family enterprise!)

In finding these roles, we had to work through what felt complimentary and what just felt, well, co-dependent. How could we make the most of our strengths, and when were we just filling in for the other’s weaknesses? Certainly early on, we did a lot more compensating for each other’s failings. As mentioned, I was certainly known more for my emotional outbursts and neediness. Even at 22, I was ambitious and organized… but lordy was I fucking fragile. Andreas, bless him, was a bit of a walking organizational catastrophe, known for being a human embodiment of Mercury in Retrograde. But even at 21, he was already emotionally solid, grounded, stable, and fluent in emotional language. (Lesbian moms, man. The rumors are true!)

The first few years, I’m sure we used each other more as crutches for our own failings, but we grew out of whatever co-dependence we had. After years of being coworkers at our relationship enterprise, we started learning each other’s tricks over gossip at the water filter. He talked me down from a lot of the bad emotional habits I’d picked up during my first two relationships, and I taught him in the ways of my own life philosophy and key to organizational sanity, “A Place For Everything And Everything In Its Place.”

We learned from each other’s skills, and so eventually became less of each other’s crutches, and more just as each other’s foundations. We also learned how to work constructively with each other’s limitations, constructively shifting personal shortcomings into our collective betterment.

Collective betterment wtf?

Wait, what does that even mean? “Collective betterment”? Clearly, I grew up with therapy-speak as my native tongue, but I actually do mean something by that. Here’s an example: I get deep joy out of figuring out the right places for things in our home. There has to be a place for everything! I have special strategies for getting rid of stuff, so there’s a place for the new stuff to go. Organizing is a happy place for me.

Andreas, meanwhile, is a creature of habit. He locks the door when he pumps the gas, because he locks the door every time he gets out of the car because that’s what you do: YOU LOCK THE DOOR. He’s still spacey at times, but he’s compensated by getting his habits down. This means that, once we get his habituated habits aligned with my organizational systems, we hit a domestic sweet spot:

“Should we keep this kitchen utensil in this drawer, or in this flower-pot next to the oven?” I ask.

“The flower-pot,” he says, and I know that from then until the end of time, that utensil will be in that fucking flower-pot.

If the flower-pot disappeared, Andreas would probably still put the utensil where the flower-pot had stood, just hoping it would hover there suspended in the space where it always is. See? Once we got our systems down? Sweet magic! His habitual, at-times spacey nature wasn’t a bug — it was a FEATURE.

In this same way, I think Andreas is like, “Yes, totally be a professional blogger because it keeps on your stupid dramaz pointed at the internet instead of my face. That’s awesome.” I still have my histrionic moments — it’s just that now instead of getting all worked up and over-dramatic over my relationship, I get wickedly bent out of shape over community management and reader complaints, where learning to deal constructively with those challenges has turned into a career. The overly-emotionally-invested girlfriend wasn’t a bug… she was a feature once she built a career to pour it into. (The fact that I’m using a corporate organizational metaphor to describe the love of my life should tell you all you need to know, really.)

Are the job titles still accurate?

So, yes: we’ve certainly both learned from each other’s skills. We’ve learned how to effectively channel each other’s shortcomings… But those original job titles remain. On a certain level, no matter how great he gets at his Executive Logistical Skills, I’ll always be the bossy-faced managerial type in the house. At this point, my logistical skills are just part of my personality. And while I’m a more emotionally grounded than I used to be, Dre’s generally the one whose blood pressure is lower. He’ll always be the more patient parent and the better listener and supporter. That’s just who he is. Our relationship may have shifted over the past 15 years, but the job titles are still accurate.

How do you complement your partner’s strengths? How do you compensate for their weaknesses? How are you learning from each other’s relationship skills?

Comments on What are your relationship’s job titles?

  1. When Husband and I met, I was the one who had this life-shit all figured out. Suppress all emotions, pay bills on time, get to work on time, work in my spare time, and fuck all relationships everywhere. He was a serial monogamist with a payday cash advance problem.

