How to Stop Being the Fixer in Relationships

Fixing might feel good, but it’s the toxic kiss of death to a relationship.

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Photo by Alexandre Chambon on Unsplash

Subtle clues you might have fixer tendencies:

You might be a fixer if…

  • You feel deeply responsible for other people’s emotional stability, satisfaction, or happiness.
  • You can’t bear to watch a loved one experience discomfort — even if the uncomfortable circumstance is a natural consequence of their choices.
  • You’re quick to step in to solve problems or create solutions for people you care about, and doing so makes you feel happiness or relief.
  • You like to be the giver in the relationship.

But… caring about people’s happiness and well-being doesn’t automatically make you a fixer.

Caring for people and wanting to see them succeed in life doesn’t always mean you have fixer tendencies. Neither does living generously and helping people in need.

A fixer doesn’t just solve someone else’s problem, they actually become the solution.

You see, at the core, being a fixer comes from a good — if slightly misguided — heart.

Why fixing is so unhelpful

While it is noble to alleviate suffering, many times that pain is the result of someone’s own life choices. When we fix that person’s uncomfortable consequences, it can actually block that person’s access to one of life’s greatest teachers — pain.

There’s another ugly truth behind the “kindness” of fixing:

Often, when we step into the fixer role, we unconsciously communicate our belief that the recipient of our help isn’t strong or smart enough to solve their own problems.

Even if we don’t believe that, and are just trying to avoid our own emotional pain at seeing a loved one suffer, we’re still reinforcing the idea for ourselves that we are the solution to their problems. (We’re not.)

How to stop being a fixer

Assess the situation

Before you jump in to help or even fall into great distress over a loved one's situation, stop and assess the situation.

  • Is this part of a larger pattern of behavior — like addiction, carelessness, or toxic relationships?
  • Is my loved one acknowledging their role in the problem?
  • Is this a problem they could resolve on their own with encouragement, guidance, or emotional support?
  • Who is most motivated to solve this problem — your loved one, or you?
  • Who can offer the best wisdom or support in this situation?

Know your own motives

Along with finding the lay of the situational land, you also need to check the landscape of your own heart.

  • Is your desire to help motivated by feelings of guilt, shame, or concerns of what other people might think?
  • Do you need to be the hero or savior on order to feel valued?
  • Is this part of a greater pattern of “they fail, you fix.”
  • Are you feeling responsible for things you have no control over, like other people’s choices or emotions?
  • Are you taking responsibility for the things you do control, like your actions, thought patterns, and responses?

Choose to empower

Empowering is the choice to give the proverbial hand up instead of a hand out, (or bail out, if the situation fits).

Empowering is always the best choice, but it isn’t always the easiest.

Sometimes the most empowering thing you can do is to step away and give the person space to experience the pain of their circumstances. Other times it might look like asking them what they think the solution is and offering encouragement and emotional support on their way there.

  • Empowering seeks the healthy independence of the other party.
  • Empowering seeks to connect the other person with a network of resources to help them along their way.

Fixer tendencies can be hard to shake — but you can make them work in your favor.

Invest in your own relational toolkit

There have been a handful of resources that have made me aware of my own fixer tendencies — and given me the tools to become more empowering in relationships.

  • Love and Logic books and resources, especially the concepts behind enforceable statements — these work for all ages, not just kids!
  • Journaling about situations to clarify my own thoughts and intentions.
  • Honest conversations with trusted advisers in my life.

Fix yourself.

You really are the only person in any relationship that you can fix. If you’re going to spend time trying to fix someone, start here:

It starts with you.

When you choose to empower, rather than fix, you’re helping your loved ones in the best possible way. The people you care about deserve to be treated in a way that honors their autonomy, resilience, and personal strength. You deserve this too. The only way to enforce this is to start with yourself.

Treat yourself with extraordinary grace and compassion.

Unlearning these unhealthy relational patterns takes effort, intention, consistency, and most importantly, time. Learning not to be the fixer in a relationship is hard work — treat yourself with extraordinary grace and compassion in the process.

It will be painful.

Sometimes the people we care about are trapped in addictive behaviors or toxic relationships, or they are simply dead-set on making poor choices. We can’t fix their problems for them, and realizing this can be extraordinarily painful. At times, we may even have to lovingly step back or even cut off contact entirely, in order to restore balance and honor their autonomy.

There is hope.

Yes, it takes a lot of work, but as you do the work you’ll see a powerful shift in how you experience relationships. People who create and maintain healthy boundaries in their relationships actually attract others with the same core values.

As you surround yourself with healthy relationships, it will become easier and easier to stop being the fixer, and start truly empowering the ones you love.

Soul searcher, question asker, solution finder.

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