Lifestyle: Why do we accept harmful shortcomings in our partners?

Entertainment of Wednesday, 14 September 2016



Relationship Women GoalsLack of affection, support, respect can be very harmful to the person on the receiving end of them

A while ago I wrote a post about deal-breakers in relationships, cautioning of the danger of rejecting a person with most of the qualities you want just because they have one you don’t.

I drew a distinction between relatively minor complaints, such as large ears or an odd laugh, and much more significant concerns, such as abusiveness or violence, and wrote about how some people focus too much on the little things and not enough on the big ones. Since that post went up, a friend suggested to me that I focus more on the other side of the issue, which I am happy to do here.

As my friend emphasized, while sometimes we are very quick to reject dates and partners for seemingly trivial reasons, other times we go to the opposite extreme and are too willing to overlook major flaws.

In the worst-case scenario, these could include abusiveness and violence, but even more moderate behaviors such as a lack of affection, support, or respect can be very harmful to the person on the receiving end of them.

Even if these aspects of a relationship never approach an abusive or violent level, they are nonetheless corrosive factors that have strong and lasting effects on a person’s well-being and health.

Much has been written about why people stay in abusive or violent relationships (such as by my PT colleagues here and here), so in this post I’ll focus on those of us who stay in relationships with people who may be more negligent or thoughtless than malicious or mean.

These are the people who are not necessarily bad, and not necessarily bad for everybody, but definitely bad for the people they’re with at the time.

After all, not all of us want the same amount or kind of attention or affection—for example, some of us crave the constant attention that would make others feel suffocated—but we should all seek out people who will give us what we want and help us feel the way we want to feel. If the person you’re with doesn’t do this for you, that is a significant problem that should definitely be a deal-breaker.

Why are people willing to put up with significant relationship flaws like lack of affection or attention while they reject people for much less important things? Here are some possible reasons:

1. The nitpicky things we tend to focus on are often more obvious and observable. You can quickly see if someone has a physical feature, political opinion, or verbal tick you don’t like, but the more significant characteristics that are likely to lead to serious harm are often slower to appear.

2. By the time these traits do appear, we may already be enamored with the more superficial aspects of the person—including their lack of any obvious minor flaw that would immediately pop out at us.

3. After we do notice the harmful behavior, it is easy to tell ourselves that these negative personality traits will change over time, whether we believe we can change them ourselves or that the person will get better once they fall in love with us.

4. Finally, as the saying goes, “we accept the love we think we deserve,” and for many people, that’s not much, especially those of us who suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, or self-loathing. (For more on self-loathing and relationships, see my list of posts here.) They may be more likely to accept people with obvious shortcomings, and stay with them even after these shortcomings manifest themselves in behavior that approaches abuse, because they don’t think they deserve any better or, even worse, that they deserve it or even caused it.

To some extent, there’s a positive side to the last two items: they reflect a large degree of compassion and patience that contrasts nicely with the lack of them shown when rejecting people out of hand for minor flaws. But as great as these traits are, they become harmful to a person possessing them when indulged to the expense of one’s own well-being and self-esteem. As with many things, we should try to find a comfortable middle, what Aristotle called “the golden mean,” in which we express kindness and acceptance of some flaws of other people while at the same time we protect ourselves from the more significant ones.

We need to be able to see when a flaw is just a quirk that can be accepted or even embraced, which over time will make the relationship and the people in it stronger, or a sign of a serious problem that, over time, will only hurt us.

Like I wrote in an earlier post about compromise, each of us needs to decide what aspects, traits, and behaviors of the other person fulfill our needs and affirm who each of us is as a person. I would bet that kindness, affection, and respect—in whatever form or to whatever degree you want them—are a lot higher on that list than a sexy laugh, cute nose, or a sharp fashion sense.

Keep in mind what is truly important to you, what you want and deserve, and never settle for less. In the end, that’s the only deal-breaker you need.

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