A Description of Chronic Rescuer-Rescuee Relationships

In Chronic Rescuer-Rescuee Relationships, one partner consistently assumes the role of the “savior” or “caretaker,” while the other becomes the perpetual “victim” or “dependent.” This dynamic creates an imbalance in the partnership, where the rescuer often feels obligated or responsible for solving the other’s problems or catering to their needs, sometimes at the expense of their own well-being. The rescuee, on the other hand, may feel an ongoing sense of helplessness or inadequacy, relying heavily on the rescuer for emotional, financial, or practical support. While the act of helping or being there for a partner is inherent in many loving relationships, the chronic nature of this dynamic means it becomes a defining, recurring pattern, preventing both individuals from experiencing an equitable, mutually supportive partnership.

Over time, this can lead to feelings of resentment, burnout, or entrapment for the rescuer, and feelings of guilt, shame, or dependency for the rescuee. The relationship becomes less about mutual love and growth, and more about perpetuating these fixed roles, which can hinder personal development and true intimacy.

(This article is part of the series: Unhealthy Relationship Patterns: Categorizing the 21 types)

The Perspective of Partners

Rescuer (Savior/Caretaker):

  • Perception: Sees themselves as the primary pillar of support and stability in the relationship. They might believe that without their constant intervention, their partner would struggle or fail.
  • Emotions: Often feels a mix of responsibility, pride in their role, and over time, potential feelings of resentment, burnout, or entrapment due to the continuous caregiving.
  • Behaviors: Regularly steps in to solve problems, provide emotional or financial support, and make decisions for the relationship. Might neglect their own needs or desires in the process.
  • Rationalizations: They might believe that their partner is inherently incapable of handling challenges without them. They may also feel that their rescuing approach ensures the relationship’s stability and security.

Rescuee (Victim/Dependent):

  • Perception: Views themselves as needing constant support, guidance, or intervention from their partner. They might see their own capabilities as limited or inferior.
  • Emotions: Predominantly feels gratitude for their partner’s support, but also experiences feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, or dependency.
  • Behaviors: Often seeks assistance, guidance, or intervention from the rescuer, even in situations they might handle independently. They might also exhibit behaviors signaling their dependency or victimhood.
  • Rationalizations: They might convince themselves that they’re inherently ill-equipped to handle life’s challenges without their partner’s help. They may also believe that their dependency ensures their partner’s commitment or that it’s a form of intimacy.

Is it the Rescuer-Rescuee Relationship or something else?

The “Rescuer-Rescuee” relationship type shares characteristics with several other unhealthy dynamics. Let’s explore these similarities and discern the unique features of the “Rescuer-Rescuee” dynamic:

  1. Dependent Relationship: Both the Rescuer-Rescuee and Dependent relationship types involve a heavy reliance from one partner on the other. However, the dependent relationship usually signifies a mutual dependence where both parties feel they can’t function without each other. In the Rescuer-Rescuee dynamic, the rescuer often feels compelled to continually “save” or “help” the rescuee, while the rescuee consistently appears to be in situations or states where they require saving or support.
  2. Parent-Child Dynamic: The Rescuer-Rescuee dynamic can sometimes mirror aspects of the parent-child relationship, especially where the parent continually steps in to guide, protect, or bail out the child. However, the parent-child relationship spans a broader range of interactions, including caregiving, decision-making, and even discipline, whereas the Rescuer-Rescuee type centers primarily around the act of rescuing and being rescued.
  3. Neglected Relationship: There’s potential overlap when the rescuer becomes overly focused on specific rescue acts, overlooking the broader emotional needs of the rescuee. However, a neglectful relationship is characterized by pervasive neglect, whereas, in the Rescuer-Rescuee dynamic, any neglect would be more incidental and not the central theme.

Unique Indicator for “Rescuer-Rescuee” Type

The defining feature of the Rescuer-Rescuee relationship is its cyclical nature where one partner continually finds themselves in situations that require external intervention, and the other partner perpetually steps in to resolve the issues. This cycle is often fueled by the rescuer’s need to feel needed or valuable and the rescuee’s pattern of avoiding responsibility or craving attention. It creates a dynamic where one party can’t function without the other, but not in the interdependent way healthy relationships strive for. Instead, it’s a perpetuation of imbalance, where one party remains vulnerable and the other continually steps in to “save the day.” The relationship often lacks autonomy, with the rescuee not developing self-reliance and the rescuer becoming overburdened with their self-imposed duties.