No Caretaker Needed in a Healthy Relationship

Many times people talk about being a caretaker in their relationship. They want to change their partner. They aren’t doing enough in the relationship. I try to turn this around by asking a simple question, “Are they worrying this much about you? Do they feel they are not doing enough in the relationship? Do they feel a need to take care of you?” Often the answer is going to be no. When there is a caretaker in the relationship, this means the couple has fallen apart and now someone is desperately trying to pick up the pieces and salvage what is left. There is no unity or a sense of “we,” in a couple, if only one person is dedicated to the partnership. In this case you have two individuals going in separate directions. If you are trying to be someone’s caretaker, it is probably time to end the relationship.

When two people meet and take the time to get to know one another, not by jumping in bed and declaring they are soul mates, instead they begin toward a healthy relationship that is fueled by conversation rather than sex. This does not mean there is no sex or passion as many people tend to confuse. It means that you are interested in what each other has to say and you respect one another’s opinions. It means that when you have a difference of opinion you are still able to be respectful of your partner. It means that you allow the other person a voice.  It means that you know and respect each other’s boundaries. It means that you share the same values and beliefs. When these things occur then you begin to explore intimacy and it is so much the better because you have generated a lot of excitement for your partner. Does anyone really love to have sex with someone that does not have respect for them? Or can you be passionate about someone you can’t even have a conversation with? An orgasm is a waste of time if you are then sobbing into your pillow once your partner has fallen asleep (or worse, left to go home). If you are just out to have sex, that is one thing but be clear what you want in life. Whatever you choose, make sure you can live with your choices, don’t make it the other person’s problem (also, be clear about your choice up front). If he/she doesn’t agree with you, then they aren’t willing to play your game, it doesn’t make them wrong. It is not okay to set up vulnerable people.

Conversation doesn’t mean that you have told your partner your deep dark secrets and so now they owe you. Your partner isn’t your therapist and there is a difference between sharing childhood abuse or family drama vs. sharing who you are, right now. What is more important in a relationship building process is that you talk about the type of person you are. For example: what motivates you, what do you enjoy doing in your leisure time, what type of friends do you have, what are your goals for the future? A new relationship is not going to understand how to handle the trauma in your past until they have a solid foundation with you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come clean on mental health issues. For example: “I don’t drink, I am a recovering alcoholic.” That sentence is a mouthful. It already covers the meaning of I don’t drink. This doesn’t open the door to re-telling how you hit bottom and what your last 10 years have been like on the bottle or being sober. It could mean this though if your partner says “I am too,” and then proceeds to ask “How did you do it.” If they don’t, leave it and be comfortable that you have gotten this part off your chest. Never lie to anyone about anything but save the therapy conversation for a rainy day when your partner asks. Saying too much too soon is a sure way to end a relationship. This is because someone is being set up to be a caretaker and many times people are willing and this spells disaster. You are beginning the process by saying “I need help,” instead of saying “I am ready to share my life with someone.”

Two people can have a healthy relationship, even if they have had a hell of a life. First, they need to get into therapy and deal with this trauma. No, (1) you can’t fix it yourself and (2) a relationship is not your therapist. Love will not save you from a dad who harmed you in some way or your mental health condition. Love is not really happening if you are merely trying to save someone. That is your ego saying to you “If I love them enough…” Ego and love are an oxymoron. Second, you have to know what you want in life. It isn’t as simple as “I want a nice Christian…” Lots of religious people have been known to be abusive, alcoholic, drug addicts, and just plain jerks. But guess what, they thought they were a good Christian person or whatever religion because they were in denial about their vice or issue of concern. You have to really be grounded in what you do want from a person and what to look for when you see it. Be careful with admiring role models. You don’t really know what they are really like behind closed doors. Thirdly, you have to know how to present yourself when you meet this person. This doesn’t mean you find out that you have shared values on a first date, have a great conversation about it and then jump into bed. Again, you are not soul mates. You are just horny and happened to meet someone who was too. A person who gives up their body too easily is going to be seen as someone who has no self-respect. Sure, they slept with you too but that doesn’t mean they should now be in a commitment with you. You can’t blame the other party in a situation like this either.  If you both do choose to fall into a relationship and move in, etc… etc… don’t be surprised when it falls apart after the honeymoon is over.

