Synopsis:The Fixer-upper: people aren’t projects, and it’s not your job to fix others.
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It’s been fascinating, being back in Canada, and discovering that relationships are still screwy–other than ours, of course.
In almost all of the relationship-based conversations I’ve had, the person speaking lists off the sins… real and perceived… of their partner. And then! Miracle of miracles! The speaker knows exactly what the other person needs to do to “get fixed up!”
It’s a bloody miracle, how perceptive these people are… about what the other person’s failings are, about what the other person does to break communication, about how the other person doesn’t call enough, or calls on the wrong schedule, or wants them to do things differently.
I especially like the latter one.
Before I retired, back when I was counselling, I’d be working with a couple, and one of them would start in… almost universally, this would be the “startee” presenting his or her list of the sins, omissions and commissions… of their partner.
Typically, the other person would jump in with a “…if you think that’s bad, just wait until you hear what (s)he does!”
Sometimes I’d cut it off quickly, sometimes I’d let it play out. I wasn’t however, interested in any of it.
One of my favourite things, though, was to let them go for a bit, then turn to whoever started, and say, “So, if I’m following you, what you want is for him/her to change his ways. To shift his behaviour… to do things your way. Right?”
Thinking I was on board, I’d get a big smile and a nod.
“So,” I’d continue, “why don’t you just stop what you’re doing and change your behaviours to go along with what (s)he wants? (S)he was pretty clear…”
And boom, I was the new target.
“But… but, that’s nuts! (S)he’s wrong and (s)he needs to change! That’s why I brought him/her here! So you could fix him/her! And I even told you what kind of tile I wanted in the bathroom!”
Well, not the last line, but the rest of it.
Not once in 32 years did I hear, “Jeez, you’re right! I’m trying to change him, he’s trying to change me. Why do I think my way is right… for him?” (And vice versa, of course.)
All of this happens because people are dumb, and think others are fixer-uppers.
In other words, and I was guilty of this in my second marriage, (thanks be that I smartened up for round three, as Darbella is not noted for suffering fools… 😉 ) we… Oh phooey, let me tell you a bit of that story.
I met “Sue” (I’ve told this story in booklets and maybe in one of my books, and I call her “Sue,” so I’ll use that pseudonym) in college. The college did semesters in a 4–1‑4 plan, and January was either a one course intensive, or a month off. I was there, and not taking a course.
I wandered into the College Bookstore, and there she was, all 5′2″, blond-hair, blue eyes, low cut top of her. I was smitten, otherwise known as “lust-struck.” Long story short, I started asking her out. Took her a bit to get that I was, like, interested. In fact, her roommate had to tell her.
Anyway, we got engaged in 1975, having broken up 3 times in the 2 years prior. I remember her asking me whether I was going to propose, and thinking, “Don’t do it.” The other side of my head said, “But you have 3 years in. You can always change her!”
I couldn’t, of course, and, with a fresh counselling degree in my back pocket, I ended things after 7 years of trying.
During counselling training, I’d learned a good communication model, and better ways of relating… none of which had anything to do with changing the other person. What it did have to do with was respect, and caring for another person exactly as they are, along with a way to talk with each other that leads to issue resolution.
Not fixing the other. ISSUE resolution.
This was hard for me, as, and of course I still do, I assume that I am both smart and right. So, in order to do the above, I have to rein in my ego.
I have to see my perspective as one of two. Not right. One of two. And I have to do this repeatedly.
I wrote Find Your Perfect Partner to describe a key to all of this. Remember, I dated “Sue” because I found her attractive, (a pretty normal reason to go out on a date.) YET, once I got to know her and realized we were NOT compatible, I decided to fix her up, rather than move on.
You wouldn’t believe how many people I know who are in relationships precisely for this reason, and are either in the process of divorcing, or have moved to separate bedrooms and are going to tough it out until they die.
It is possible to decide for yourself what kind of person you want to be in relationship with, and then find that person. For me, the willingness to talk issues through to resolution is key, as is being content to be with the person I am with; not trying to turn my partner into someone else. “Fixer-upper-ing” is impossible, but a biggie, just like in real estate.
You gotta decide what the basis of your relationship is
It can’t (or ought not to be) “She ought to be fixable.” It can’t be “He gives me great orgasms.” It can’t be, “I don’t want to be alone, so (s)he’s better than nothing.”
People aren’t fixer-uppers.
If you and your partner, after serious effort, are still not landing on the same page about the purpose of relating, leave. Just get up and go. Then, do a better job articulating what you want your relationship to look like, and hold out until you find someone with similar ideas.
Because, fixer-uppers often turn into time and money pits. And life is short. Far too short to sit around and mope.