Relationship Partner Dilemmas
Choosing the right relationship partner can be daunting. Matters of the heart are inherently tender. True, some relationships these days are fairly casual and superficial. People use each other in different ways and for all kinds of reasons. But intimate relationships are different. And giving your heart away always carries risk. Our hearts can easily be broken. That’s why choosing the right intimate relationship partner is so important.
How do you know when someone is right for you or good for you? How can you tell if a someone will grace your life and help you grow? What are the warning signs the relationship could someday turn toxic? These are the key questions that beg our attention. And in our character-disturbed age, the answers are especially hard to discern.
The Best Predictors
Actions speak louder than words. A person’s pattern of behavior more accurately reveals their story and character. Many “charmers” are smooth talkers. But talk, as they say, is cheap. Moreover, past behavior is the single best predictor of future behavior. So, how a person has behaved in past relationships indicates how they’ll likely eventually treat you.
As noted in prior articles, character reflects the moral dimension of personality. (See: Personality and Character Disorders – Part 2.) (See also: Character Disturbance.) And we define personality by someone’s preferred manner of relating. These days, almost everyone has had at least one relationship failure. And most often, folks point the finger squarely at their former partner. But almost always, the true culprit lies in character.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard the same story. You meet someone who seems kind and attentive. True, they’ve had some past relationship failures. But it was never their fault. It was either “bad luck” or the “wrong person.” You don’t pay enough attention to how the person conducted themselves. And you don’t question what the person learned from their experience and changed for the better. Then, comes the very definition of craziness. The person behaves in their same characteristic ways but you expect different results. Perhaps you’re naive or vain enough to think will be different merely because they’re now involved with you.
Properly Vetting a Relationship Partner
“Sally” told me how enamored she was of “Sam” in the beginning. He treated her like a queen. She just knew he truly loved her. Yes, he’d been married before – three times in fact. But he and his first wife were “too young” to get married. They only thought they understood love. But they didn’t know what they were doing. He married his second wife “on the rebound.” He just needed somebody. It just took him a while to realize he didn’t really love her like he should. He really thought his third marriage would be different. He cared for “Judy.” But after they married, she stopped fulfilling him emotionally and sexually. That’s why he was unfaithful on several occasions. In fact, Sam and Judy were still married when he and Sally became (sexually) involved.
Sally really thought things would be different with her and Sam. But here are the behavioral facts:
- Sam married the first time not really invested in the enterprise. And he’s been in court several times over child support.
- Sam’s second marriage lasted less than a year. He emotionally deserted his wife when he met and became involved with Judy.
- Sam was unfaithful to Judy multiple times. And he betraying her (and exploiting her better finances) while involved with Sally.
So, his behavioral history bespeaks impulsivity, duplicity, unfaithfulness, and a failure to honor obligations. Such patterns of behavior define his character. Still, somehow Sally thought things would be “different” between him and her. A truly sad, but not uncommon story.
Sally eventually learned what most toxic relationship survivors have to learn. Character matters. It matters more than anything else. But we live in an age where what seems to matter is what we think someone can do for us. And we place too much stock in how they appear to treat us at first. Sometimes, we take them at their word. And we place too much stock in their explanations for failures. However, their behavior really says it all. Especially, their habitual patterns of behavior. Such patterns reflect their character. And healthy relationships are founded upon solid character.
I address all these issues in greater depth in How Did We End Up Here?