Heal vs. Fix

This is another in a long line of posts I've published about what I call "therapeutic distinctions", pairs of related concepts that are often used interchangeably but which reveal vitally important differences when examined more carefully.

Such is the case with "heal" versus "fix"

This distinction revealed itself in a session I had recently with a man who was talking about his marital difficulties (many of his own making). We discussed his tendency in life to identify a problem, fix it and then move on. While this is an admirable trait, it is a style that many men use too often in their personal relationships, generally with poor results that baffle and frustrate them.It's no news that many men aren't very comfortable talking about feelings.
There's an old joke that the five words a man most dreads to hear are "Honey, we need to talk." So many straight men tend to see a woman's feelings as problems to be fixed rather than as opportunities for intimate connection. They're more comfortable offering solutions (often without being asked) than simply listening with active, sustained attention.
A man may realize that the "fix-it" mentality doesn't really work very well but still not know any other way to relate to the spouse he truly loves but often doesn't understand. I regularly spend significant time with some men to help them develop more effective communication styles, which is too large a topic to try to summarize here. My main focus of this post is to simply point out that sometimes in life, especially in relationships, there is not so much a problem to be fixed as a wound to be healed.
Objects get fixed. Cars, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and the like all will need "fixing" at some point (or simply thrown away in our disposable culture).
But wounds don't get fixed. They can only heal. And the skills for healing are often very different than those for fixing. Healing is often much slower than fixing. Healing requires less know-how and more want-to than fixing. Healing is often more a matter for the spirit than the flesh. It is the realm of the human being rather than the human doing.
The poet D.H. Lawrence wrote,

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of parts. 
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly that I am ill.
I am ill because because of wounds to the soul -- to the deep emotional self.....

A shattered trust, a lost innocence, a broken heart are all deep wounds to be healed. Attempts to treat them as mere problems to be fixed will rarely do them justice.


Bill Herring, an Atlanta therapist who specializes in helping couples heal from chronic infidelity and other deceptions, is also a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT).