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Loving Broken Men: Rescuing Mr. Potential, Part 1

Rescuing wounded souls inevitably ends in a failed relationship.

If we filled a fountain with a quarter for every woman who’s loved and tried to save a broken man, we could probably fill Niagara Falls. This destructive relationship pattern—what I call rescuing wounded souls—is one of the most common relationship problems that face women today.

The rescuer is a woman who attaches herself to partners who are emotionally unstable in some way. Though rescuers can be both men and women, the book I wrote on the subject, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome, was primarily for women. So, you might ask, what does the rescuer do and feel in her relationships?

The rescuer focuses on and worries about her partner more than she does about herself. Repeatedly, she finds herself with partners who, at first, seem sweet and have tremendous potential, but before long reveal themselves to be emotionally volatile, unstable, aggressive, controlling, unhappy, or unable to cope with some aspect of their lives. Many men who rescuers try to save struggle with depression, severe anxiety, or addictions of some sort.

You might ask yourself why a woman would stay with such a man. For the rescuer, she values love and relationships above all else. When she commits, she is fiercely loyal and she will die trying to help him realize his true potential. Rescuers also often come from families in which they felt the need to take care of a sibling or parent, or in which there was a high level of turmoil and drama.

Though she desperately tries to help her partner, what she’s really trying to do is change him. Other men who are her equals and who are emotionally available often seem boring. What’s more, the love of a man who is emotionally whole wouldn’t seem like real love. For these women, love is about work and, sadly, suffering.

The ultimate question: Is she programmed to repeatedly save broken men, or can she break the habit and rid herself of this self-destructive relationship approach? The answer is a full-throated, "Yes," she can change—but only with disciplined work and self-exploration.

My book takes women step by step through breaking the cycle. The starting point is to realize that your identity is the root of the problem, that you see yourself as someone who has dysfunctional relationships and doesn’t know how to be attracted to her equal and sustain a relationship with him.

What I've found from many years of clinical experience is that a simple model can be used to help people change significant problems: Insight + Behavior Change = Identity Change. Accordingly, the way to change this dysfunctional relationship pattern is to first gain insight into how and why you feel the need to rescue wounded souls, and then engage in a series of new behaviors which will lead to a changed identity in your relationships. In Part 2 of this series, I'll go through these steps in detail so that you can set yourself on a new course to change!

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