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Video: Can a personality ruin a relationship?

TODAY contributor
updated 2/5/2008 12:21:34 PM ET 2008-02-05T17:21:34

What guarantees the success of a marriage? Is it physical attraction, fidelity, trust, humor and mutual respect? On the other hand, are there behaviors or personality traits that can predict the failure of a marriage? Dr. John Gottman, author of “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail,” has done plenty of research in this area and his findings suggest that there are indeed some personality traits that can doom a marriage to failure. Coupled with my own research and experience with couples’ therapy, here are the personality traits that might signal possible roadblocks on the path to martial bliss. Does one of these personalities sound like you?

The Pleaser
The Pleaser puts “we” before “me,” and has a “what’s mine is yours” philosophy with her spouse. The Pleaser does not need much alone time or privacy, and is happy spending plenty of quality time with her spouse. Pleasers often like to play by the rules — rules which may or may not be applicable at all times in a relationship. For instance, a Pleaser might strongly adhere to gender roles or certain routines, and may be unwilling to think outside the box or try new things within the relationship. However, marriage and family life do not always follow a set routine, and Pleasers might have a hard time adjusting to these changes. Furthermore, her motto of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can lead to staleness within the marriage … but it also means that she is a dependable and loyal partner.

The One-Upper
The One-Upper is so named because she always takes an argument to the next level. Instead of trying to empathize with her partner’s point of view, she skips right to the “persuasion” stage, where she tries to convince her partner that she is right. One-Uppers rarely argue without becoming very impassioned. However, it is possible for One-Uppers to resolve conflicts, since they are open about their feelings, both positive and negative. They also tend to be analytical and honest (if sometimes brutally so), which can help keep the relationship moving forward. But watch out: One-Uppers do get stuck in conflict mode, which can lead to constant fighting.

The Avoider
Avoiders tend to deny the existence of problems within their relationships, or they admit the existence of problems but only work on them on a surface level. Rather than truly addressing the issue at hand, Avoiders often want to “agree to disagree.” Conversations with them often end in standoffs and no resolution can be reached. Avoiders treasure alone time and autonomy, and they will often go to any lengths to avoid conflict, as they prefer calm and pleasant environments. Relationships with Avoiders are not doomed to fail, as Avoiders have a high level of respect for their loved ones. However, there is a low level of companionship with Avoiders as they never share their true feelings. Moreover, if the Avoider's relationship was ever to encounter a serious issue that simply could not be avoided, she would not know how to manage the conflict effectively and the marriage would certainly suffer or even end.

The Catastrophizer
The Catastrophizer tends to attribute all of her feelings and behaviors to her spouse, and she often refuses to take blame for anything. When the Catastrophizer is upset, she attacks her spouse with phrases that begin with “You always __” or “You never __,” and she generally uses negative facial expressions and a whining or mocking tone of voice. Catastrophizers take a negative situation (such as their spouse being late for dinner) and escalate the situation with catastrophic thinking. For example, the Catastrophizer first thinks, “He’s late every night for dinner and I’m sick of waiting for him.” Then she thinks, “In fact, he doesn’t care about how much work I put into making healthy meals or grocery shopping.” Finally, she thinks, “In fact, he really doesn’t see me at all or care about my feelings … Now that I think about it … he’s never cared about me. He’s selfish and self-absorbed. I don’t know why I’m even in this relationship!” As these thoughts continue, they see their partner through this lens and unpleasant and angry feelings escalate.

If you or your partner exhibits any of the above behaviors, take heed because your marriage is going to be unfulfilling unless you work on these unhealthy habits. The healthiest relationships are those in which both partners feel free to be themselves and honest, authentic and respectful communication is valued above all else.

Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the Berman Center in Chicago, a specialized health care facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.

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