As a recovering fixer, I’m guilty of trying to fix many men I've dated in the past, thinking if I'd "encourage" him to work on XYZ, he'd be a better partner for me. And to be honest, it wasn't healthy for me to find my worth in making him better versus accepting his character at face value. Instead, I should have been asking myself, can I see myself in alignment with him or is it better to just be friends? These are hard questions, I know, but essential ones you need to ask yourself in the earlier stages if you are looking to date intentionally based on your values and morals.
The author of Getting to Zero: How to Work Through Conflict in Your High-Stakes Relationships, Jayson Gaddis adds, “If I do all the work in our relationship, including paddling for both of us, and you sit on your ass, we will go in circles and never reach our destination.” What's more, instead of doing the work for two, focus on the things you need to work on for yourself and stop doing work that isn’t yours to do.
If you are finding yourself constantly trying to change your partner, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1.Ask yourself, 'Why do I want to change my partner?'
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As a recovering fixer, I have immense empathy for my fellow fixers reading this article because at most fixers’ core is the mindset to be of service in their romantic relationships. They often lead with acts of service being their primary love language, not realizing it’s causing more harm than helping anything.
As psychologist Kristin Davin, PsyD, states, “We often create an image of what we want our partner to be and focus on those traits that reinforce that image. However, over time, that lens shifts to one of wanting to change their partner."
Davin notes that some of the reasons for this include: "(1) By and large, women have an overly idealistic view of relationships. They want to change their partner to fit this idea. Men, on the other hand, think there is no need to change. (2) People have lofty expectations of both the relationship and their partner. So they start wanting their partner to change to meet those ideals. It rarely, if ever, works.”
She continues, “They may want to change their partner because there are things they don't like about them - that they often ignored in the beginning - but now have become problematic for them. As a result, relationship problems will evolve. And always trying to change your partner creates resentment. It is a relationship killer. They would rather focus on the other person meeting their needs, instead of looking inward and focus on how they can show up differently for their partner.”
Be aware of those deflectors; that’s a red flag when the other person is consistently focused on what you need to work on and not focusing on their growth or minimizing it, acting as if it’s minor compared to what you need to work on. Everyone’s battle is different, and that isn’t a healthy form of comparison as it shows a lack of accountability.
2.Are you dating their potential or who they are at face value?
I’m sure most people have dated a person or two based on “their potential.” But dating someone’s potential to some extent is a bit of a Russian roulette game based on the type of potential you're betting on. Some people aren’t even assessing a dating situation based on the other person's actions to make that potential a reality. The other person could be making no real progress, and then they are like, 'They’ll get there eventually.' That’s a bit unrealistic, but it happens more often than you can imagine.
As Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Kevin Mimms states, “There is a tendency to point toward potential (real or imagined) as a contrast to other, more damaging behavior. It may be that the potential they see is a projection of their hopes or ideals onto this person. To interpret thoughtless words or actions as demonstrative of childhood dreams is naive but understandable.”
It's important to be aware of the fact that the potential you see for a person might not be the potential they see for themselves. This form of projection is something we can sometimes subconsciously do. Instead, learn to lead by listening to understand and discerning a person’s motives by their actions.
“There is a thin line between seeing potential in someone and living your dream out through them. They may have potential, even one very similar to your dreams, but it isn’t about them when you make their growth about fulfilling your dreams.”
3.Is building a partner by trying to change them beneficial in the long run?
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The next time the idea of building a partner pops up, ask yourself why you want to take up that responsibility. Is there a part of you settling because you think your needs can’t be met, so you’re just trying to make this work? Are you subconsciously married to the timing you have for yourself for a relationship, marriage, kids, or all the above, making you force something that may not be for you in the long run?
As Licensed Mental Health Counselor Nicole Kleiman-Reck, LMHC, mentions, “I don’t think building a partner is beneficial since every person is unique and beautiful in his/her own way (and already fully built).” Let’s emphasize the “already fully built” part, which means there is no need for your tweaking for your personal self-gain that may not serve the person in the long run and could brew areas of resentment.
“Building a relationship with two partners is helpful, and this entails agreeing to disagree, choosing to tolerate, learning to compromise, and aiming to come to what feels like a 'win-win' outcome. It all boils down to learning to appreciate and value the different aspects that each person has to offer in the relationship, which is what makes a strong partnership based on interdependency (which is not the same as co-dependency or dependency).”
4.Introspection is key to stop trying to change a partner.
Turn inward. Building your self-awareness is essential for unlearning fixing in relationships. You may think it’s helpful in the moment, but in a long-term relationship, it will become mentally and emotionally depleting for both parties. As Davin states, “Work on yourself. The fixers are focused outside themselves and want to change and 'fix' another person rather than looking inward. Taking the time to be more introspective allows that person to question their 'fixing behavior' and what motivates them to continually engage in that behavior. It's very off-putting for the person they are trying to change."
"When we are focused on changing others, we aren't focused on what we need in a person and relationship and being honest about that but rather using our energy to change others. When we are focused on the other person, we turn our energy outwards.”
5.Understand the importance of dating people based on face value.
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Let me explain, acceptance = peace.
As Kleiman-Reck suggests, “I think it is of the utmost importance to take people at face value and accept them based on where they are now. The thing is, you can ask someone to change, and you can inspire someone to change, but you cannot make them change. The better question is, what are YOU going to change to feel happier in your relationship (or in any aspect of life, for that matter)?” This is a tough question to ask oneself, but an essential one to train your mind back to working on the only person you can change, YOU!
“Life is too short to distract yourself from changing others. Changing your belief system on what makes a fulfilling relationship will help with acceptance and joy that is usually there for the taking.”
A healthy bond’s foundation starts and ends with acceptance. To my fixers, I know it’s not an easy fix, but it is a worthy one. Imagine a world of you just being responsible for how you show up in the relationship and not ignoring the red flags that he or she doesn’t have what you need but they have “potential.” Develop a new mindset of, "I’m not forcing anything, and I’m only aligning with people who are in a similar place as me."
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