Have you ever heard the advice to never try to save a drowning person by trying to hold them up yourself? If you have ever tried to hold up someone that is drowning then you will know why people say it.
When someone has trouble treading water they will grab onto anything nearby to try and stay afloat-even if that thing happens to be you.
A lot of people drown each year from trying to help someone else that is drowning and then they end up getting grabbed onto and pulled under as well.
It’s a scary experience, but it’s the best way I know to illustrate the point that sometimes trying to do things for someone else can get you pulled into trouble too.
Problem 1 with trying to help your partner- The resistance principle
Usually if you tell someone they need help the very first thing they will do-automatically- is launch into a rebuttal explaining why they are perfectly fine the way that they are. I like to call this the resistance principle.
Any time you offer help to someone or tell them that they need help, they will almost always deny your help or needing help. People with any level of self respect and esteem naturally want to believe that they are capable of operating efficiently on their own, and this quality often causes them to refuse help- even if they really do need it.
Unless your partner is asking for your help or unless they really desire it, chances are trying to help is only going to push your partner away from you. Most people like to feel self dependent, strong, and in control, and taking too much help from others forces them to admit their own inadequacy. It takes a strong person to listen to and heed the advice of the people that care about them and not everyone is ready for that.
Problem 2 with trying to help a partner- You become the judge
When a partner asks you for help and you start offering them help it often places you into the awkward position of being a judge of their behaviors and actions-let me explain a little more with an example:
Your partner has a problem with eating junk food and as a result they have put on a few pounds over the last year. They lose self esteem and end up feeling ugly and overweight, so they decide that they want to have a better appearance for their own mental health and esteem and they ask for help from you to make it happen.
They ask you to encourage them to eat healthy foods and to exercise regularly and in the beginning things go smoothly. For the first few weeks while your partner’s enthusiasm is high, they appreciate you telling them to skip the candy bar or the friendly phone call after work to remind them to go to the gym, but as their motivation lowers they begin to resent your presence.
Your partner gets frustrated, tired, and cranky; they aren’t losing weight like they had planned and they aren’t getting good results; they just want to give up and eat junk food and watch netflix…except now you are there…the judge.
The more they start making excuses for why they are skipping the gym and eating junk, the more you try to help them get back on course until eventually they start resenting you and hiding their behavior from you like a guilty child hides their actions from an overbearing parent.
I’ve been here personally, I have been the judge…after all I am a coach– I take great pride and personal responsibility for helping people reach their goals; if someone tells me they want something in life then I will ensure that they are taking the right steps, and when they aren’t I try to get them back on course. That is great in the business world, but in a relationship it can be a huge source of strife.
The problem with being someone’s helper is that you take responsibility for their results, so when they start falling short, you feel that it’s your responsibility to make them try harder and that can spell disaster for communication and relationship happiness.
Problem 3 with trying to help a partner- You become the enabler
Sometimes our idea of helping people is to give them exactly what they want, but sometimes this can lead to us enabling them to carry on in their same behavior without making changes.
Imagine that you are in a relationship and money is tight. Because money is tight you and your partner both decide to go back to school to get a better career. Everything is good for a while, but then things get challenging for your partner in classes and they start spending extra money as a way to relieve stress.
Rather than having a talk about their spending habits and going over the reality of your financial situation, you start working extra hours so that they can deal with their stress with money spending. You imagine that since you are working extra hours they will see that money is tight and will cut back on their spending a bit, but what ends up happening is they start spending even more.
Suddenly their little problem become a bigger problem and you enabled them to worsen their habit by giving them exactly what they wanted… and then eventually your schoolwork starts to suffer and you start failing as well…now you both drown (remember that drowning analogy earlier?)
So what does it mean should you never help the person that you love?
One of the hardest parts of love is letting people have the freedom to make their own mistakes (ask any loving parent and they will definitely agree!).
People want freedom and they like to feel in control, and most of the time people only learn lessons through experience not through the advice of others.
I don’t know how many times I have read that you should always backup your computer files, but it took my laptop crashing last week to finally realize how bad it would be to lose all of the files on my computer instantly.
Sometimes you just have to let people learn lessons the hard way, even if it hurts them. A kid usually has to get burned a bit before they learn not to play with fire.
Of course we should always do our best to provide for the people we love, and we should always do our best to help, but many times the best way to help is to simply listen, offer support, and only give help when we are asked.
Some small things like packing a lunch for a lover because we know they won’t have time to do it themselves in the morning, or buying them a book that we think they might like can be helpful and great ways to show your partner that you care, but simply expecting them to change because you know it’s best for them isn’t usually effective at all.
The truth is that you can’t “save” anyone…people have to save themselves. We can help, but it is always up to the individual to save themselves. No matter how much support you offer, until someone decides to change they won’t.
This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way in coaching, sometimes you just have to let people go because they just aren’t ready for change. No matter how inspiring, helpful, and supportive I may be, if a client won’t help themselves then I can’t help them either.
The best way to save someone is to stand by them, try to help them up when they fall, listen to them, love them, encourage them to make the right choice, and be ready to help them if they truly need it.
If you are ready to take the next step and get help to make your relationship better, or if you just want to become better than you were yesterday make sure and find out more about my coaching packages.