There are ten general “Couple Archetypes” that form role systems in intimate relationships.

These archetypes include:

1) Male Dominant

2) Female Dominant

3) Father-Daughter

4) Mother- Son

5) Working and Suffering/Martyrdom

6) Open Relationship

7) Victim-Offender

8) Business Contract

9) Absent Partner

10) Mental Illness/Addiction.

These archetypes are helpful with clarifying the meanings and definitions that shape the roles that we often assume in an intimate relationship.

They also give us a sense of how the roles work together to form a system. When you place two role based thinking systems in a room together with the intent of living in that room together you will see interaction that seeks to accomplish specific objectives.

Often the primary objective is to establish the power differential.

Who has the power and who does not? How does your position differ from my own? In what ways are we equal and in what ways are we not? How do you serve me and how do I serve you? The power differential objective is generally accomplished through power struggling.

Establishing the positions of inequality is an important dynamic in a system that expects to operate within the confines of specific role assignments. The core operations and functionality of many of the couple archetypes are threatened by the very notion of equality. Equality would dissolve the core of the role systems structure. For example how can there be a male dominant archetype without a power differential. Add equality and the dominant feature vanishes along with the archetype.

The second objective is the over-riding impulse to defend one’s psyche.

Defending one’s thinking system is a natural part of ego development. Keeping balance among the beliefs that lurk, bicker, and debate in the backrooms of our psyche is no easy task. Add to this an intimate partner who threatens that balance shaking the foundations of that precarious “this is the way my world should be” in my head and we have a conflict on our hands. Our instinct is to defend our world view, to regain our balance, before the whole world goes to hell in a hand basket.

This defensive reaction however serves more than one purpose.

One of course is to make the immediate external universe more “psyche friendly”, to overcome the threat to one’s comfort zone, to win one’s way, to get what I want. However at a deeper level defending the collection of beliefs that form the cognitive system of our sanity is also important for keeping a hold on our illusions that without which we might feel the discomfort or maybe even the terror of being adrift. Our clutch on our buoy of beliefs bobbing in a sea of possibilities is the only thing that stands between us and insanity or so we believe.

Naturally we will defend our buoy of beliefs passionately, sometimes even when we are wrong, because to not do so would be to flirt with the insanity of not knowing, to consider the unthinkable notion of being without control, and to sit with an inner sense of profound restlessness without the remedy of distraction. This suggests that psyche defense is also illusion defense and these tend to be conflicts that role based thinking systems cannot afford to lose.

If for example an individual’s psyche is balanced by the illusion of dominance that individual will tend to be compelled to win all power struggles at any cost.

To not win would pose a specific threat to the dominance illusion upon which that individual’s psyche was built, the result of which would be the shattering of a hallmark illusion. Most psyches will resist the change that follows in the wake of a shattered illusion. This is true primarily because the mind has trouble letting go of the security that illusions offer. It is more the comfort and familiarity that the illusion brings that leads the mind of sentient beings to deny the shimmer in the oasis mirage seen across the desert sand which is to say that our illusions tend to require our defense.

This suggests that a large part of the interaction within these archetypes will tend to surround power struggling and defensiveness. This interaction serves to maintain the role system and renew the partner’s individual thinking systems with fresh affirmations or illusion maintenance.

In the process of identifying which archetype may best fit a couple it is important to note that not all couples will fit perfectly within a single archetype. It is possible for couples to drift or jump from one archetype to the other. It is also possible to have one foot in one archetype while having the second foot in another. The goal for couples is not so much to pin down a specific archetype but rather to increase awareness of the meanings and definitions that they have assigned to their intimate relationships.

Over time these meanings and definitions develop into the solid shape of concrete expectations.

Concrete expectations work together to form predictable roles that also become habituated and fixed. These concrete expectations and roles make the mind less flexible, less fluid, and subsequently less capable of adapting to the one constant in all relationships, change. This inflexibility leads to increases in partner resentment and general relationship tension and anxiety. Relationship meanings are the roots of relationship expectations. Individuals with an awareness of personal relationship meanings gain a perspective on the relationship that serves to dissolve resentment, reduce tension, and relieve anxiety.

Your relationship expectations are the most direct clues to the relationship meanings and definitions that you absorbed.