Be a person who is the person you state that you are. Act like a professional when you get to know someone. This doesn’t mean you can’t flirt but have some patience. Don’t take them into your home right away. Don’t even drive with them (which will make the situation much easier). Keep your dates personal and in the field (vs. at home). Get to know their families and friends but again, be cautious about how much to say about the family or friends. Don’t set your partner up before they have even gotten a chance to get to know them. Be sparse with details. For example: My dad can be a bit controlling with my mom or my brother and I are not really close. Instead of saying “My dad has been in and out of jail three times now for domestic violence,” or “My brother molested me when we were kids.” A partner who is respectful of you is not going to choose sides and say “Well, he sure seemed like a good guy to me.” This is because a healthy partner would understand that you have a better grip on your family members than they do.

Now, how about someone who is reading this and did seem to do all the right things in the beginning but ended up in a bad place nonetheless? A healthy relationship has to work at continuing down this path and this means that you continue working together as a team throughout your lifetime together. If someone starts going off on their own, as in picks up the bottle, has an affair, becomes abusive, then the relationship is no longer a healthy relationship.  A healthy relationship is one where no one “takes their eye off the ball,” so to speak. Yes, it is hard work but so is owning a horse, living on a farm, keeping your luxury car in good shape, or running a business. If you don’t look out for either of these things, they will die or fall apart. It is no different with a relationship.

To recap, a healthy relationship that is nurtured over time is one where you (quoting the Gottman method directly now) – have started with trust and commitment and then:

  1. Get to know one another’s world,
  2. Share fondness and admiration,
  3. Turn toward instead of away,
  4. Keep a positive perspective,
  5. Manage your conflict by a. find relevance in what each of you have to say, b. self-soothing, c. dialogue about problems,
  6. Make each other’s life dreams come true; and
  7. Create shared meaning.

If you want to learn more about a healthy relationship, I recommend reading “The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work,” by Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver. I also recommend reading “The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts,” by Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee. If you want to meet someone to have this relationship with then be patient, set your boundaries, trust your instincts, know what you want and then, when you meet this person, take your time to get to know them. To be on the safe side, wait a few months before becoming intimate, don’t move in until you have spent at least a year getting to know them and only then, move in for love not convenience. Don’t move forward at all if you have any doubts whatsoever – they won’t change with a bigger commitment.  Finally, only get married because you love someone and the two of you have gone over your idea of what being married means and can agree on this. I definitely recommend pre-marital counseling with a therapist or at your place of worship. Don’t have children until you have gotten married and have waited at least 3-5 years. Children don’t need desperate parents. They need parents who have nurtured their relationship as a married couple and are again clear (and have discussed) that it is the right time to move forward.

A good business plan is necessary to have a successful company. Once the doors are open you have to keep on top of your firm by having good communication with all of your employees, from top to bottom. The business is not YOU, it is all of them plus your product and your customers. Each year you have to continue to look back as well as focus on the future. What do you need to do differently in order to continue this success in the changing times?

A relationship requires a plan too. You can’t just run out there and start a partnership. Take your time, focus on what it is you want and then don’t second guess yourself. Get back together each year and re-commit yourselves to the year ahead. If there have been problems, tackle them head on. Don’t wait ten years to then decide to see a therapist. Continue to create new goals for each year and help support each other in making these dreams a reality.  A cute person is not so cute when they turn out to be someone who you knew was wrong from the beginning. A cute person that you have gotten to know and taken your time to build a relationship with becomes very handsome and more interesting over time.

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