Whether due to media advice or social pressures, most people strive to present what are their most desirable and alluring behaviors in their search for a partner.
That “positives only” presentation, sadly, is bound to run into problems as likely skeletons must eventually emerge. Every human being has emotional and physical baggage and, when it finally comes to light, it can result in disillusionment that can threaten the relationship.
Most people tell me that their relationships end because of emerging incompatibilities, previously hidden deal breakers, or crises such as infidelities or emerging addictions.
But I have found, after more than four decades of being a relationship therapist, that there are often underlying personality characteristics and behaviors that are likely to push a partner away even when those more obvious reasons don’t exist. Moreover, people come into each new relationship already manifesting them and may unknowingly create a self-fulling prophecy if they remain unaware that they are behaving that way.
I’m going to talk about 10 of these that come up over and over during therapy sessions, but you may also have some in your relationships that have the same effect. What they have in common is that they are not as easily noted in the early stages of a relationship but cause emotional allergies over time.
1. Outrage. Constant expressions of outrage are either tolerated by others or agreed with and expanded. They are most often a cover for powerlessness but still inject toxicity into the relationship when continually expressed. Outrages are often not susceptible to fixing. They have a life of their own that transfers powerlessness to the other partner.
2. Urgency. The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland proclaims, “I’m late. I’m late. For a very important date. No time to say hello/goodbye. I’m late. I’m late.” People who live in a state of urgency cannot relax, continuously anticipate potential crises and are in constant readiness for combat mode. Their focus is on the future and they cannot be fully present in what is going on in the moment.
3. Low Frustration Tolerance. Are you easily irked? Do most people and situations often irritate you? Do you react quickly when things don’t go the way you expected? Do others feel called upon often to “calm you down?” No one can be around a person who is that intolerant of too many small issues in most situations. It just takes away the joy of anything good or joyful that could be focused upon instead.
4. Endless Rehashing. Have you known someone, or are you someone, who has to go over things repeatedly and relive every anguishing moment? They are obsessive about getting to the bottom of things even if they endlessly repeat themselves. They usually are so preoccupied by these forever searches that they cannot let in new information that might actually help stop the cycle.
5. Center Stage. It is very hard to be on the other end of someone who can only see the world from their own point of view, talks only about themselves, doesn’t ask you any questions about yourself, doesn’t track things you’ve told them, and steals the lion’s share of every interaction. If that person is charismatic and fascinating, it may be worth the show, but don’t bother competing.
6. Chronic Lateness. There is just no successful way to deal with a person who consistently keeps you waiting. They usually feel terrible doing that to you so it is hard to chastise them, but it will ultimately drive you crazy. The most common reason for chronic lateness is inertia. These people can’t easily let go of what they are doing and don’t plan enough time to transfer from one situation to another. Nevertheless, they are often labeled as passive/aggressive and unable to be tolerated.
7. Flaking. Consistently not honoring agreements is a sure way to push others away. Trust in a relationship is core to its success. If someone wants to keep your trust, then they can’t ignore or rationalize breaking an agreement without an attempt to renegotiate in advance, or a sincere promise to change that behavior. It is human to make a promise and sometimes be unable to keep it, but it is not okay to just ghost or not recognize the damage that does to a relationship.
8. Cheapness. A person who is paranoid about being taken advantage of is often concerned about getting the short end of the stick. They may show that by undertipping waiters, bargaining to get the best deal in every interaction, taking more easily than they give, and being quick to blame others for taking advantage of them. They do not feel that others deserve their generosity if they haven’t earned it by their own standards.
9. Sarcasm. Playful teasing is totally acceptable if the teaser and “teasee” are both okay with the interaction. But sarcasm usually has some level of scorn or mockery driving it. The joke is on the person on the other end who may be good-natured enough to laugh, but it’s a rose-covered hilt and doesn’t usually feel good. Sarcastic people may be insecure, uncomfortable with intimacy, or scared themselves of being the butt of a joke, but that behavior can be wearing over time. People put up with them more easily if they are funny enough to get away with it, or truly feel apologetic when told they’ve been hurtful, but it becomes more unwelcome over time.
10. Perpetual Victims. Everyone goes through times in their lives when they are truly victimized or have to undergo severe trauma and loss. Most do whatever they can to rebound and return to a better life, even if it takes a while. But there are others who seem to live in victimhood. Someone is always wronging them. They are cheated by life experiences. Others aren’t fair to them. Nothing they do can make their circumstances bearable and no one can understand the depth of their despair. Many try to help, but to no avail. They are wedded to their sorrow.
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