    We often compare our relationship to a ship: he’s the rudder, I’m the motor. He decides where we’ll go, and I get us there. Without him, I spin in circles. They’re fast circles, but I’m not getting anywhere. Without me, he sees where he wants to go, but he can’t get there. He’s great at setting goals, but he can’t figure out how to make any forward movement.

    There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, I do the cooking, cleaning, everyday life stuff. He does the protecting, bug-killing, making-the-hard-choices stuff. It works.

  2. Oh man, this sounds so much like me and my husband! Together 11 years and married 6, he is DEFINITELY the patient level head (though that head is sometimes derailed by his ADD), and I’m the organized “I RUN THIS PLACE” mom. We have a similar balance and it’s so interesting to see how our roles have adjusted/grown over the years! This was a great read.

  3. I love this so much! My husband and I have the opposite roles – he is much more organized than me (my middle school math teacher called me a volcano because my stuff goes everywhere). It’s really hard for me to remember to put things in the right place every time, and messes just sort of meld into the background of our house for me so I tend to not clean often enough (I need to start using Unfuck Your Habitat more). So he has to remind me to do things like cleaning, but he is very introverted, so I do things like calling card companies and other forms of communication that make him uncomfortable. He also does an awesome job helping me not be such a fabulous procrastinator!

  4. We’ve only been married just over a year, and together just over three years, but we’ve certainly already figured out some patterns. I’m a planner, he’s a doer, so generally I come up with a plan for how to improve our lives, and he makes it happen (e.g. building all the shelves in our apartment), or else I decide to do something, get halfway in, figure out I’m over my head, and he helps me actually see it through (e.g. large canning projects…). I’m a bit of a dreamer, while he’s super-level-headed, so he helps keep me on a more even keel, but I help him see the possibilities.

  5. Yeah, this sounds familiar. My husband is definitely VP of Emotional Support, as well as Senior Director of Relationships and Activities. I’m… Director of Logistics, maybe? Not quite achieving at a high enough level to get that promotion to Senior Director that I’ve been looking for, but much stronger than Matt (he’s totally on a Logistics PIP).

  6. This is a really insightful post! It’s not something I’ve thought about in these terms, but I think we definitely have a similar symbioticism blossoming (although we haven’t been married long enough to see how it all turns out yet). I can say for sure that Husband is “The Decider” – I’m utter crap at making up my mind about stuff, which leads me in all sorts of trouble, but he is good at just sticking to something and getting it done (also a creature of habit – I think that’s a very valuable feature, just one that’s buggy in my system xD). I think I’m “The Face” – we’re both introverts, but I tend to handle myself in new social interactions better than Husband, so I think he’s happy when I order at a new restaurant or answer the door.

    This is a valuable exercise, though. I think it is wise for people to identify and examine the ways that their strengths and weaknesses interact with others, since it both helps us learn to buff up our weak spots and yield control to those better suited for the task. Definitely going to make a point to discuss this when Hubby gets home! 🙂

  7. Oh yes! Early on, I realized my husband is a great complement to me. I’m spastic, he’s relaxed. I’m organized, he leaves things out. I’m a planner and project manager type, he’s more of a plan as we go. I make the social plans, he’s up for anything. So while sometimes we argue endlessly and I wonder how we ever agree on anything, I do know that he’s calmed me down and taught me a thing or do about relaxing while I reduce his procrastination and speed up those home renovation projects. It works, and I know we appreciate the difference.

  8. I feel like I’m the kite and he’s the string. I can see much further and plan out sometimes lofty goals, but he keeps me grounded and makes sure I don’t have an Icarus moment. He also keeps his eye on our limitations (aka the length of the string) while I try to broaden his own horizons through my experiences. I’m slightly more unpredictable, but a subtle nudge from him can have me doing something new that I’d never even dreamed of before.