As couples engage in this archetype identification process accessing their relationship expectations is an important step. One way to key into your relationship expectations is to ask yourself in what ways does my partner serve me? What purpose does my partner serve in my life? These questions are sometimes helpful with stimulating the specific expectations that make up your personal relationship code. Below are the archetypes along with an overview of the partners and their role expectations.

The Ten Archetypes

1) Male Dominant – . Male superiority in this role system is supported by the male prowess to protect and provide. The male’s dominance is viewed as uncontested and absolute. The woman’s role in the Male dominant archetype is one that values pleasing the man, submission, dependence, and a graceful tolerance of the female’s subservient place. Descriptors for this archetype are found in the phrases, “king of his castle”, and “Lord of the living room”.

2) Female Dominant – Female superiority in this role system is supported by the natural worth of the feminine as something to be worshiped and thereby entitled to center of the universe treatment. The females emotional investment in the relationship is limited and conditional. The man’s role in the Female Dominant archetype is one that values the male’s worship of women as authorities on a man’s identity, worth and happiness, and thus prioritizes a woman’s approval and happiness. Pleasing a woman is a priority and making her happy is deeply rewarding. Descriptors of the woman’s thinking system might include “everything is about me”, “the world is not enough” and “I want what I want when I want it because I deserve it”.

3) Father-Daughter – The male’s superiority in this archetype is his position as provider. The male in this archetype is driven grandiosity (the need to be God-like), He feels the need to have a the sense of control over a woman as a prized possession or project under construction or a protégé to be mentored. He thrives on the daily food of worship and indebtedness from the dependent woman and he tends to use reward and punishment to maintain levels of fear and/or gratitude in the dependent woman. Secretly he also needs to be needed and tends to experience a disorienting loss of identity in the absence of a female dependent. he woman’s role in the Father-Daughter archetype will as the title suggests take on the general characteristics of the female child favored and dependent upon the security provided by the male parent.

The woman in this role will value dependence and some degree of helplessness which give them a sense of requiring masculine strength and security to achieve the experience of safety and sanctuary. Traditionally the woman in this role is impressionable, naïve, comforted, awed and/or envious of materialistic achievement, feeling more loved when receiving gifts and services then when engaging in sex or physical affection, possessing strong sense of loyalty to provider generally conveyed with intense demonstrations of gratitude. The Daughter role tends to possess lower levels of functioning in the realm of independence but may also have a above average aptitude for manipulation and getting the Father figure to do want they want.

There are several different forms of the father-daughter Archetype. The different forms of father include:

the benevolent benefactor, the indulgent father, the father superior (moral righteousness), the hero/mentor father, the pimp daddy, the sugar daddy, and the cruel possessive father, and the “daughter as an equal” father. The different forms of daughter include the shy and meek daughter, the sweet  and spoiled daughter, the devoted follower daughter, the daughter in distress or destitution, the rescued from prison daughter, the cradle recreation daughter, and the innocent beauty daughter, and the elevated status daughter.

Descriptors of this archetype include:

“sugar daddy”, “trophy wife”, and “gold digger’s paradise”

4) Mother-Son –  The female’s superiority in this archetype is founded upon her exaggerated sense of righteousness.  This superior righteousness is supported by her tireless acts of giving nurturance and problem solving to a partner who is needy. This female needs to be needed and seeks absolute control over the man in whom she encourages dependence that she also complains about.

The male’s role in this archetype is that of the man that needs fixing, mending, healing, or disciplining. There is some specific way or ways that this man is not self-sufficient. These deficits place him in a dependent position that he believes can only be remedied with the help of a female provider. He tends to believe that he is less righteous than a woman and that the woman’s righteousness and direction can save him.

The different forms of mother include:

“the corporate CEO”, “the mother superior”, “the moral compass”, “the consummate caretaker”, “the perfectionist parent”, “the mean mother”, and “the sugar mama”. The different forms of son include, “the absent minded professor”, “the spoiled son”, “the lost puppy”, “the helpless inadequate”, “the messy disorganized”, “the scorned son” and “the boy toy”. Descriptors of this archetype include, “she wears the pants in the family”, “the mother superior”, “cougars who close”, and “going from the cradle to the play pen”.

