Is your relationship on a crash course? If your partner criticizes or judges you excessively, chances are you're involved in a "toxic" relationship. In a three-part series, the “Today” show examines how to identify these harmful relationships and free yourself from them. In this segment, “Today” relationships contributor Gail Saltz and the host of radio's "Love Lines," Dr. Drew Pinsky, talked with show host Katie Couric. Here are some of their responses to some of the most common questions about this suject.
When men and women complain their partners are narcissistic, noncommittal or uncommunicative, does this necessarily mean they're in an unhealthy relationship?
Dr. Gail Saltz: It doesn't. Just because you have a husband who tunes you out while he's watching football or a wife who reads catalogs while she listens to you, doesn't mean you should run to the divorce lawyer. It depends on the degree.
Drew, one of the biggest problems you hear from both men and women is that they're miserable in their relationship because they can't get a commitment. Are certain people just unable to commit?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: It's different for young men as opposed to older men. Young men aren't ready to commit until they have staked out their territory in life. They need to find out who they are in the world before they make a commitment to someone. A guy who says he let "the one" get away truly means it, except there was nothing he can do about it. No matter how much he loves someone, if he's not ready, he's not ready.
When he's 40, it's a different story. He's either a jerk or he's not that into you. Or chances are, he's getting over something too painful and he needs to work through that.
Gail, another big complaint we heard when talking to men and women was how difficult it is to be with someone who is extremely self-absorbed. How serious is narcissism?
Saltz: Very serious. It's also another trait of a commitment-phobe. Narcissists do not feel good about themselves so they need a perfect person to bring them to a higher level. They're terribly insecure and they cover it up with these grandiose fantasies. These are relationships that break up before marriage because the narcissistic one is afraid of making a commitment because the grass may be greener somewhere else. This is the person who comes on really strong, and then once you warm up they become all cool and critical and they have this unrealistic idea of how perfect someone has to be for them. They're so consumed with themselves that they're not loving anyone else.
Is there anything you can do about a person like that?
Saltz: True narcissism is difficult to treat, but intense therapy can help. What can hurt is pointing out to your spouse just how self-absorbed he or she really is.
Drew, we often hear women complaining of being with men who don't communicate. You say women should accept this because it's the way men and women are hardwired. Is that just an excuse?
Pinsky: No. Testosterone makes people quiet, which makes intimate conversation not very appealing to men. Because of our biological make-up, different things turn men and women off. It's normal for a man to not want to talk — unless this happens all the time. There are certain times when they are forced to, but it's not abnormal for a guy to shy away from deep conversations.
Gail, one of the men we spoke with said that he keeps going back to his girlfriend even though he knows better. He's not alone — why do people stay with someone if they're not getting what they want from the relationship?
Saltz: It's due to a few reasons. Once we've made an investment into the relationship, we don't want to give up. Two, some people are afraid of being alone or they have kids to care for. More seriously, some people feel it's their role to be the victim. We think we can get them to love us, but can we really?
Drew, you say it's because we have some unfinished business. Explain that.
Pinsky: We're subconsciously trying to fix things from the past. Look at your past, did you come from a father like that? In many cases, you did. That's where you're comfortable, and terrors of the past is something you seek. There's a reason you're attracted to that kind of person.
Bottom line: Change is something that a person has to want to do themselves. But if the person you're with changes, you may not be attracted to him anymore, since what initially attracted you will be different, says Pinsky. Therefore, you have to change as well. A relationship is like a lock and key — when one part changes, the other must also in order for it to fit.