    • This one is fitting for me, I think. I’m the string and my husband is the kite. I keep him grounded, and he lifts me up. We’re just now approaching our one year anniversary, so we’re still figuring out how to run our home and our lives. Apparently neither of us is the broom or the duster…

  9. As it is, I’m the one that makes things happen, he’s the one that makes things happen the right way. He’s meticulous about research and details and getting things done in the best possible way. I tend to jump in and start making forward motion happen, but left to my own devices the eventual outcome will be held together by bubble gum.

  10. I really loved reading this. It gives me hope that my dude and I can come to a place where maybe, just maybe, we get some of this a bit more ironed out.

    I am definitely in charge of logistics and organization. I’m trying to get my shit together on actually having a place for things, but also ensuring that we have the groceries we need, have a budget, get to have fun. I also handle traditions since my dude doesn’t have any. So I’m currently in charge of establishing Family Traditions.

    My dude is a weird mix of emotional support for me but needs emotional support in return as he gets a handle on having emotions. This one we’re still finding our balance. He’s definitely in charge of relaxing. He helps me remember that it isn’t the end of the world if I’m a little tired for work if we finish that level in Diablo III. He helps me remember to bend instead of being so rigid on things and to stand up for what I need and want, or let go of things that don’t work. I’m picking up on that and learning how to help him with the same.

    The mess thing… my dude is totally a walking disaster. Establishing habits with him is nearly impossible so I’m still trying to figure out how to settle that stuff. We usually have a daily hunt for his keys (despite my having tried creating places for him to leave them), the remotes and game controllers are often stored IN the couch, and clothes are left wherever he dropped them. There are more pressing things than cleaning up as he works to finish his degree. But I try to balance that with reminders that some things just have to be fit in so I don’t fall on my face and so we can live in our house without being grossed out by eau de sock.

  11. I logisticate, he executes. He gets bogged down on complex tasks, I break them down into manageable steps and he actually does the steps. Which is AWESOME – I hate making the phone calls, actually going to the store, etc. But I’m fine figuring out what to ask prospective babysitters and going through the fridge to make a shopping list. Also, he cleans. HE LIKES IT.

    He is also chief of “crawl around on the floor/playground with the toddler”. I will probably be chief of crazy arts and crafts, when our kid gets old enough to stop trying to eat the crayons. It’s been nice to realize that we don’t *both* have to be super into every stage of having a kid, and that we can trade off levels of involvement based on what stage we’re at.

    For us I think there was this slow process of really getting comfortable with being symbiotes. The big breaking point was the first time we did taxes after getting married, and I was digging his various paperwork out of crumpled piles and trying to track down things that had gotten lost. After that I was all “I will handle this in the future.” Now we have a System for papers, because we needed it. We’re still settling into these roles, but it’s a good thing we have going.

  12. C and I are getting married next year, but we already knew about our Meyers-Briggs’ types (and what we remember of each other’s personalities in high school), and how we’ve adjusting to living with each other over the past few months. Although I can’t really put a distinct title on either of us, I’m INFJ and he’s ENFP – so I take care of the little things and he takes care of the big things. That’s how we roll.

  13. Thinking about this has made me realize how much my boyfriend and I actually both do for each other, and do together. When it’s dinner time we trade off prep chef, stove babysitter, and dish washer (though I’m the de facto onion chopper because he’s more sensitive). He takes care of landlord communications and we both clean a lot, though I’m more likely to take on bigger cleaning tasks and he’ll help.

    We both seek out different kinds of social interaction–I’m the party planner and occasional party enthusiast, and he’s more of the board game coordinator. At some point he gets social fatigue and just goes upstairs while I stay to entertain guests, but he also acts as cultural enrichment officer, and always finds really cool concerts and music festivals to go to. (On that note, I’m learning guitar and he’s learning bass.) He’s the video game connoisseur and watches me play through his favorites, and I’m always trying to get him to read my favorite books. We have a few TV shows we like to watch together.

