How To Stop Being A Caretaker In Your Relationships

As a caretaker, you may be more prone than others to lose yourself and fall into a cycle of unhealthy love.

woman taking care of a man Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock

Empathy and compassion can be wonderful, but when you slip into the role of caretaker in a relationship, it's a big mistakes that can hurt your romantic relationship and lead to unhealthy love.

What does caretaking in relationships look like?

Caretaking in a relationship can manifest is various ways, including the following:

  • Sacrificing your own needs and wants to take care of the needs and wants of others when they are capable of doing it themselves.
  • Giving to others from fear rather than love.
  • Giving to get and giving with an agenda.
  • Taking responsibility for another's feelings.

In a relationship, caretaking can sometimes be a covert form of control, which may include compliance, niceness, praise, seductiveness. But that certainly isn't always the case.


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Caretaking is often an attempt at self-protection.

Caretaking is one of the ways the ego wounded self tries to protect against rejection, as well as a way to not feel your own and others' pain.


When you are a caretaker, you put your own inner child in a closet and take care of another's inner child with the hope the other person will feel loved and eventually take your inner child out of the closet and love you.

Caretakers have a lack of empathy when it comes to themselves, even though they are greatly empathetic to other people. Sometimes, due to this empathy, they give themselves up to try to help others with their pain, which they may think is loving. But giving yourself up is never loving to you or to others, nor does it create healthy relationships.

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How to Stop Being a Caretaker in Your Relationships

1. Recognize that caregiving is different than caretaking.

As a caregiver, you do things for another what they cannot do for themselves — as with children, the ill, and the elderly — even when you are sacrificing yourself.


Caregiving comes from the loving adult, giving from the heart, while caretaking comes from the wounded self, often giving from fear or from false beliefs regarding what is loving. Caregiving, as well as giving love and gifts to others from your heart, has no agenda attached. That is, there are no expectations that others will give back or approve of you. Caregiving and giving are pure gifts of the heart.

If you give to others and end up unhappy that you are not receiving appreciation or acknowledgment, it is likely you are caretaking.

2. Make sure you aren't giving in order to get.

When you are giving to get, you may end up feeling others owe you for what you give.

You might find yourself keeping a kind of check and balance system in your head: "I cooked dinner all week so he should take me out to eat" or "I bring home the paycheck so she should make love to me."


When you give to get, you may not feel loved until things are "fair" or "even." Since things will never be fair or even, giving to get may result in never feeling loved.

3. Make sure you aren't caregiving in an attempt to fix other people.

Caretakers may give to try to avoid rejection, but they may also be coming from a desire to fix the other person so as not to feel their pain.

What do you do when you are a deeply empathic person — a person who feels other people's feelings in your own body — and someone you care about is in pain?

Of course, you want to do all you can to help to relieve the pain. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. But, it can lead to the trap of caretaking.


For example, Linda is a deeply empathic person. She was born into a family where she was the only one who had deep natural empathy. As a result, she ended up being the person whom her parents and siblings relied on for caring and support.

In her marriage, the same thing occurred. She ended up giving while everyone else — her husband and children — ended up taking.

In a phone session with her, she explored a friendship she was in: "I love Marla, but I think I have to end this friendship. She is relying on me more and more for everything, and I'm feeling drained. She just won't take care of herself and keeps expecting me to take care of her."

This is one of the problems that deeply empathic people face. They love to help and give, and the way they love feels so good to others that they want more and more of it, but it often ends up being a one-way street.


The challenge is to learn to bring that deep empathy within as well, to your own feelings.

4. Make a point of taking care of yourself.

If you continue to have empathy for others but not for yourself, you will find yourself in caretaking relationships over and over again.

Once you learn to check in first with your own feelings before giving to others, you will stop giving when it is inappropriate.


Caretaking isn't loving, because it’s not loving to be doing for others what they need to be doing for themselves.

By checking in with yourself, you can tune into what is really loving — to yourself and to the other person.

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Margaret Paul, PhD, is a relationship expert, noted public speaker, workshop leader, educator, chaplain, consultant, and artist.