5) Working and Suffering – This archetype centers on martyrdom and the righteousness that comes with being the hardest working soul who suffers in silence, while shouldering overwhelming burdens of responsibility and obligation. The partners are locked in a self-sacrifice competition. Merits for work and suffering beyond the call of duty are silently noted and logged in their respective “Merit Supported Righteousness” ledger. Individuals residing in this archetype are primarily seeking to appease an internal conditional worth dictator who expects the completion of labors and sacrifices to maintain a status of conditional worth. In the event that either partner falls short they must suffer the consequences of guilt, regret, and having to say that they are sorry. To the people who abide in this thinking system apologizing is the gravest of all humiliations. There is a sense that the individuals residing in this archetype are paying off an invisible debt that can never be paid. It’s like there is a black hole inside these partners that is swallowing labors, efforts, and good works before they are even produced.

Descriptors of this role system include: “the martyr competition”, “dueling martyrs”, “persecution partners”, and “the labor of love vs. the love of labor”.

6) Open Relationship – This archetype is defined by a tolerance, allowance and preference for alternatives to monogamy and the traditions of monogamous commitment. The residents of this archetype tend to hold sex as a high priority. Men and women who subscribe to this archetype also have concerns about what commitment means and what it will do to  their “free to be me” lifestyle that requires the absence of ties that bind or restrict. Traditionally this archetype is a reaction to the notion that commitment is oppressive and restrictive. There is a tendency to believe that commitment is boring, tiresome, and the pathway to guaranteed misery and unhappiness. The ultimate conclusion being that commitment is death.

Descriptors of this archetype include: “free love”, “players”, “commitment phoebe”, “friends with benefits”, “playboy/playgirl” and “perpetuating adolescence”.

7) Victim-Offender – The majority of offenders are male with female offenders and male victims being the exception rather than the rule. The foundation of this archetype is the victim- offender bond. This fear based attachment that surround helplessness and powerlessness is similar to the bonding that occurs between terrorist and hostage. Victim-offender bonds however, tend to be more deeply rooted and develop over longer periods of duress and oppression. There is a specific dependence that links the victim to the offender and vice versa. This dependence requires help to facilitate and normalize unique system of faulty core beliefs that construct the identity and worth definitions in both the offender and the victim.

The victim’s thinking system includes, the loss of human rights, (safety, security, freedom, and dignity)/super-tolerance, the condition of powerlessness/ nonexistence (I am a possession, possessing no right to my own life), the paralyzed will, (in the absence of rights I have no will to fight. There is no “I” or “me” in the word “property”), the condition of helplessness (I have no self-regulation, nor do I have a self to regulate, I decide nothing. I only survive in this state of helplessness), survival cycling, (Survival is all I know. I survive to survive), the role of punishment and humiliation, (Punishment is the one time that I feel alive. For a moment during the punishment the nonexistence stops.)  The victim’s thinking routinely cycles around these themes of dependence, helplessness, powerlessness, worthlessness, and hopelessness.

Ironically, the offender like the victim possesses a thinking system that is also steeped in psychological dependence in that the offender is dependent on a victim. The cognitive distortions in the offender thinking system include internal helplessness/helpless rage/projecting helplessness/projecting blame/rules of engagement, grandiose positioning/victim entitlement/infliction of pain and suffering/show of remorse/injury compensation/regaining entitlement, dependence on punishment, depersonalization, submission, suffering and injury.

Descriptors for this archetype include: “domestic violence”, “wife beater”, “man from the “slap-a-hoe” tribe”, and “battered wife syndrome”.

8) Business Contract – The  male and female partners in this archetype tend to operate from similar thinking systems that are founded upon properties that include; a fierce loyalty to the importance of a wealth/status achievement plan or the plan for a better life. They tend to share a value system that is founded upon the achievement of  financial security, comfort, luxury, status and wealth. Individuals residing in this archetype tend to have an exaggerated sense of fairness and are fierce about things being equal. The fierceness surrounding fairness and equality tend to compensate for a deep fear of betrayal or being taken advantage of. The partners will often have a prenuptial agreement to ensure fairness and they tend to be strategic in there avoidance of vulnerability.

