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Dr. Romance: Is your Partner too Selfish?


Dr. Romance: Is your Partner too Selfish?


Relationships: Tips to Recognize if your Partner is Emotionally Abusive


By TINA TESSINA

    Ever look around at who stays married, and who doesn't? Overweight people far outnumber the thin and beautiful in successful marriages. The svelte and attractive get far more dates, but don't seem as able to close the deal. Perhaps it's because the thicker daters aren't as narcissistic, or maybe they just settle for less.

On the other hand, maybe they're built for comfort. I suspect they're just focused more on things other than their own appearance, and that turns out to be an asset in relationships. I think the expectations and the ways they connect with others is a factor, too. Perhaps the unlovely have an easier time believing they're loved for themselves, rather than for their looks.


Many modern brides get focused on the "production" of the wedding, seeing it more as a theatrical event than an emotional/spiritual experience. This leads to a narcissistic outlook (it's all about me looking perfect, getting exactly what I want) rather than a healthier focus on the spiritual import (it's a blessing on the future of the couple) and the happiness of your spouse, friends and family -- ideally, it's an opportunity for members of the new "family" of in-laws and friends to get acquainted, to bond, and to support the happy couple.

The drive to get everything "picture perfect" raises the stress level (the fainting bride was suffering from exhaustion and stress) and tends to create power struggles between bride and groom, mother and bride, mother-in-law and bride, and even the bride's parents can be talked into spending much more than they can afford which leads to arguments between that couple.

The problem that I find with my struggling couples is the narcissistic concept they hold of romantic love. They believe it is something they are entitled to feel based on the devoted actions of their partner to their needs. I often hear the complaint "but I'm just not in love with him/her any more" and that one of the couples has "outgrown" the other or has become bored.

In working with them I see the need to get each one out of their self-centered orientation and focused on what each of them is contributing (or not) to the health of the relationship. To expect that rush we first felt in early relationship years is unrealistic. Couples need to learn to accept the individual responsibility for their own internal growth and stability so that they bring something to the partnership, and that participation is what feeds intimacy, appreciation, acceptance and love. When these components are present in a relationship there is an ongoing bond that tolerates the ebbs and flows of long-term attachment without the expectation that the other person is responsible for the "romance" in their lives.

I am convinced that the term "romance" is interchanged, incorrectly, with excitement and passion. It is very hard for members of our instant gratification society to accept that these feeling of excitement and passion have to begin internally within each individual based on how they are giving to themselves and their partners. Obsession with looks is definitely a problem in our society, and it shows us to be increasingly immature and insecure. We also must be too wealthy for our own good, if we can spend these millions on vanity.

The obsession with makeovers is media-driven and shows an inability to think for oneself or to accept oneself as is. While plastic surgery is a true blessing for someone with a real problem and learning to "dress for success" may be helpful to the wardrobe impaired, it is definitely overblown to the point that people who otherwise would be perfectly acceptable are making drastic, artificial changes.

What does a cosmetic redone nose or an enhanced bustline say about you? It says you're narcissistic, willing to use and be used by others for narcissistic needs, and in doubt about your own self-worth. It says nothing good about the content of your character. Outside of the entertainment industry, it's actually the average-looking people who succeed, isn't it? They have the good, long-lasting marriages, the business success, the stamina to create a good life. This is because they've learned to look beneath the surface, and they're not looking for instant answers.

Women need to keep in mind that different habits indicate men's character differences. Lack of sexual confidence could be great if you want marriage or a long-term relationship, because it indicates someone without a lot of experience -- this is not a player, he's probably a more emotionally vulnerable man, which means he's more open to love.

Sexual confidence is great, on the other hand, if you're into sport sex and don't have any need for commitment -- because men who are sexually confident usually have a lot of experience, and are often highly non-monogamous. A man with lots of charm, who says exactly what you want to hear, may be dishonest and narcissistic.

What about the man who is mistakenly confident -- that is, he's sure he's great, but your experience is, he's a sexual dud? This man is most likely self-involved and doesn't have much empathy or concern for others. His braggadocio may conceal a very wounded soul, along with an alcohol, drug or gambling problem. He lacks impulse control and a sense of responsibility, because he's a narcissist. That means that emotionally, he's stuck at the narcissistic stage children go through about 2-years old. So, you're a mom dealing with an emotional two-year old in a grownup body. The only thing you can do is get tough. You and your children are in danger.

You're taking the easy way out and making excuses so you won't have to handle this problem, which will make the problem worse. You need to put your foot down right now. Find friends or family you can stay with, or locate a woman's shelter. Make sure a friend or family member is available immediately if you need help, then tell him that you'll leave him if he doesn't go to AA and to an anger management group. If you allow him to continue this behavior, you risk losing your children. When he gets angry and acts out, it is harmful not only to you, but to your children.

Child Protective Services can come in an take them if you won't protect them from his abuse. To develop conscience in people with these problems, behavioral training is necessary. Essentially, you treat them as children, regulate all their behavior with reward and punishment, and force them to use self-control to behave within the rules. Then, you teach them about ethics and morality, and give them exercises to develop these capabilities.

Here are tips to consider when you're in a relationship with a partner who is a narcissist.

1. Take care of yourself.
That is, think before you do anything about whether it will be a good move for you or not.

2: Don't participate if it's not working for you.
That is, if you're at a party, and being ignored, just leave quietly. He'll get the message. If you're at home, and not being treated well, go to another room, go out, or phone a friend. Don't just sit around and take it.

3. Find some things to do that are happy and healthy for you.
Fill up your own time and don't waste it on people who don't really care. Start taking responsibility for making yourself happy, don't rely on him, and you'll feel more grown up, less adolescent. It's a learning process, so give yourself some time.

Tina Tessina, Ph.D., has been a licensed California psychotherapist for more than 30 years. She has authored more than 11 books, including "Money, Sex and Kids"; “The Commuter Marriage: Keeping your Relationship Close While you’re Far Apart”; "How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free"; "The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again"; and, “It Ends with You: Grow Up and Grow Out of Dysfunction.”  Tina can be reached at tina@tinatessina.com.




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