So, you meet an attractive man or woman who shares their sob story, and it clearly seems like they need someone to take care of them. Then you get this brilliant idea that that person could be you. "I can help them get better; this poor guy/girl needs me" — right? While you may have good intentions, you could be doing yourself and the person more harm than good. As my dad would say, you can't take in every stray dog on the street, nor is it your job to. I'll admit that his words could be slightly more sensitive; there isn't anything wrong with wanting to help a person get back on their feet. But if you're the type of person who's drawn to a "fixer-upper" partner, you could be putting yourself at risk in a range of ways without even knowing it. There are several terms for this kind of dynamic including broken wing theory, Christ complex, and fixer upper, and they're all problematic.
"It's funny; I'll ask people, 'Do you buy fixer-upper houses?' and they go, 'No, I don't want to do that much work!' and I'm like, why do you get into fixer-upper relationships then?" said relationship expert Dr. Dain Heer. The idea of being able to care for someone can be just as appealing, if not more, than the actual person. If you have a nurturing instinct, it may attract the wrong kinds of partners.
"You find somebody who matches the energy of what you're actually willing to give at the time," Dain said. "And so, you have these people who are really nurturing and caring, and who really want someone to take care of, well, enter the person who needs to be taken care of." According to Dain, these types of relationships might work at the beginning but will eventually fall apart because both partners are "functioning from a role rather than functioning as themselves." You will always be the caretaker, and he or she will always be the damsel in distress. Not only is this unhealthy, but it can also make you an easy target for those who want to prey on your type.
"People who are drawn to these men or women are more vulnerable in general," said psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Carmen McGuinness. "Because these are people who are going to help people; they're helpers, they want to solve problems. So the potential problems for them are the same that they are for any of the people who might, as you say, take advantage of them or act on their vulnerability."
Here are five more potential problems you could be at risk for, according to Carmen.
1. You can be hurt financially.
If you become so invested in this relationship, you could put your job on the back-burner or jeopardize your career to drop everything and come to their aid at a moment's notice. And in a worst-case scenario, he or she could really take advantage of the relationship and ask for your help financially.
2. Your children might suffer.
If you have children, there's a chance that you will prioritize your partner over them. They may unknowingly become victims of the situation because all of your efforts and attention are elsewhere. And this goes for any other loved ones you're normally very involved with.
3. There's the danger of isolation.
You're so busy helping your partner that you withdraw yourself from every other aspect in your life. You no longer have time for friends, family, or your own interests because you're wrapped up in somebody else's problems. As a result, you lose your support systems, creating a deeper codependency between you and your partner.
4. You might put yourself through repeated trauma.
If you're involved with someone unstable or somebody who's even married, for example, you can never predict what will happen next. The future of your relationship is constantly in question, and you're stuck on this toxic roller coaster that you might eventually want to stay on. "When people live in those sorts of environments, they suffer and they become emotionally impaired," Carmen said.
5. You could be attracting narcissists.
A fixer-upper person may truly need your help, but in some cases, it's the attention they're seeking. They have the ability to manipulate the nurturing types because they know that these givers will give. But according to Carmen, the narcissist can be in love with you, but only because you're in love with them. "It's like saying he's in love with the reflection in his mirror," she said. "If he sees in that reflection anyone adoring him, then he's in love with her. But it's not a real love because when you take him out of the equation and just try to focus on her needs, he's not able to do that. But yes, he's a huge risk for her. Huge risk."
If all this sounds like you, ask yourself these questions next time you're attracted to a fixer upper: Do I find this person appealing for who they are or for the potential of being able to solve their problems? Can I envision myself getting into a healthy relationship with this person? Am I strong enough to help him or her without losing any part of myself?