How To Stop Being A Fixer In Relationships
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How To Stop Being A Fixer In Relationships

Every loving relationship needs boundaries. Here's how to stop enabling.

Love & Relationships

I’m sure a high percentage of people who chose to click this article either are fixers, former fixers, or maybe they want to understand why fixers feel the need to make it their responsibility to change everyone. Well, for one, barely anyone who fits the bill knows why they do what they do until it exhausts them—like myself. I have been a fixer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved fighting for the underdog. Something about being needed for the betterment of people’s lives has always felt very fulfilling to me. That is until I’d invested so much in many close relationships that it backfired on me. And like many fixers, I would question how I could have offered so much, yet people treated me anyhow in the end?

First of all, I don’t know who gave me this responsibility. It's really not my battle to fight because transforming people’s mindsets is not any person’s job. It is work that only Jesus can do. “Let go and let God” is a real mindset that fixers need to be open to.

I've realized that if people didn't see the need or have the desire to work through their own mishaps, there was nothing I could do to change the outcome of things. It didn’t matter how much I cared and wanted them to step into their so-called greater potential. Progress wouldn't happen until they were ready and willing to do the work.

My Fixer Revelation

During a therapy session, I was asked whether I liked being “everything” for people close to me, and I said "yes," feeling a bit shameful and questioning why I continued those cycles. Every fixer has their particular reasons, but I think my abandonment issues had a lot to do with it. As a child, I felt that I wanted to be cared for. I wanted to be rescued by my absent biological father and saved from being emotionally neglected by other family members.

I always felt things very deeply. I have a Scorpio Moon sign, and I mention that to signify that I am very comfortable sitting in and working through heavy emotions. It intrigues me a lot, and that’s my big way of fixing people—being their emotional backbone until it’s backfired on me in several close relationships. This is why I’m now choosing to combat this behavior of playing savior and working on being a supporter of people, not their foundations.

Let me introduce you to the fixer lens below, as I dissect this character trait with two therapists who are very well-versed on the subject:

How To Know You're A Fixer

One of the biggest ways to tell if you're a fixer is to see how much you extend yourself in relationships and to whom you stretch yourself. I often extend myself to individuals who associate themselves with avoidant or other anxious attachment styles. I also tend to play the role of fixer to avoidants because they don’t like examining their emotions, and I often like walking them through it. Licensed clinical social worker, Insha Rahman, a relationships and boundaries expert at mental health directory Choosing Therapy, says that fixers tend to feel responsible for other people's emotional stability and happiness, while they themselves are very sensitive and emotionally vulnerable.

If you like to be the giver in a relationship to the point of "saving" or being a "white knight," you're probably a fixer. Someone with a fixer mentality has to fix anything they perceive as hurt, broken, or defective.” I look at myself as an ongoing self-help project. For way too many years, I have applied the same mindset to relationships of any kind—familial, friendly, and romantic.

Licensed mental health counselor Nicole Kleiman-Reck, an expert on relationships and boundaries, mentions another perspective on how to identify whether you're a fixer. “A person can recognize if they are a fixer when they avoid getting to the root of a problem. In relationships, this is often described as being avoidant. If a person is doing all of the work to fix the problems in a relationship, they can pretty much be feeling like they are taking on 100 percent of the responsibility in the relationship. They are not holding their partner accountable for the role he or she is playing and often feel insecure in the relationship. Fixers are often very uncomfortable to see their partner in pain, but it is usually tolerating the discomfort that allows the work to be done for true resolution of problems.”

"Fixers are often very uncomfortable to see their partner in pain, but it is usually tolerating the discomfort that allows the work to be done for true resolution of problems.”

Who would have thought offering your partner space to figure it out for themselves, in their own timing and way, is more beneficial for both parties?

Why You Like Fixing Other People

“Fixers feel the need to fix others because of an underlying need to validate and give meaning to their own lives," adds Rahman. "Many times, fixers are survivors of some kind of past damage such as abandonment or loss of a caregiver. Although their intentions may initially be positive, fixers want to be the one figure everybody looks up to for all the answers.”

Unfortunately, I have felt this as my “calling” to help others in such a capacity, not knowing it was also causing a lot of heartaches as well. I was investing an abundance of self-work that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the other person. Just because I see and often treat myself as a project doesn't mean others should be depicted through that lens. Just think about how hard it is to unlearn and change aspects of yourself.

To think that’s an easy 1-2-3 for others is literally insanity.

The Backfiring Aspects of Being a Fixer

Many people admire fixers because sacrificing themselves at such a capacity can be disguised as deep-rooted love or care for the other person. In reality, it builds an unhealthy attachment instead of a support system with boundaries — which every relationship needs.

Kleiman-Reck states, “Fixing is unhealthy in relationships because it will get in the way of true intimacy. It's a one-sided relationship, and it can either lead to codependency and enabling of the partner to take responsibility for the changes they need to make on an individual level or will be downright exhausting for the fixer, and they will often get into the habit of fixing, even when there is not a problem. Fixing can get in the way of differentiation in a relationship, which is essential since both partners need to be able to express their individual needs. Being able to openly communicate this is essential in a healthy relationship, and fixing is unhealthy because it prevents this growth.”

"Fixing can get in the way of differentiation in a relationship, which is essential since both partners need to be able to express their individual needs. Being able to openly communicate this is essential in a healthy relationship, and fixing is unhealthy because it prevents this growth.”

As someone who has had my fair share of one-sided relationships, when they came to an end, I felt so empty. It was like, 'Wow, I gave so much.' And in the end, it was never enough. It was just in the last few months of therapy, as I unpacked a lot of my patterns in relationships, that I started to see the role I often played. I questioned whether I was playing this role as a trauma response to underlying abandonment issues.

“Being a fixer can be a trauma response to past abandonment issues that stem from an ingrained sense of being damaged," Rahman says. "And abuse damages self-esteem. Often children who were exposed to parental disapproval, rejection, and physical or emotional abuse will end up with a sense of blaming themselves for their parents' abuse. Then in adulthood, that person might project [their] damaged self onto partners whom they see as in need of repair. In other words, by fixing their partner, they are fixing themselves.” And so, the cycle continues.

Unlearning Habits and Implementing Secure Boundaries

Kleiman-Reck says that in helping fixers through their challenges, she empathizes with "the fixing role they have been playing" and she encourages self-compassion since a "fixing mentality usually comes from a place of deep hurt but also has positive intent." She also reinforces that making it to therapy means that a fixer realizes there is a disconnect in the relationship, which is "huge progress." She helps clients to recognize internal conflicts and works with them to "normalize the two parts of themselves" and have a "healthy dialogue" between the part of themselves that wants to evolve and the part of themselves that wants to fix others.

"I would also support their own discomfort during their process of change and reinforce the beauty that is on the other side of a truly healthy relationship. I would teach them how to get curious about their partner's actions by encouraging them to ask questions (and would guide them through healthier questions to ask)."

"The goal of unlearning their fixing qualities will be to better understand why they feel compelled to fix while normalizing the discomfort that comes from growth. Seeking support would be an ongoing focus while they take action with boundary-setting," she adds.

To all my fixers out there, I know your heart. It is pure and always looking to play the role of a warrior. But a sustaining and healthy love needs space for people to figure out their own mishaps. The best you can do is acknowledge whatever issue comes up with compassion and be patient with others during their healing process.

You need to focus on their discernment and being responsible for your part. You can also release the burden off your shoulders if you admit the work that is meant for you to do in the relationship versus work that the other party needs to tend to.

Every loving relationship needs boundaries. Stop enabling work that wasn’t meant for you to do.

Featured image by Getty Images

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