When they met, Kara and Charlie were both unhappily married to other people. Charlie was the lightning bolt that sent Kara to divorce court, expecting her lover would follow. But now, seven years later, Charlie is wracked with guilt — and he’s still waffling about leaving home, while Kara is merely his shoulder to cry on. Why hasn’t he moved to permanently cement their bond?
At a conference, Kara heard me say: “Don’t try to fix someone without that person’s consent.” Deciding to examine her romance, Kara admitted that she had been trying to “fix” Charlie. Now she wondered whether that’s what she had done with all the men she’d ever known, and whether that was the reason for every breakup. She begged me for clarity.
My research finds that our genders vehemently disagree on whom needs fixing and when. These are the six mate-fixing trends I uncovered:
1. At the beginning of a new relationship, a woman thinks that she should redesign her man.
Ted was out of the military for 10 years, but he continued to wear his hair cropped short. Every woman he knew asked him to grow out his locks, but he stood his army ground… until he met her. Ted fell so deeply in love that he agreed to do what no other female could get him to do about his hairstyle. Happily consenting to the makeover, he grew his hair out and was elated when his coworkers complimented his handsome new look. However, Ted’s intimacy issues sent him fleeing from this love of his life. In an act of defiance against all women he thought might try to control him, he quickly cut his hair back into military mode. Moral: The only male you should consider changing is the one you’re diapering.
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Kara placed demands on Charlie to stop smoking, dress better, eat healthier, and stop calling his mother so often. His wife at home accepted him for who he was, with all his flaws, and without pressuring him. No wonder Charlie chose to stay married!
3. When a man finds a new love, he wants that woman to remain as she was when they met each other.
Men often tell me the woman they married has let her appearance go. Fred said that his wife had gained so much weight and had become so sloppy that he didn’t want to have sex with her anymore. But since he still loved her, Fred enrolled her in a fat farm. Rather than thanking him, however, she blew her stack for what she considered to be a demeaning act on Fred’s part.
4. A man may deliberately seek a woman he can fix, such as a damsel in financial distress or a lady who’s been emotionally hurt.
Enjoying the role of provider and protector, John immediately elevated himself to the position of savior when he helped Melissa get out of bankruptcy. Melissa, in turn, showed John her love — until she got back on her feet. Then, she began to perceive all the niceties she’d once appreciated as “controlling behavior” instead. John was in shock when she suddenly exited their relationship. As my Gilda-Gram says: “Hear when the music changes, and adapt your dance steps.” No relationship remains the same forever.
5. After a couple has been together for a while, when a woman relays an issue she’s having to her man, he transforms into Mr. Fix-It and tells his lady what to do.
Marge was furious whenever her husband Mel tried to tell her how to solve each office problem she shared with him. Most women just want their partner to lend an ear to listen to her troubles, not a controlling hand.
6. If a long-term relationship hits a speed bump, the woman believes it’s her job to fix the problem herself or to enroll the pair in counseling.
Jane felt disrespected that her boyfriend Jim would not pick up his dirty clothes when lounging at home. She tried to reason with him, but he was adamant that in his domain, he had the right to enjoy his mess. Exasperated, Jane sought me out to intervene. When I asked Jim what the problem was, he said there wasn’t one. I told this couple that we could not resolve an issue unless they both agreed they had one in the first place. I counseled Jane to stop nagging, accept John as he was, or leave. This couple is still together, continuing their drama — which I won’t even try to fix!
Since Kara was at the end of her rope, I assigned her the task of going on an unusual shopping expedition. Her task was to buy a garment that was hanging on a clearance rack marked “as-is.” The garment might have some holes, pulls, or stains, but she would really have to like it — and purchase it despite its imperfections.
Kara landed a designer knit sweater with a few pulls on the bottom that she admitted didn’t matter to her. She said that she really loved the sweater. Now I asked her to follow the same reasoning about Charlie: What did she love about him, as-is? She listed six wonderful traits. Then I asked her to list his flaws, and what she was trying to fix. Her list of Charlie’s flaws surprised her. She wrote: 1) I want him to finally leave his wife; 2) I want to make him more assertive with his boss; 3) I want to get him to become a better lover; 4) I want to make him into a more generous man; 5) I want to get him to participate in some of my hobbies; 6) I want to convince him to start a family with me.
Until she saw this list, Kara did not know she was unhappy with more than just Charlie’s unwillingness to leave his marital home. For six years, she had hidden the man Charlie really was under her personal “Fix-Him” agenda. Now that the real Charlie was in full view, she wondered, “If he actually did leave his wife, would I want him?” Kara realized that instead of trying to fix her lover, it was time for her to fix herself.
Overall, most people don’t want to be fixed because it suggests that you find them to be inadequate. Further, who wants to be smothered by a partner’s pompous and presumptuous directives? Yet, if you’re burning to offer your honey some helpful direction, be sure to also convey the things about him or her that you love. It’s also important to let your partner know that if no changes were made, it would be OK with you. In love, you must preserve your sweetheart’s sense of self, not crush it.
Fixers like Kara are so intent on getting their way that they often miss vital issues about the relationship. People like Ted who are at first willing to be fixed can only be pushed so far. Can you be happy with your honey as-is? If you think you want to do some pruning, before you insult your partner, ask yourself: “What about me really needs to be fixed?”