There are those of us who just love to fix others–our friends, our family, but most especially our partner. Rescuing their damsel in distress makes men feel manly. Pulling her man out of a quagmire makes a woman feel strong and needed. So what’s wrong with that you might say? Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with nurturing, giving emotional support, being willing to help. In fact, it’s wonderful What’s not so wonderful is when it’s carried to an extreme. When that happens it can be destructive.
For sure, the caretaker gets some benefit: they get to be smart and feel valued for their wisdom and strength. They get to feel needed. So needed, in fact, that their dependent partner is not likely to leave, often the greatest fear of a care-taker. Underneath their fix-’em behavior is a feeling of insecurity; the thought that they’re not good enough. Perhaps if their partner doesn’t really, really need them, they might leave, something a dependent partner is not likely to do out of fear they might fall apart.
So why doesn’t this work if both partners are complicit? Because there is a price to pay. For the rescuer, perpetual care-taking is exhausting. Trying to juggle both their own life and their partner’s is just too much responsibility. Sure, the care-taker likes the feeling of being control, but it keeps them invulnerable. They always have to be “big,” not showing their true self. Hiding is not good for them or their relationship. Vulnerability, the willingness to show up and be seen, is what makes a relationship truly intimate. And intimacy is what yields the greatest satisfaction.
For the one being helped, well imagine how dependent you feel if you’re always running to your partner to fix you. You don’t learn to flex your own emotional muscles and rely on yourself, which is necessary to feel independent and in charge of your life. You become the weak link, unable to function on your own. In the long run, no matter which side of the coin you’re on, you both end up unhappy.
It would be wise to watch out for this relationship pattern and take action to curtail it. If you’re the care-taker, become aware of your impulse to rush to your partner’s aid. Stop yourself. Allow them to work through their own challenges. You might discover that they are more capable than you think.
If you’re the dependent one and you face a challenge, make an effort to work through it yourself. Sometimes just sitting quietly with yourself will bring you answers. Maybe not right away, but with practice you might be surprised at what happens. If you feel the need to talk through your challenge, talk to someone other than your partner. You don’t want the unwanted consequences of that. You might be surprised and delighted to learn that you are more capable than you thought. I feel quite sure you can do it. You just need to prove to yourself that you can.
With both of you doing your part to find balance, you will create a happier, more satisfying partnership. Why not give it a try?
Check out my book, The Affair: From Breakdown to Breakthrough, A Therapist’s Real-life Journey, for more great tips and insights about relationships. You can buy it on Kindle worldwide from all Amazon websites, including www.amazon.com