In an ideal relationship, both partners support each other as they grow and change. But for some people, helping their partner change becomes their sole mission, an aspect of their relationship that clouds all other parts, and makes actually flourishing as a couple next-to-impossible. This
relationship savior complex may seem harmless and sweet, but it can actually be a major issue for couples.
having a savior complex means that you believe you can save someone else from their own problems, and often that you're more enamored with fixing your partner than loving them for who they are. "A person with a savior complex believes that saving the other person is the right thing to do," Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, tells Bustle. "They believe that they are helping the other person ... Although a savior complex might seem altruistic on the surface, it is rarely a healthy thing." The main problem with a savior complex, experts agree, is that it doesn't help the person on the receiving end at all.
"Relationships are supposed to be mutually enjoyable and give-take, not charity cases,"
David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. If you have a savior complex, you might not notice it, but it's likely making neither you nor your partner as happy as you could be. What seems like putting in the work could really be a sign that things are going down an unhealthy path.
Here are 10 signs that you may have a savior complex in your relationship, according to experts.
You Have A Goal To Fix Something About Them
Having a pet peeve about your partner doesn't mean you're not meant to be. But going into a relationship with an explicit goal of changing this, or any other behavior of theirs, is not healthy.
"[You might have a savior complex if] one of your relationship goals is to change your partner's behavior," Bennett says. "You should enter into relationships because you share common values and have a connection. If you are entering a committed relationship with the goal of changing your partner then [they're a] project, not a partner." Although relationships are often about helping each other be your best selves, if you absolutely can't get past the idea of changing someone, therapy might help you uncover the reason why.
You're Can't Just Listen
Active listening is one of the major keys of a healthy relationship. If you find that you can't sit back and absorb your partner's thoughts and feelings without butting in, you might be tending towards a savior complex. "[It's a sign if] you can't listen without providing solutions," Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, licensed clinical professional counselor and a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, tells Bustle. Not all problems need solutions, and a good relationship often relies on providing one another comfort, not fixing.
A good relationship can be full of long conversations discovering things about one another. And there are
certain questions that can be really important to ask your partner to get to know them, and your relationship, better. But interrogating your partner won't get you on the right track. "[You might have a savior complex if] you spend hours of time trying to help fix the other and figure out what is wrong with [them]," Rabbi Slatkin says. Healthy relationships rely on a good amount of balance, and these sorts of conversations totally lack that.
Your Solutions Are Always Big-Picture
Sometimes, it is good to help your partner with little acts of kindness to help take care of their problems. This can look like sending them lunch during a busy work day, or driving them to therapy if they're feeling particularly down. If, however, all of your solutions for their problems are on a grand scale, you might need to assess where your motivations lie. "[If you have a savior complex you might] take massive action, regardless of whether your partner wants you to, so you can be helpful," Rabbi Slatkin says. You two are both adults, and your partner deserves to be treated as such. Let them make the big decisions in their life — they might impress you.
You Think They Need You For Their Problems
Big problems need serious solutions. And if you think, just by nature of loving someone, you can
solve clinical issues, you probably are operating with a savior complex. It's one thing to care for and support someone in a dark place, and another to believe you have the skill set to fix it.
"[Be especially aware] if your partner has a drug or alcohol problem and you refuse to leave them because they 'need' you," licensed professional counselor (LPC),
Julie Williamson, tells Bustle. "This is also enabling behavior. They have a serious health problem that your presence alone cannot fix." You can support them, instead, by encouraging treatment. Or, if it's right for you, support yourself by exiting the relationship.
You Take On Financial Responsibility
Sharing financial responsibility is often a necessary part of a serious relationship. If, however, you find yourself shouldering expenses that you cannot afford for the sake of the relationship, or what you think is your partner's wellbeing, that is likely unhealthy behavior. "[Be careful] if your partner is unemployed and you take on the responsibility of all of their finances," Williamson says. "This is you taking care of them with no expectation that they will step up and do their part." If they would not do the same for you, or you can tell that you're doing this for the wrong reasons, it's worth checking in with yourself and your partner.
You Make Appointments And Plans For Them
Occasionally, picking up the slack and doing some scheduling for your partner is OK. But if you start signing them up for things they haven't explicitly requested your help with, then your relationship efforts might be veering into more unhealthy territory. "[It's a sign of a savior complex if] you make appointments for your significant other," Williamson says. "I once had someone call to schedule an appointment for their significant other, pretending to be their significant other. When I called the significant other back, they had no clue who I was or why I was calling. Needless to say, they did not schedule an appointment. Their partner's 'plan' backfired." If you feel that your partner really needs something that you can't provide, suggest it to them first, instead of going over their head.
You're Doing All The Work
Partnerships require equal amounts of work from both sides, so if you place the burden on yourself to bear the brunt of the effort, you might suffer from it. "[It's not a good sign if] you are the one doing all the work in the relationship. If the other person is not putting in the same amount of work as you, then it may mean that you have a savior complex,“ Mendez says. A good partner will support you if you need to cut back on your efforts.
You're Exhausting Yourself
Believing that you always need to fix people, and make other people's lives easier, can be incredibly tiring. In your need to try to support your partner, you may be hurting your own mental health as well. "[If you have a savior complex you might] always feel emotionally drained," Mendez says. "Not getting your own needs met can be emotionally draining." If you feel completely exhausted by the effects of your relationship, bring it up with your partner or a professional. You don't need to continue that way.
You're A Teacher, Not A Partner
In the end, a lot of this boils down to the word "partnership." In a relationship, if you two are not on equal footing, something is likely awry.
"[Be careful if] you are more of a parent or teacher than a partner," Bennett says. "If you find yourself always playing the role of teacher or parent (or even detective) rather than a loving partner, you're probably acting the part of savior. Grown people in relationships shouldn't be treating their partners like a student or child who needs [to be] constantly corrected so they can change, and no grown person responds to being treated that way.” If you can look at your relationship and say that you're definitely in a partnership, that's a fantastic sign. If you realize that you're putting yourself on a different level than your partner, that should be addressed.
Having a savior complex is not something to be ashamed of, but it is something worth examining. Likely, there's a root cause of this predisposition. And you deserve to find out what it is, and move on to healthier, more balanced relationships.