Role Reversal – the Good, the Bad and the Unexpected

Have you sometimes wished that your spouse (or someone else close to you) could walk in your shoes for just one day? And did you hope that this role reversal would enable your spouse to have a better perspective on what your day is really like? Did you contemplate that such a role reversal would enable the other person to be more empathetic, more appreciative of you and all the work you do?

Role reversal is a powerful way to gain insight and transformation. However, be careful what you wish for. For with a mutual role reversal (both of you switching roles) the unexpected might happen. Not only would your spouse get to experience your perspective (good news) but you would also witness your own behavior as viewed from the other side (not always such good news).

Yup, when you are walking in the other person’s shoes, you get a different take on a lot of matters. Comments that you thought were just being helpful may be experienced as nagging. Criticism that you thought of as being constructive may be experienced as injurious. This can be both a painful and enlightening revelation.

We often try to make mutual role reversals happen in the hope that they will enhance the relationship. Other types of role reversal, however, happen naturally, often when we least expect them.

A few examples:

Jessica griped, “I can’t believe I’m turning into my mother. I was shrieking at my daughter, telling her how selfish and inconsiderate she is. I was appalled to hear my mother’s words tumbling out of my mouth. Afterwards, I was so upset. But then I started to think that maybe these things just happen when you’re in the mom role. To be honest, I know I drove my mother crazy the same way my daughter drives me crazy. Maybe this is a role reversal and I, much to my regret, am getting my just desserts.”

Mary spoke unabashedly about how helpless and needy she was as a young wife. “I couldn’t make a decision without turning to my husband for his approval. Nowadays, however, I recognize that my husband needs me the way I used to need him. This role reversal is meaningful to me. It’s not that I take joy in his feeling helpless and needy. It’s that I take pride in my being strong and confident. He no longer has to play that role for both of us.”

George felt ambivalent about his role reversal with his adult son. “I’ve been my son’s go-to guy forever. But now, I must admit there are things that he knows more about than I do. Both swallowing my pride and beaming with pride, I turn to him for advice on a variety of matters. This role reversal is sometimes tough for me. But in my saner moments, I think, what more could a parent ask for than an adult child who can be a sound and sturdy resource.”

Role reversals – the good, the bad and the unexpected. All of them can be enlightening.

Author's Bio: 

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice and international author who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior.

Dr. Sapadin has written 4 self-help books on overcoming procrastination, overcoming fear and advice on living and loving.

For more information about her work or her books, visit or write to her at

Dr. Sapadin has appeared on national and regional media, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, National Public Radio, The God Squad and Voice of America.

Her work has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsday, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal, Prevention Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Men’s Health and hundreds of other publications.

Dr. Sapadin has been an invited speaker to the Smithsonian, the American Psychological Association, Hofstra University as well as many other educational, business and social groups.