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What is Interrole Conflict?

By Erica Loop ; Updated April 18, 2017
Smiling young family sitting around a breakfast table.

Your life is complex. You’re a parent, but that’s not all. From your work to the job that you do at home, you take on many different roles every day. These may include employee, boss, parent, sibling, child or spouse. When the responsibilities that you take on in one area -- such as your work life -- clash with your family life, or your role as a parent infringes on your ability to connect with your spouse, you have interrole conflict.

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Parenting and Careers

Work-family tension is a major interrole conflict that many couples with children experience. Interrole conflict between work and parenting is found to be at its highest when the child is under 5 years old, according to the study “Work-Family Conflict Among Members of Full-Time Dual-Earner Couples: An Examination of Family Life Stages, Gender, and Age” in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Conflict between your roles as a parent and an employee can cause tension both at home and at your job. For example, instead of feeling free to spend time with your spouse, you may constantly answer work-related emails. This may result in your spouse feeling unimportant or resentful. On the other side, you may feel guilty or overwhelmed at work when you think about all of the family time that you’re missing.

Work-Life Balance

Work-life interrole conflict is a common stressor. In 2014, 59 percent of workers reported feeling satisfied with their overall work-life balance, according to the American Psychological Association. One-fifth of employees in the U.S. feel that their jobs get in the way of their responsibilities at home. In comparison, only 12 percent of workers feel that responsibilities at home conflict with employment-related responsibilities.

Spouse and Parent

Interrole conflict doesn’t only revolve around your roles outside the home. Sometimes you may clash with yourself, your spouse and your child over what role you’re currently playing. For example, your spouse wants you to spend romantic time alone with him, but you feel like you’re abandoning your job as a parent. Instead of going out to a candlelit dinner, you stay home with the kids, making their favorite mac and cheese meal. This type of interrole conflict centers on your roles as a spouse or romantic partner and a caretaker. This can create a lower level of marital satisfaction.

Other Possible Conflicts

Conflict between your roles as a parent, worker and spouse aren’t the only possible tensions when it comes to your relationships. You can have interrole conflict between yourself and your parent just as easily as it can happen between you and your own child.

You can also feel the pinch of this type of conflict with friends. For example, your old bar buddy wants you to keep hanging out with him on Saturday nights, but now that you have a family – that’s out. This is likely to cause stress between the two of you and possibly in your own mind. You may feel conflicted about giving up your former social life or resentful that you don’t have the same freedoms that your friends enjoy.

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About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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