Taking On A Caretaker Role In Your Relationship Can Suck Out The Passion


When the spark between you and your partner starts to fizzle, it’s a bummer if not entirely surprising. Between everyday stress, hormonal changes, and other external factors, there are plenty of reasons why the heat might cool down.

But what if the cause of fading passion was something altogether different? And what if the issue didn’t really feel like a problem at all? 

In relationships that struggle with codependency and “weaponized incompetence,” what seems like loving behavior can be a real passion killer, according to psychologist and celebrity love consultant Dr. Tari Mack.

Are You His Momma Or His Lover?

Mack discussed these issues on an episode of Louise Rumball’s OpenHouse podcast in the context of Justin and Hailey Bieber’s marriage. I was skeptical at first—how could the romantic woes of beautiful, famous, twenty-somethings have anything to do with real life? But the conversation goes deeper than the Biebers. 

The episode outlines examples illustrating the couple’s dynamics, and celeb status aside, they’re surprisingly relatable. When Justin acted needy and irresponsible, Hailey remained patient, submissive, and doting. She sacrificed her needs to better attend to Justin’s, and took up his responsibilities as her own. 

In these instances, Hailey was essentially part caretaker, part emotional support human, and part wife. Is there anything more romantic than being completely and utterly devoted to your partner? Couple goals, right?

Wrong! The dynamic belies an imbalance that could put an end to romance, Mack said.

Rumball summed it up thusly: “Are you his momma or his lover?”

Enabling Your Partner To Remain A Child

Do you find yourself taking on most of the mental or physical workload throughout the week? Are you in the caretaker role more often than not? How often do you take responsibility for your partner’s actions (or inactions)? 

Patience is important in a relationship, but extending too much patience to a partner who’s unwilling to pull their weight becomes enabling.

RELATED: ‘Raising My Husband,’ Therapist Weighs In On What To Do If You’re Married To A Man-Child

“When we go along with somebody’s bad behaviors,” Mack said, “when we don’t tell them the truth about how we feel—we don’t like something, we’re losing respect for somebody because of what they’re doing, if we don’t let them experience the natural consequences of [not doing their work], we are enabling them.”

In the podcast, she held up the Biebers as examples: “Hailey, like anybody in this caretaker or mom role, is enabling Justin to stay in this child role. It works for him. He doesn’t have to be responsible. Hailey has to be the responsible one.”

Sometimes, partners create this dynamic on a subconscious level. Other times, it’s created from conscious manipulation called weaponized incompetence. (If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “but babe, if I do it, I’m just going to mess it up,” then you know exactly what weaponized incompetence is.) Either way, it’s disastrous for relationships.

Losing Ourselves In A Relationship

“Of course we want to support our partners,” Mack said. “But when we take on the responsibility of reminding and leading the way for somebody to do the work they need to do, we are now stepping over from girlfriend, wife, partner, into a caretaker, into mom. In a healthy relationship, both people are responsible for their own self-care, healing, and growth.”

“We each need to be our own home base,” Mack continued. “When we make somebody else our home base, our safe place, that essentially means we need that person to be present or to be happy with us or to be okay for us to feel okay. And that is a core tenant of codependency. That’s really concerning.”

RELATED: Hating Your Husband Doesn’t Have To Be A Red Flag In Your Relationship

It’s also not a recipe for longevity. “It’s not going to last. The woman cannot be the mother, caretaker role for very long before the passion is going to get squashed,” Mack said. Adopting a parental role in the relationship might seem like you’re being a loving, doting partner—but it’s a surefire way to dampen any remaining sparks.

With this in mind, consider the emotions around your fizzling romance. Have you been feeling resentful, burnt out, depressed, anxious, or just noticeably not right? Mack says these are all signs of a codependent, unbalanced relationship finally starting to take its mental and emotional toll.

Finding Another Way

Luckily, even if you find yourself in an unhealthy all-give, no-take relationship, Mack described two big steps to initiate a course correction:

  1. Pay Attention To How You Feel.
    “If somebody asks you (for a) favor, consider if you want to do it instead of just saying yes without checking in with yourself,” Mack advised. “Start to get familiar with what’s going on inside of you. ‘How do I feel? What do I need?’ And learn how to give those things to yourself; don’t wait for somebody else to give them to you. When we look to other people for love and validation, we are powerless. We have to feed ourselves the words that we’re looking for from other people.”
  2. Set Boundaries.
    Mack suggested saying to your partner: “‘I’m realizing this role is not good for me or either of us, really. I’m trying to get healthier, and part of that means I have to say no sometimes. I have to start taking care of myself.’ If it’s a healthy relationship, your partner will support that because they want what’s best for you, not just what’s best for them.”

“Love should not be transactional,” Mack concluded. “It should be giving and receiving in a natural flow between the two.” And if your partner expects (or demands) otherwise, well, you may have bigger problems than a fizzling spark.

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