    We both act as tech support for each other, and as rubber duck when we’re hard at work on something. I do mechanical engineering and high- and mid-level programming, and he does electrical engineering and low- and mid-level programming. I think together we could build a robot that will take over the world.

    Overall, though, he’s super chill. I’m generally an easy-going person, but can get more bothered by random things like dirty dishes in the kitchen. He helps keep me grounded. On the flipside, he often has a lot of trouble with indecisiveness, so I help him make up his mind when he lets me.

  14. Hmmmm. We’ve been married for four years, together for six.

    He is high-speed rail; I am a helicopter.

    He runs along perfectly on his well-oiled grooves. He does day-to-day running of the household, absolutely and efficiently. He pays the bills. He brings in the firewood. He balances the checkbook. He refinances the house. He notices the roof is leaking, then fixes it. He never procrastinates. He goes from point a to point b via a straight line. If a crisis or even a disruption in the line occurs, though, he can be easily derailed. His stress level shoots through the roof and he has difficulty handling anything at all.

    So. I don’t have well-oiled grooves, or even grooves at all — just high speed rotors! I’m very maneuverable, though, and I can easily hover in one place for as long as needed without feeling as if I’m wasting time. If needed I can park myself on the ground quite comfortably until conditions improve. SO I am the emotional stability in this relationship . . . but/and I’m also the quick reactor.

    I’m calm while he derails. I handle blood, sickness, death in the family, travel, crying people, and unexpected visitors. I’m the main breadwinner.

    Works pretty well for us. We both did OK on our own, but I tended to leave my bills to the last minute then clean out my bank account, and he tended to not tend to his emotional needs until he was a seething pot of misery which would then boil over at the slightest provocation.

    Now I have a good credit rating, and he can have a fight with his coworker without losing his temper.


    • Pretty sure your husband and I are twins separated at birth, and you and my hubby-to-be have an awful lot in common. I can’t fix the roof, but I can point out where it’s leaking and how badly, and call a pro if need be.

  15. My husband and I have very similar personality types for a lot of things, so instead of having different roles, we have different assignments. He organizes the money, I organize the house. He makes and executes car appointments, I make and execute vet appointments. Household chores are split according to who notices things first (him dishes, me laundry, for example.) This is all based on a high level of trust we have in each other not to fuck it up. For things that neither of us like to do like making travel plans, we do it together. It works for us to have different assignments because it avoids the “Did you did this, or was I supposed to?” conversations. Before the assignments, the trust occasionally went too far, where we would assume the other had done something. And we also have to respect the “I need help with this” scenarios.

    Having a lot of overlapping personality traits can backfire sometimes. Lots of couples alternate between one “taking care of” the other during a stressful time. It works great until you are BOTH under a lot of stress at the same exact time. Which is a terrible time to try and come up with modified relationship roles…but you do. And we had a lot of “next time” conversations, so I am feeling positive about the next time our major stresses overlap. Because they will- that’s life!

    Where we diverge is probably with logistics. Husband is good at making the initial plan, but if something goes wrong, I am the one who “re-plans.” My thinking is more flexible than his and I can see alternate possibilities easier. He is better at being consistent when that’s needed.

  16. 10 and 8 for us – he’s the dreamer, I’m the researcher. We have our fields of speciality, but are always open to each other’s ideas because fresh eyes and someone who doesn’t know “how things are done” can give new ideas or insight. He’s the bedrock that helps to ground my emotions (I had a lot of crappy emotional habits to unlearn) and I’m a tree that has helped him open up a little more. When it comes to titles, he’s the Director of Humour and Dreams, I’m the Director of Research and Implementation.

  17. We’re kind of a weird mix, honestly… I feel like in the day-to-day things, I’m very much the Director of Logistics type. I’m the one who makes sure we stick to a budget. I tend to handle scheduling. I make the grocery lists and figure out what needs to be done so the house is clean before Mom and Dad visit.

