Loving Relationships and Character
Committed, loving relationships can foster character growth. (See also: Committed Relationships Can Fuel Growth.) But it takes a certain degree of character to give any relationship a real chance. Some people enter relationships aware of the red flags of their partner’s character disturbance. And they sometimes think that with enough loving care they can heal them. They believe what traditional psychology paradigms taught us: only wounded, damaged individuals end up dysfunctional. Understand and nurse the wounds, therefore, and the person will recover and start treating you well. Unfortunately, all too many folks have trapped themselves in toxic relationships by that very way of thinking.
When Love Is Not Enough
Character disturbance exists along a spectrum of severity. (For more on this, you’ll want to read Character Disturbance.) And when someone has significant character deficiency, no amount of loving care alone can fix things. Loving relationships can promote character growth, that’s for sure. But truly disturbed characters need something else. Life and consequences need to teach them what loving relationships alone can’t: that their very ways of seeing and doing things need to change.
A Sad But Not Uncommon Story
(As always, the following vignette contains deliberately distorted potentially identifying information to preserve anonymity.)
“Josh” was a self-made man. In fact, that’s partly what drew “Susan” to him. He seemed so self-assured and capable. And despite the signs he could be biting at times, he seemed to really treasure her. At least he did at first. But over time how he seemed to view her and how he treated her changed dramatically. Where once in his eyes she seemed to have hung the moon, she suddenly could never do enough to please. And whenever she spoke up, he was quick to make her feel ungrateful. After all, he’d provided a great lifestyle.
Josh’s treatment of Susan got progressively more offensive and brutal. The harshness of his words could cut deeply. There must be a really wounded child underneath, she surmised. A therapist they saw a couple of times before they got married told her that. So, despite how badly he made her feel, she did her best to understand. And she did her best to show loving care, hoping it would soften his heart.
Learning the Truth
The day Josh announced he’d found someone else and was leaving Susan could hardly believe it. And when she learned he’d been fooling around for years it hurt her even more. She’d given everything. But he had simply used her. And he had deceived and manipulated her from the beginning. Josh would go on to use and throw away several more partners before fate handed him his own day of reckoning. And Susan had to learn a very hard lesson. Loving relationships can indeed heal. They can be an incredible vehicle for personal growth. But they can’t work miracles. When someone has a significant character disturbance, you can’t simply love them to health. And, unfortunately, you can’t always tell on the front end when someone lacks conscience and empathy and is likely, therefore, to use and abuse you.
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