Let’s say you’re dating a guy and he’s perfect. At least, he will be as soon as you’re done with him. All you need to do is make a few upgrades in his wardrobe, communication skills, choice of friends, workout routine, relationship with his mother, and that ugly garage-sale couch he’s so attached to. Once that’s all done and you’ve helped him take his career to the next level, he’ll be marriage material for sure.
Or perhaps you’re seeing a girl and there’s something about her that makes you feel like a knight in shining armor. She’s been hurt before and says she can’t trust men, but somehow that only makes you want to win her all the more. Or she’s always in some sort of dilemma and you’re just the guy to help her out of it. Or your friends think she’s demanding and treats you like dirt, but she’s got this vulnerable side and you’re convinced that—if you just keeping loving her—one day she’ll brim with appreciation, realizing that you’re the man of her dreams.
If any of these scenarios apply to you, it’s likely you’re dating a fixer-upper. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to encourage, inspire, or help the person you’re dating. In fact, movies are made all the time about the transforming nature of love. Consider ‘My Fair Lady’ or ‘As Good as It Gets’, in which an abrasive and exasperating Jack Nicholson tells his would-be lover, Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man.” And, indeed, by movie’s end, we see that evidence of his metamorphosis.
Unfortunately, in real life, such transformations via true love don’t always have Hollywood endings. If you’re dating someone you need to fix or rescue, here are some questions to ask yourself:
“Would our relationship make a good episode of ‘Extreme Makeover?’”
How realistic are the changes you are envisioning for your beloved? Ask yourself if the “end result” you are seeking is anything like the person you’re dating now. When you’re finished, will your partner even be recognizable? If you are lobbying for radical alterations, this probably isn’t the right match for you.
“Am I working harder than the person I’m dating?”
Effective, lasting change always comes from within. If your love interest is letting you take the lead in reinventing his or her life, true transformation is unlikely.
“Does the person I’m dating feel like a ‘project’?”
An imbalanced relationship in which one person does all the giving doesn’t feel good to either person, even the one receiving all the help. This kind of relationship can foster feelings of resentment, dependency, and inadequacy. It can make your partner feel like a child and rob him or her of the joy of feeling like an equal contributor to your relationship.
“How central are the changes I’m seeking?”
If you want to sand the rough edges off your partner—improve his poor manners, expand her artistic horizons—that’s one thing. If you want him to change his basic temperament type or religious beliefs, you’re going overboard. Additional core issues include poor self-esteem, addictions, or character flaws like lying or cheating. People can change behaviors that are deeply rooted, but it requires tremendous self-motivation. Even then, change can take years and require the help of professionals.
“Am I so consumed with rescuing this person that I’m putting my own life or needs on hold?” If so, your relationship is on a crash-and-burn course. This kind of one-sidedness can eventually leave you feeling burned out, taken advantage of, and resentful. A healthy relationship requires two people who are as committed to their own emotional health and well-being as they are to that of their partner.
The point of dating is to get to know each other and determine if you are well suited for a long-term union — not to reinvent each other. Healthy relationships are balanced, equal, and mutually satisfying. If your relationship requires an extreme makeover, frequent rescues, or the neglect of your own needs, find a healthier partner—even if it means getting healthier yourself in order to do it.
Where are you in the Stages of Love road map? Read on to find out!