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How to stop rescuing your partner and free yourself of guilt

Are you constantly attempting to fix or rescue your partner? If so, you’ll know that it’s an unrelenting task which weighs heavy on you over time. The effort you’ll put in trying to rescue them will leave you feeling exhausted. This pattern can go on indefinitely until you acknowledge that it just doesn’t work. Whether your partner suffers drug or alcohol addiction, past abuse, trauma, family issues, anxiety, depression or anything else, it’s not your job to fix, cure or rescue them. 

It’s up to them to put their own gas mask on and partake in their own rescue. 

But why does the rescuer play such a role?

The rescuer rationalises that if they don’t take responsibility to improve their partner’s mood, emotions, physical issues, or situation, then their partner will plummet down a black hole. One significant factor is that the saviour doesn’t trust their partner to find their own way. The saviour makes this even worse by doing everything for them, pretty much organising their life and trying to change their experience for the better. Noble as this is, it creates dependency, as the wounded partner starts to expect them to play such a role full-time until they no longer feel confident to tackle any issues by themselves. 

If you are acting as rescuer in your relationship, start trusting your partner. Believe they can find their own way. 

Another classic rescuer fear is loss. Often they fear losing their partner simply at the idea of stopping playing the role of saviour. This is often because the role is so aligned within their personality that the idea of not rescuing feels wrong. They feel they have nothing else to offer unless they play such a role in their partner's lives, fearing that if they don’t, their partner will leave them. The effort they put in trying to fix their spouse eventually leads to resentment and anger when it doesn’t work, or when they don’t receive support back. 

If you’re perpetually trying to save your partner ask yourself what you want the basis of the relationship to be framed as: Friend? Mother? Father? Patient? Carer? Counsellor? Lover? Ask yourself how you’re framing the relationship and what you’d prefer? If you want a passionate relationship together sharing fun, lightness, laughter, and mutual support, adopting a role as your partner’s carer or counsellor won’t achieve that. 

Another main reason the rescuer plays such a role is to eradicate their own feelings of discomfort at watching their partner suffer. This is an endless cycle with limited rewards. It’s tough, but not allowing your partner to go through their own journey means they’ll become reliant on you and never grow in their own right. Instead of rushing in to save them from their pain, consider that you may be trying to prevent them from experiencing pain you personally relate to. Perhaps, for example, one of your parents struggled with addiction or mental health issues like your partner? Or maybe your spouse suffered other similar experiences to you? If so, your partner's pain will be very familiar to yours. Either way, dealing with your own issues through therapy rather than attempting to save your partner from theirs, would be powerful for your own healing.

Finally, guilt is an emotion a saviour relates to more than any other feeling. They experience enormous pressure to right the wrongs, balance the erratic and wipe out the pain of their loved ones - often putting massive expectation on themselves to do so. When they fail to soothe their partner they feel frustrated, useless, and guilty, almost as if they created the issues their partner suffers from. If you relate to feelings of guilt ask yourself why you feel responsible for their issues and know that your partners suffering is not your fault. 

Now if you’re reading this article you’ve already made a great start in dealing with your fixer tendencies, since in order to change anything you must have an awareness of it first. 

So with that being said there are six key steps to further tackling your tendency to play the role of saviour within your relationship, and creating a secure, supportive partnership in the future:

  • Remind yourself daily of your tendency to fix, save, or rescue your partner. This will help you to build an awareness of your rescuer patterns.
  • Ask yourself how you want the relationship with your partner to be framed. Who do you want to be within your relationship? Friend? Mother? Father? Counsellor? Healer? Carer? Lover? 
  • Trust that no matter how bad it seems, your partner has the power within themselves to take part in their own rescue. Let your partner know how you want the relationship to be framed (as above), and that from now on you trust them to work through their own issues. Remember, their suffering is not your fault.
  • Next, start to become aware of the urge to rescue your partner throughout the day. You will experience this as a feeling in your body which wills you to step in and save them through words or actions. This feeling is like a powerful magnetic force which appears to draw you towards their pain and attempt to make them feel better.
  • Stand strong. Don’t move. Hold the urge instead of reacting to it and allow your partner to go through their own process.
  • Take a mental or written note of how you feel, what happened and what thoughts came up for you. This won’t be comfortable, but it will be enlightening.

If you find yourself locked in patterns of perpetually attempting to rescue your partner a therapist can help you to understand your feelings, transform the role you play within your relationship and support you in creating a healthy, happy partnership for the future.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Adam Matthew Day - Relationship Counsellor & Coach

Adam Day is trained in various approaches as an integrative therapist; these include humanistic (person centred/existential), cognitive behavioural, transpersonal and psychodynamic. He is available for therapy throughout the week from 10am to 8pm.… Read more

Written by Adam Matthew Day - Relationship Counsellor & Coach

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