Is Your Personality Killing Your Relationship?


“Hello, Mr. Chambers. Can you talk?”

“Sure, what’s going on?”

“I talked to you recently about my boyfriend and I starting therapy with you. He said he was exhausted from my personality, needs time, and wasn't sure if he wanted to attend therapy with me. Do you think it’s even worth it for me to try to get him to come to therapy?”

“I'm sorry to hear that. It sounds like you might also be tired of your personality. That’s not unusual. We get tired and concerned about our behavior when we behave in ways that are not effective or that do not make us or those around us happy.”

“What do you mean? I’m tired of my own behavior?”

“That’s one way we get tired, by behaving in ways that do not achieve our goals.”

“So you think my behavior is a problem?”

“We have talked on the phone twice about concerns you have about your relationship and your behavior. Nothing that happens in your relationship is entirely all your fault, and I’m not judging you. But, I sense what you have been describing is a problem for you. Anyone is capable of behaving in ways that make other people want to avoid them or end their relationship with them.”

“That hurt my feelings when you said that.”

“When I said what?”

“That I was tired of my own behavior.”

“That’s not unusual. That’s when people call me, when something in their life is not going well and they are unhappy.”

“Yeah, I just don’t know what to do about this relationship. He told me he had one foot out the door, but that he cares about me. He just doesn’t know what to do.”

“It sounds like no matter what he does you would like to stop behaving in ways that make you and him unhappy. You could always enter into therapy for yourself, without him, and see if we might be able to figure out how to help you make changes. Relationships are about attraction and not promotion. It sounds like you are unhappy and you may be pressuring him to commit when he feels unsure about it. A better approach might be to enter therapy yourself, identify your problems, make some changes, and see if he recognizes it. Even if he doesn't, you will still feel better about yourself. You really don't have to pan-handle anyone to be in a relationship with you.”

This inquiry illustrates a common problem. Your personality can kill your relationship. When considering what it takes to succeed in relationships, we often only consider our positive personality traits. However, even positive traits can become problematic when they become extreme.  For example, according to Rob Kaiser, author of “Dealing with the Dark Side,” being excitable can make you appear passionate and enthusiastic on the one hand, and reactive and volatile on the other. Or being skeptical can make you appear politically astute and hard to fool in one instant yet mistrustful and quarrelsome in another instant. The trick is to improve self-awareness by studying your own behavior patterns, listening carefully to intimate partners and friends who provide you with critical feedback, and using that information to minimize or prevent your negative personality traits from spiraling out of control. By learning to do that you can prevent these patterns from poisoning your relationship.   



“Endings are beginnings.” I hear people say that sometimes in an effort to provide comfort. As helpful as they can try to be you still have to go through the discomfort of letting go and all the painful feelings that ensue.

One reason endings can be so unpleasant is that you may have never wanted the relationship to end. You may have even found yourself blindsided by a partner who, unbeknownst to you, decided to disconnect. 

Even when you decide to end a sick relationship, the pain can be unbearable. You may even toss a grenade into your relationship to create a diversion to avoid your feelings and to flee. You are not the first person to start an argument or blame your partner, in order to leave a failing relationship.  

Why? I'm suspicious that you may be ambivalent and not recognize it, or recognize it and not know how to deal with it. It's hard to admit, “I love you, but I'm leaving.” Anger developed to help us hide primary feelings like disappointment, shame, and guilt. Anger can be used as a means of image control, according to Dr. Raymond Novaco who posits that anger used in that way may serve to display strength and resolve rather than sadness and vulnerability. Anger and bitterness can disguise love, fear, and sadness. Anger is a fine intoxicant. Loss can be one of the most painful experiences of your life.  

Feelings, no matter how strong, will not kill you. In fact, as Nietzsche said, “if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger.” The strength you gain from facing endings and the feelings they evoke can make future relationships more satisfying.  

There is a way out. By embracing your humanity, you can allow yourself to experience your feelings—the good, the bad, and the painful. In that way, you can not only survive the loss but also gain inner strength as a result. By adopting a humble approach, rather than dodging uncomfortable emotions, you can learn how to improve your connection to yourself and others.  

Relationships are not permanent. Your job is to love wholeheartedly. That's impossible to do if you are afraid or misdirected by your feelings.