For the partners in this archetype the  goal or dream venture tends to dominate the course of the relationship. This mutually held vision of achievement tends to hold sway over personal preferences or pursuits. Anything pulling energy or focus from the common goal is quickly identified as a distraction that threatens the relationship. The loyalty to the dream is often so fierce that letting go of a partner who has become a liability may frequently be viewed as a gain rather than a loss. In this archetype the partner’s emotional marriage tend to be more with the dream than the dream partner. These partners may tend to view each other as expendable or disposable companions whose shelf life is determined by his/her devotion and or fit with the “grand plan”. Anything pulling energy or focus from the common goal is quickly identified as a distraction that threatens the relationship. Immediate adjustments are expected primarily including the discarding of the distraction and the restoration of energy to “the grand plan”. In this archetype the journey is not the thing, it is more about the destination.

Descriptors of this archetype include: “the grand plan”, “the master plan”, “the dream”, “bottom-line bedfellows” and “crossing the goal line”.

9) Absent Partner – The partners in this archetype co-exist within a relationship that is burdened by a lopsided emotional investment. One partner is clearly invested with a deep emotional commitment to his/her partner. The other partner is emotionally unavailable, with little or no emotional bond to his/her partner. The emotionally unavailable partner is much like the man sitting reading his newspaper at the kitchen table while the wife does cartwheels in her underwear to get his attention. The absent partner tends to view the relationship like a phase of life, or something you do because it’s time to do it, like a token ritual, you must go through the routine to be considered part of the social norm. Absent partners are often emotionally disconnected or unaware of their internal feelings.They may have tendencies towards disassociation from feeling states and appear to be one of those people whose lights are on but nobody’s home. Absent partners may tend to be workaholics who are simply more turned on by intellectual, left brain, stimulation then by the traditional emotional stimulation towards which many people seem to naturally gravitate. It is the problem solving that excites them.

The individuals who invest so much emotion in a partner who appears to be an “emotional black hole” tend to view the partner as a project or a “diamond in the rough”. Their pursuit is to change the individual into more suitable marriage or intimate relationship material. These individuals pride themselves in their ability to improve the world around them and believe this partner under construction will be met with the same success that they have had with their other projects. Their belief is that the absent partner will come around, he will learn to love and appreciate me just you wait and see. They have a high tolerance for disappointment and rejection and a fierce loyalty for staying the course. Quitting is simply not an option. Hardship is to be expected and disappointment means just work harder. The more impossible the project the more determined they become to accomplish the impossible. On a deeper level this individual’s psyche holds beliefs that suggest that the person’s existence depends upon a courtship with earning and achievement. Their existence is conditional. In order to maintain this courtship they must never reach the place of actual existence lest they end their conditional existence lifestyle. Thus choosing an “emotional black-hole” as a partner is an effective way to ensure that the achievement of existence will never occur, thus avoiding the end of their courtship with earning and achieving.

Descriptors of this archetype include: “even when he/she is here they’re not here”, “emotional black holes”, “token marriage”, and “ghost partners”.

10) Addiction/Mental Illness – The partners in the addiction archetype are held together by their addiction. They use together and in the absence of their chosen substances their bond is underdeveloped and often toxic. Their self-awareness is generally poor and they are adept at pretending their lifestyle of pursuing altered states is normal and common place. Their relationship choices are determined by the third party in their relationship which is the addiction itself. This third party is the one who truly determines their daily choices.

Relationships in which one or more of the partners have a mental illness are impacted by the inclusion of the illness as a third and sometimes fourth party. In the event that the illness is not named and treated the relationship becomes toxic and is impacted by the agendas of the unmanaged illness. In  relationships in which there is one partner with a mental illness and one without the person without the illness may not realize that they are frequently trying to reason with a third party which is the illness itself. Frustration levels will fly off the charts primarily because the partner without the illness does not see that they are trying to reason with the illness  thinking system which is programmed for conflict and capable only of distortions of reality.  How do you reason with insanity?

You don’t instead you identify it, name it, and treat.

You separate it from your partner with your partner’s help and then problem solve together once the illness (the third party) has been put in its place.

Addiction descriptors include “two dudes and a pipe”, “what we do now”, and “from partner’s in bliss to strangers in reality”.  Mental Illness descriptors include “talking to the alien”, “the toxic agenda”, “mutating distortions”, and “my mate wouldn’t say that”.


Continue Reading Part 3: Role Couple vs. Real Couple

Written by: Larry Marshall, LPC