Unequal Character Growth Ruins Relationships

Character Growth

Character growth is a process. No one is born with good character. It takes time, effort, good teaching, and lots of reinforcement. (See: pp. 136-155 in Character Disturbance and Socialization is a Process.) And for some, the process can be a real challenge. Certain traits in one’s makeup can interfere with solid character growth. So can trauma and various dysfunctional aspects of a person’s formative environment. But at any point in time, most folks will tell you they’re not the person they once were. That’s because we all learn, and in that learning, most of us grow. But how we grow and what we take from our learning varies. And when two relationship partners grow at different rates, especially in character, problems can easily arise.

Unequal Character Growth in Relationships

We all learn and grow. But what we learn and what we make of what we’ve learned differs. And to become properly socialized, it also matters that we take the proper lessons to heart. Disturbed characters are notorious for learning plenty from their experience. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to learn what society desperately wants them to learn or take to heart.

Relationship partners can start out in a similar place character-wise. But then as life tries to teach some lessons, one might heed them while the other might not. The partner that  heeds the lessons well experiences character growth. The other partner does not grow. In fact, by contrast, they might even appear to regress because any meaningful growth is stunted. Then, a most insidious thing can happen. The already character growth-arrested person loses motivation to change. Why? Because the person who’s growing takes on more and more of the responsibilities associated with character maturity. That’s when big problems happen. One party slowly becomes a well-socialized adult. The other remains much like child.

An Illustrative Example

When Jean and Bill met in college, they had lots of fun together. Admittedly, they both liked to “party.” And party hard, they did. And they both anticipated that a life together would be an endless fun adventure. In fact, that’s the main reason Jean consented to marry. But she unexpectedly got pregnant very quickly after she and Bill tied the knot. And she was not happy. So many of her life and career ambitions seemed thwarted. And the social life she valued so much seemed to be taking a big hit, too. The doctor told her she should stop drinking altogether. So, she grudgingly cut back some. But she vowed she would not abandon her friends or the good times they always shared.

Bill didn’t know what to make of the situation at first, either. But he knew he didn’t want a child growing up in the kind of divided household he came from And he didn’t particularly like foregoing the possible future job of his dreams for an immediate source of decent income. But he had big new responsibilities now. And he felt it was time to step up to the plate.

Bill would put his partying days behind him. He monitored his use of alcohol carefully. And he gave up marijuana completely, not wanting to risk malaise or a failed screening at work. He had no resentments about that. Instead, his resentment built as he found himself carrying an unfair share of the load. And when he’d speak up when Jean wanted another night out with her friends, she’d only chastise him for acting more like a her father than her lover. In a way, he wasn’t completely surprised when he learned that Jean had actually found another lover at one of her hangouts. And he would soon realize it was the beginning of the end of what once seemed a fairy tale. A life together would be impossible for two individuals in very different phases of character growth.

Commentary

Now, right off the bat, a disclaimer:

Any vignette posted on this blog or depicted in any of my books is deliberately fictionalized. That’s to ensure absolute anonymity. Some vignettes are composites. But every vignette is drawn from real-life examples. And while in this particular case the person arrested in character growth is depicted as female, that’s not to imply that females more commonly fit this role. In fact, the average numbers suggest otherwise. But none of the aforementioned things are relevant to the major points of the story. The main point is that these days many folks are slow to mature in character. And some mature much slower than others. That reality has caused more problems in relationships than I care to count.

Tidbits

Advance promotion has begun for the Spanish language Edition of In Sheep’s Clothing. Expect an announcement soon on availability on Amazon.

Also expect an announcement soon on the debut of the new pocasts of Character Matters.

Lastly, I ask for patience with what will likely be my last book release. I’ve spent countless hours re-writing what was formerly titled The Ten Commandments of Character. But this book represents the culmination of my life’s work. So I need it to be right. And I’ll be talking about the process of getting it right on the upcoming new podcasts.

9 thoughts on “Unequal Character Growth Ruins Relationships

  1. Dr. Simon,

    Thank you so much for all of your work and helping us regain our lives and to understand what the aggressive people in our lives are doing. It has been immensely helpful for me.

    I noticed that many folks have asked over the years for suggestions on how to effectively respond to the aggressive people in their life. It’s understandable that this might be challenging as there are so many possible scenarios.

    I have a suggestion. What about having a post specifically for that where you give a few effective responses? Like one I believe you put in one of you books in regards to someone who keeps explaining/offering excuses – Although I respect your right to fight hard to convince me that I should condone your actions, I will not accept or be influence by any excuses you offer.
    And then let the community respond with what they have found effective in various situations. That way those tips are in one space where folks are struggling with a situation can access tips on how to respond in an empowering way.

    Over the years I found that certain things work better in personal relationships and some that work effectively with people in positions of power. With both, I get things in writing whenever possible, but especially with people in positions of power. And with both, it’s better to have a supportive witness.

      1. Thanks, D. I’ve found that now that I have some ready responses I feel empowered and respond the first time someone tests my boundaries and it sends the message that I’m not easy prey. Also, I can see how they respond to that limit. It gives me an idea of where they are in terms of respecting me and my limits.

    1. Hi Dr. Simon,

      I’m wondering if you’ve had the opportunity to think about my suggestion (above) and what you think?

      Thank you.

        1. Dr. Simon. I’m confused by your reply.

          This was in regards to a suggestion for a post that’s lots of people over the years have requested:

          I have a suggestion. What about having a post specifically for that where you give a few effective responses? Like one I believe you put in one of you books in regards to someone who keeps explaining/offering excuses – Although I respect your right to fight hard to convince me that I should condone your actions, I will not accept or be influence by any excuses you offer.

          And then let the community respond with what they have found effective in various situations. That way those tips are in one space where folks are struggling with a situation can access tips on how to respond in an empowering way.

  2. “A life together would be impossible for two individuals in very different phases of character growth.”

    Sometimes the other person tries to keep you down to his or her level…I wonder if it is because he or she knows that your growth means your exit from the relationship…(?)

    1. Yes, limiting choices and constricting the range of options available to a person. It’s a measure of coercive control. It’s abusive but it happens all over the place. Just shows the selfishness of the person doing it. And really, it’s quite nice, in effect, as it shows you the person doesn’t want what is good for you, isn’t supportive, and would rather damage you to continue possessing you, than to support you, applaud you, and care about your good and well-being and all that stuff.

      Much like an abuser will sabotage any efforts you make to better yourself or have any independence or feelings of confidence or competence or security. It’s evil. It’s truly evil.

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