    But with the more big-picture stuff, I feel like I’m the dreamer and he’s the realist. I’m the one that suddenly decides we should spend our savings on a big, impulsive European vacation, while he talks me down and convinces me that we should probably keep saving for the down payment on that house we’ve been wanting to buy instead. I get super emotional about things, while he stays calm and talks me through it.

    I’ve found in my friendships and relationships that I’m kind of a role chameleon, depending on the other person. I tend to shift (within reason, of course) to fill the role that’s not being filled. So, when I’m put into a situation with someone who is anxious and flighty, I tend to become calmer and more logical. When I’m dealing with someone who is super logical and calm, I get more emotional and unrealistic. It’s a weird thing.

    • I definitely get the role chameleon thing too! I’m type B, but the boyfriend is type…Z. So, unless it’s something he came up with and is really into (like our backpacking trips or concerts), I’ll do logistics and coordinating for a lot of things. I also tend to lead the way on cleaning projects and making plans with other people.

      On the other hand, I once traveled with my two type A friends who always have to know what is going on and when. So I sat back and let them both lead me around the UK, and it was great! They were going to expend the same amount of effort whether I helped or not, so I just made sure there were enough food stops and otherwise let them hash out all the details.

  18. I’m honestly not sure what his title would be, but I know *exactly* what mine is, as it’s used quite frequently:

    Minister for War, Finance & Social Affairs

    I’m the argumentative one who will stand up for myself when something isn’t quite right – I’m the person who gets up from a table at a restaurant to complain about the food or service, the person who’ll happily throw a hissy-fit in a store if I believe my rights aren’t being taken seriously, and the person who’s more than likely on the end of the phone to a service provider getting a bit narky about our lack of internet…and trying to wrangle discounts out of them for my inconvenience. HTB is exceptionally passive and non-confrontational, so while he’s happy for me to be the person to do all of this, he’s also more than happy to say “Her? No, I don’t know her…”

    Finances are my cup of tea, purely because I’m OCD and a control freak. Joint bank accounts make things a bit easier, means that I have full access to do everything that needs doing (pay mortgage, bills, schedule payments, transfer cash, ensure CC isn’t looking *too* nasty) and he has full access to see everything as well – though I don’t think he cares. As long as he can say “Have we got enough for ?” and I can respond, he’s happy.

    Social affairs is my primary role, I think – I’m the organiser. I’m the one who gets him out of the house so that he’s not communing with his computer for days on end. We’re both IT geeks, so communing is fine…but only for small periods of time. He’s very introverted, so I think I’ve helped him come out of his shell a bit in that regard.

    After reading yours, I think I’ll have to add Logistics to mine as well. I’m the organiser of the house, I know where everything goes (and holy hell, I am never letting him near my dishwasher ever ever again!) and everything certainly has a place. 12 years later and it’s still a slight struggle to get him to understand that, but he does get the basics, such as “Dirty clothes go somewhere in the vicinity of the dirty clothes basket”.

    He is definitely the emotional support – I too am slightly histrionic at times. He’s also the eternal optimist. I have a knack for being pessimistic, but he can always see the upside of absolutely *everything*. He’s my green thumb, he can actually get plants to grow (mine just shrivel and die) and he is somewhat handy around the house. He never gives up, even if something looks like it’s going to fail, he doesn’t care and just keeps on going until he succeeds. Probably why he’s stuck around with me so long 😛

  19. Holy moly…we had a HARD time with this.
    My husband is the all encompassing perfect everything. He never forgets, loses, messes up or breaks ANYTHING. He puts the keys in the right place all the time and never forgets to turn the porch light on, or get the laundry out of the dryer. I have screwed up each of those things in the last 12 hours. I never *felt* like a disaster before I married him. Shit always gets/got done, but sometimes it’s tough.

