When I was a little girl, I didn’t fantasize about finding a knight in shining armor or my crush saving me. I often daydreamed about saving the boy I liked. Literally. I would imagine pushing him out of the way of a speeding car or some other ridiculous scenario.
This is probably due to a number of screwed-up reasons. My unstable childhood, my father’s womanizing, and the fact that he wanted me to be his “son,” definitely didn’t help, but I was also raised in a time when “strong female roles” were on the rise. Everyone everywhere seemed to want women to be the heroes, but they weren’t heralding the heroic qualities of femininity; instead, they were pushing females to be more like men.
The problem with that is that it confuses relationship roles. I was convinced I wanted to be the hero, but it did me no favors, especially with my first marriage. Fast-forward to the present day – marriage is on the decline and divorce is always a concern. Women are lacking the generational wisdom our grandmothers were discouraged from passing on, and many of our mothers don’t have great views on how marriage should work.
My desire to save the men I cared for doomed me from the start. My sister once told me, “I just don’t think you’re attracted to stable men.” I definitely have a track record of dating men with serious issues, probably because I have plenty of them myself. But whatever the reason, my first marriage was littered with attempts to “rescue” the man I loved, but unlike my childhood fantasies, I could never truly save him because you can’t save someone who doesn’t want saving.
The Long Reaching Consequences of My Rescue Attempts
Rescuing a man doesn’t really work. Women who try to rescue their boyfriend or husband often cross the line between nurturing him and taking over his problems.
Because we’re naturally caring, we want to reach out when we see someone hurting. Unfortunately, some relationships are based on this or built upon it. When I met my ex-husband, he was literally slumped over the counter of the record store where we worked together. He had his head on his arms, and I felt sorry for him.
As we worked together and got to know each other, he often told me about all of his problems. How he was overworked and underpaid and never got any credit for everything he did. Instead of seeing this as the red flag it should have been (because he refused to address the situation with our boss or seek a better position), I wanted to help him.
The closer we grew, the more I confused taking on his responsibilities with lending a helping hand. I did more and more of his work, and because I’m pretty industrious and don’t sit still well, I took pride in what I had done.
He would complain — no matter how easy his tasks were — and I would pick up his slack.
Unfortunately, this became the basis of our relationship. He would complain — no matter how easy his tasks were — and I would pick up his slack. To be fair, I don’t even know if he was conscious of this. It’s how he was raised and has always been. For some reason, my ridiculous desire to “rescue” him kept us going for years, but once we were married with kids, and I saw how his behavior was affecting our children, everything changed.
Our youngest daughter started latching onto any man who would talk to her. She acted as if she suffered from an absentee father, and in theory, she did. He was never one to do much without being told to do it, and I don’t like telling other people what to do with themselves. When our youngest broke down and cried because the nice cable guy who showed her some attention left after fixing a service disruption, I knew something had to change. She acted like this man, whom she had just met, was her father and he was going off to war. It was a full-scale meltdown. The reality was, I hadn’t rescued the man I loved – if anything I ended up with three children to worry about, and two of them (the actual children) were suffering.
I Was Enabling Infantilization
When women are constantly saving men, by fixing their problems or performing their responsibilities for them, they’re treating a man like a child. We’re essentially giving them a free pass to do whatever they want without consequences.
I originally intended to help my ex-husband. My hopes were that he would reciprocate that care and we could lean on each other, but because I lacked the self-esteem, self-awareness, and the relationship intelligence to understand that you can’t “save” or “fix” or “change” a man, I learned the hard way that some guys are just miserable by nature, and some even like it that way. They don’t want to be happy or uplifted by someone else. They just want to mope and hide and play video games (I like to game myself, but not all night, every night).
I learned the hard way that some guys are just miserable by nature, and some even like it that way.
By stepping into the “female power role,” I became my ex-husband’s caretaker. It was up to me to remind him to take a shower or brush his teeth when he started to smell. Before we had kids, I made excuses for him because I didn’t care how negatively he impacted my life. Even though he would go weeks without taking showers, his dental bill was astronomical, and I had to work overtime to help dig him out of debt, it wasn’t until his behavior dragged our children down that I realized how badly I had made everything all too easy for him. He got comfortable, and why shouldn’t he have? He had a wife who would do everything for him.
You Can Be Supportive Without Rescuing
Like all things in life, there is a balance. I learn best through trial-and-error, and what a trial that marriage was. What I wish to teach my daughters – so they don’t repeat my mistakes – is that they can become heroines without abandoning their femininity.
Women don’t have to gender flip roles. They don’t have to “rescue” the man they love in order to find happiness. If anything, they’ll enjoy their relationship more if they nurture their husband while also still upholding traditional standards and boundaries.
Everyone deserves the support of their spouse, but I won’t fix my husband’s problems for him.
Now that I am re-married, I’m more conscious of myself and my role in my husband’s life. Everyone deserves the love and support of their spouse, but I cannot and will not fix my husband’s problems for him. If I feel as if he’s pressuring me to take on his responsibilities I speak up, and I encourage him to let me know if I’m starting to lack in my duties to him and our family.
There are times when he needs my guidance and he appreciates my intuition, but I just offer my advice or opinion. I won’t do his chores for him or try to “save” him when things go wrong, and I don’t want him trying to fill in my shoes at any time.
It’s not healthy for women to “rescue” their husbands. When wives attempt this they’re often left with a man who is more like a child than a partner. We can be empathetic without taking over our husband’s problems. We can offer advice and lend him courage when he questions himself, but we can’t fulfill his duties for him.
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