Hands up if you’ve ever expected your lover to fix you, heal you, or make you feel better about something that had nothing to do with them?🙋🏽♀️ Or maybe you've been the self-appointed fixer.
I am hugely guilty of both of these. It’s taken me many tantrums and arguments to realise that the issues that I brought into my relationship (and the ones I never knew existed) weren’t my boyfriend’s job to fix.
Our partners are not our therapists.
I used to get frustrated with my boyfriend when I’d be upset about something (usually teaching yoga!😆) and he wouldn’t indulge me and mollycoddle me. I’d compound that the two issues and would end up too riled up to work through the original issue🤪.
He’d be there and offer support but not always in the very specific form I wanted it so I misjudged him as being uncaring. But it’s not that he didn’t care, he just knew the limits of his duties and capabilities and didn’t expect himself to fix me. He’s only human after all.
Then one night during one of my tantrums about something I didn’t like about myself, he was there, physically holding my hand but not emotionally engaging with me. At first my reaction was ‘what a dick’ but deep down I knew he was doing the right thing and I made no attempt to drag him down with me.
Then I shocked myself when - thanks to my mental skills training - I was able to ask myself: how is it benefitting me that he’s not engaging with my tantrum?
The answer came straight away:
You have to love yourself instead.
For reasons I don’t yet fully understand, many of us approach relationships with a semi conscious expectation that our partner will heal our wounds. Or the opposite - some of us take it upon ourselves to ‘fix’ our partners (again, guilty as charged, Your Honour. As a trained therapist, it’s quite hard to control myself😆). This tendency quite rightly irritates my boyfriend!
Unfortunately, the well-intended ‘fixing’ approach puts a lot of pressure on a relationship.
The ‘fixer’ expects themselves to solve the problems of the ‘fixee’ and beats themselves up (or gets annoyed with the fixee) when their efforts don’t pay off. And the fixee gets annoyed that they’re not being loved and accepted as they are.
This dynamic tends not to exist in friendships. We are far more accepting of our friends. Friends contentedly exchange support and advice without the expectation that it will actually change their friend. And we're totally ok with it. We tolerate our friends' irritating, self destructive behaviours because we have the objectivity and wisdom not to expect them to change.
We inherently know the limits of a friendship, but in a romantic relationship the expectations are often different, and this is what drives a whole load of "fixing frustration". (Of course in friendships there tends to come a point when we just can't listen to them whinge about the same problem AGAIN and something has to give - but we still don't try to fix them).
The tricky thing about fixing is that it can easily be confused with being supportive. There’s a difference between being supportive and healing or fixing someone. Support is a necessary part of a relationship (which needs to matched with equal challenge). Useful support is having a conversation and talking through some difficult issues. A partner can say certain things that evoke thoughts that help you grow and develop. It can be incredibly helpful in terms of bonding but ultimately the task of healing is down to whoever needs to be fixed to do without the partner. (If not, it can also lead to a sense of dependence on the fixer, which isn't healthy either.)
Support can take many forms, including backing off and letting someone figure things out for themselves.
Excessive nurturing and support actually stunts our growth and can get in the way of us thinking for ourselves, being autonomous and independent.
I’ve been on the receiving end of that, too, and it was quite delicious for a while but ultimately held me back and delayed the inevitable process of dealing with a massive pile of shit that accumulated while I was blissfully being supported. If that boyfriend had been less inclined to rescue me I'd have been more inclined to rescue myself instead of using him as a plaster, and dealt with some of my stuff a lot sooner. Unfortunately I didn't know there was another way, and I think this is the same with a lot of people too. A breakup is sometimes the best thing that can happen to a fixee because it forces them to wake up and deal with their shit.
So can fixees take accountability for their own stuff? And can fixers back off, accept their partners in the same way they accept their friends and let them work through their stuff? Managing our expectations of our partners is one of the best things we can do for our relationships - more on that in a future post.
Like those cheesy songs and greetings cards go - if you want anyone to love you, you have to first love yourself. No amount of support from a partner can do that for you.