    On the other hand, he was raised by people who didn’t care about him and everything he did was basically irrelevant. He does not get his feelings hurt easily and he doesn’t understand that his actions have an impact on people. I grew up in a super-duper close family and in order to survive the tumult, I had to be keenly aware of my actions and their impact on others.
    We both have to deal with something regarding the other that seemed basically unbearable at first. We’re 100% in the phase of making up for each other’s shortcomings. We are learning though. I look forward to the day where we grow past that. In the meantime- we have developed some handy-dandy scripts for our most hotbed issues.

    When my husband is a robot and doesn’t understand feelers.
    “This is one of the circumstances where the earthlings would utter words of apology and acknowledgement. The female human’s [facial expression/tears/anger] are indicative of the need. In order to maintain your cover and further your research you must [apologize/acknowledge etc]. ASSIMILATE!!!” Then I kiss his face.
    (he has an easy script to follow for apologies too. Which, surprisingly, makes them no less meaningful)

    When I fuck up
    “Babe. I know you didn’t mean to [not feed the dog, not put the thing in the mail, leave stuff around]. Would you mind [taking care of it now, taking care of it before X, writing down X so you don’t forget]? It would mean a lot to me.” Then he has to kiss my face.

    He can’t handle drama or emotions well, so my script is silly and funny. I need to not feel like he’s being judgmental and critical, so his script is more lovey. We both notice that we have a hard time feeling like stupid things are important to fight about when we kiss each other’s faces.

    He is the Lab Manager (his real job) and I am the Teacher (my real job). Our roles work for now, but I’ll be glad when they develop to something more independent and less dependent on our perceptions of the other’s “flaws”.

  20. Holy beans! This is a revelation. I totally relate to the logistics/emotional support split. I am the highly strung organiser; meal planning, list writing, knowing who’s birthday is next week, thats me. Husband is the chilled, emotive one; it’s been our joke for a while that when birthdays come up, I organise the gift, he writes the card (that shit is hard!)
    Love love love this post. So much to think about.

  21. This is so timely! We’ve been together for seven years and have just had a baby. We’re in the throes of re-evaluating what works and doesn’t work in our relationship now that we have way less time and emotional energy and a tiny person to work around.

    I would say that I do research and development and Mr Alien does execution. In other words, I agonize over details and at some point he steps in just gets shit done. Left to our own devices, I would continue to agonize over details and never get anything done, and he would make rash decisions at the very last minute.

    Mostly we balance each other out nicely, but there have definitely been moments since the miniature alien arrived when I have realized I need to stop researching the shit out of everything. Seriously. It took me six months after she arrived to decide on a stroller, but, goddamn, that thing was optimized for all sorts of things that are probably irrelevant in the long run.

    On the whole, we work well together. Except that both of us need to learn how to open our fucking mail and pay our fucking bills on time. Neither of us currently fulfills the role of CFO. I was too busy being social secretary and party planner. He was too busy making sure our computers are perfectly networked. We’ll get there eventually. I love the fact that this article has reminded me that our roles can, and should, evolve with our relationship.

  22. I love this post – I think it’s a great way to reflect on where one’s relationship is at, and where you might want it to go…

    I’m pretty sure that I am the official Creator of Chaos and my partner is the Master of Chaos Cleanup. I do all the cooking, and leave job related books and papers strewn throughout the living room. He does all the kitchen clean-up and daily ordering (he’s kind of OCD).

    Beyond that, I do all of the weekly/monthly deep cleaning. I’m also in charge of our social life, but he takes on a lot of the work of emotional support. Sometimes I’m more emotionally stable/strong, and sometimes he is, so that tends to shift around a lot. I also take on a lot of the work that has to do with house and living maintenance (grocery shopping, house and cleaning supply shopping, etc). I don’t mind, as long as he recognizes that this is also work, and that I am putting a lot of hours into our living. He also supplements my income somewhat, which is why I’m willing to do some extra hours of work.

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