Monday, April 16, 2012

How to be your partner's best girlfriend

Over the years in my everyday practice with many men and women, I noticed a recurring theme entailing conflict between the two persons in the relationship.  I have observed that oftentimes, one or sometimes both persons (sometimes the man or the woman) take on a role in the relationship where they are the "protector" or the "fixer."  The protector from my experience is the one who feels a need to protect the other person from things that are thought to be perhaps unpleasant or upsetting to that person.  The fixer is the person who feels responsible for resolving the problems--theirs and those of their partner. I had originally likened the protector-fixer as the "White Knight" rescuing the "Damsel in Distress," but I have found that the White Knight role and the Damsel in Distress role to be filled by both men and women. Because of the limitations and the gender stereotypes associated with "Knights" and "Damsels," I've changed my description to being that of a protector-fixer. While possibly more men are raised to assume the protector-fixer role, many women also assume this role in their relationships.

A protector-fixer assumes that the other partner needs protection and therefore takes steps the other from things (information, feelings, or circumstances).  However, as I have repeatedly observed, this very frequently leads to conflicts in the relationship and involves at least several faulty assumptions:
  1.  Something needs to be fixed for the other person.
  2. The other person is incapable of fixing it for him or herself.
  3. All problems can be fixed.
 As I continue to write about the inherent problems when someone assumes the role of the protector, it will be clear how this so often is not workable in a healthy, mature relationship between two capable adults. These assumptions inherently will lead to conflict in the relationship nearly all the time. 

As a healthier, more workable role in a relationship, I have been working with my patients on considering being their partner's "Best Girlfriend."  Why?  A best girlfriend makes a different set of assumptions and takes on a different role in a relationship:
  1. Listen--not fix.
  2. Accept and validate--not judge.
  3. Empower--not rescue, protect, or fix.