Years ago when I started my career as a Psychotherapist, a seasoned colleague gave me perhaps the best piece of professional advice I’ve ever received. She told me, “if you don’t want to burn out in this field, never work harder on solving your client’s problems than they do”. This wonderful morsel of advice saved me from the all to common burn out of a career that so many mental health professionals who don’t exercise good boundaries often experience.
And it can save you too.
By refusing to work harder than your partner on solving the problems in your relationship, you can weed out the manipulators, control freaks and users and avoid being taken advantage of and carrying all the emotional weight in the relationship. My colleague’s advice resonated with me and when I found myself working harder than my clients in the therapeutic relationship, I would pull back and save my energy for those who really wanted my help and benefited from it. It was a professional boundary I set for myself in my therapy practice that allowed me to support others without weakening myself.
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I spent my energy on the clients that most wanted my help and were willing to work as hard as me to improve the quality of their lives.
Sound selfish or not empathetic? I don’t think so. Professionally, I created healthy boundaries that produced great results for my clients as well as myself. Refusing to work harder on solving my client’s problems than my clients weeded out the clients that really didn’t want to improve, change their ways or were just attending therapy to appease a spouse, partner or relative. Of course, personal relationships, especially romantic ones, are very different from professional relationships. We are more emotionally invested in our personal relationships and it isn’t as easy to take that necessary step back and resist the urge to singularly try solving an issue or repair a damaged relationship.
We want the relationship to work out so bad that rather than risk losing it, we risk losing ourselves trying to save it.
But taking a step back is an absolute necessity.
It’s the only way to find out if your partner is carrying his or her emotional weight in the relationship. And if they aren’t, well you shouldn’t have to do the all the emotional heavy lifting by yourself.
That’s not a relationship. That’s called being single.