Savior Complex in a Relationship: Wanting to Turn Your Frog into a Prince

Why do we want to change others? To what extent can we do it? What could be the consequences of trying? In this article, we'll tell you!
Savior Complex in a Relationship: Wanting to Turn Your Frog into a Prince
Maria Fernanda Ramos Roa

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fernanda Ramos Roa.

Last update: 12 December, 2022

You only have to do an internet search to find thousands of recommendations for improving your relationship.

There are issues such as communication, transparency, flexibility, and emotional responsibility that can have a positive impact both on you as an individual and a couple. It’s difficult to direct the evolution of your relationship from an individual initiative. In fact, the issue is more complicated and the savior complex is difficult to sustain. Also, why should you expect your partner to change if they’re happy with the way they are?

Wanting to improve your partner

The word improving suggests a process. But, should you try to make your partner change? Do you have the right to want to change them? Moreover, where does the desire to change them come from? To answer these questions, let’s start by thinking about the origin of the desire to change a partner.

Women are the primary caregivers of babies and tend to exhibit more maternal behaviors. For example, concern, affection, and care. Sometimes, they even put their partner’s needs before their own. It’s not difficult to think of relationships in which the woman occupies the place of a partner while, at the same time, acting as a mother at the unconscious level. That said, at the relational level, it can generate discomfort in their partner. After all, their partner, in principle, isn’t looking for another mother, but a partner and an equal. In the same way, a woman doesn’t generally look for a child in her partner.

On the other hand, there  are some people who unconsciously demand this care, generating dynamics that, in the long run, cause a great deal of wear and tear on the provider.

Taking into account these more feminine characteristics, we can’t ignore that the desire for a woman to change their partner may be linked to the role of caring for and guiding their ‘helpless’ partner.

embracing couple
The need to take care of a partner and change them for the better often takes the form of a covert feeling of omniscience.

When you want to change your partner

This is delicate territory. To think that you know what’s better for your partner than they do means you’re assuming a position of superiority, almost of omniscience.  You’ve identified certain self-destructive behaviors in your partner and you want to eradicate them. In fact, you’ve fallen victim to the savior complex. It involves wanting to save another person even though they may not want to be saved.

As Fedida describes in the dictionary of psychoanalysis, omnipotence is a notion that refers to the unconscious childhood belief that overestimates the power of thoughts, desires, and actions (1979). In other words, believing that we have the ability to control or modify based on our own desires. Therefore, the kinds of changes that seem so opportune and would turn your frog into a prince are born from your own desires.

But, are you a princess? No. So, stop making demands on your partner. Of course, you’d love it if they did sports every morning because it’d generate serotonin in their body and they’d have a more productive day and be happier. But, what if they need that extra hour of sleep? You need to remember that they’re not the idealized version you’ve invented in your head and nor will they ever be.

Does being in a relationship change you?

Of course, your partner is going to have to make changes to adapt to the life you want together, and so are you. This isn’t a bad thing. After all, everyone adjusts their behavior to a particular context, and a couple is also a context.

As Bautista, Castillo, and Torres commented in 2022, being in a relationship has an impact on self-concept. They claim that “The positive or negative gestures of the couple affect the value that a person attributes to himself”.

There’s an inclusion of the other in the self. That’s why, in a couple, something of the self, of individuality, is lost (Bautista, Castillo, and Torres, 2022). This happens in all relationships, whether they be couples or friendships. Indeed, you’re not the same in a relationship as when you were single, nor do you emerge from it in the same way. However, believing that you can change your partner is another matter.

Woman supporting her partner
When you only look at your partner, you end up forgetting yourself and lose yourself completely.

You can’t change them

Ideally, your relationship works because you manage to reach agreements between you. If you can’t, you must accept those aspects that you love about your partner, along with those that you don’t like so much.

If you simply can’t tolerate the way they are, you have the option of leaving before risking all your efforts on trying to change them into the person you want. As a matter of fact, you neither have that power nor the right to do so.

Although Freud claimed that patients are cured through love, this is in a framed context and in which the person voluntarily agrees. In addition, it refers to transference love.

The love of a partner doesn’t necessarily enhance you. Sometimes, it can even act as an erosive agent that lacerates your emotional skin, generates pain, or reopens old wounds, exposing your most vulnerable parts (defense mechanisms, trauma, etc).

It simply isn’t possible to turn your frog into a prince so that they adapt to your needs. So, put your savior complex away. You won’t be needing it any time soon. Replace it with respect for the autonomy of your partner.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bautisa, J. P., Del Castillo, C. C., & Torres, C. C. (2022). Tú Me Haces Mejor/Peor Persona: Validación del Relational Self-Change Scale en Población Mexicana. Acta de investigación psicológica, 11(2).
  • Fedida, P. (1979). Diccionario de Psicoanálisis (Edición castellano ed.). Alianza Editorial.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.