When a person in a relationship says or does something to damage the bond with their partner, making proper amends is crucial: for a damaged relationship to survive, heal, and grow, the person who’s caused the damage has to be willing to do the hard work of repair.

Making amends in a healthy and meaningful way takes a lot of hard work. And as I’ve mentioned in prior articles, folks with character disturbances don’t easily undertake such burdens, especially when doing so is primarily for someone else’s benefit or doesn’t serve their own immediate desires.

I’ve counseled many couples whose relationship suffered damage because one of the partners had some degree of character dysfunction. In nearly every case, the key variable in whether the relationship survived was whether the disturbed character had both the motivation and, more especially, the willingness to genuinely make amends. That kind of willingness has several easily identifiable characteristics, which I hope to illustrate in the vignette that follows (where, as always, potentially identifying information has been altered to ensure anonymity).

Fran had been urging her husband Brent, to go to counseling with her for some time. Having sought therapy herself years ago, she knew firsthand how beneficial it could be to talk with a trained professional. She was hoping that the experience would do for Brent what it had done for her: increase his awareness about some things important to the health of their relationship.

There had been problems in their marriage for quite awhile, but lately, there were some warning signs of even greater trouble. Fran had recently and inadvertently discovered that Brent had been “texting” a woman at work on a fairly frequent basis, and one of the texts she just happened to stumble upon contained some language that suggested he was looking for something other than an innocent involvement with her. When she confronted him about it, he seemed contrite enough. He even apologized, which was unusual for him. But he insisted not only that “nothing actually happened” but also that his only mistake was perhaps carrying a “harmless flirtation” with a casual workplace friend a bit too far. He also offered what appeared on the surface to be a perfectly reasonable explanation (i.e., rationalization) for his actions. He’d been feeling emotionally neglected for some time and the flirtation seemed to lift his spirits. He also insisted he wasn’t really blaming Fran for his indiscretion — although actually, he was — but wanted her to understand he wasn’t a bad guy but rather a guy who simply felt underappreciated, and in the midst of his hurt and in a moment of weakness made a simple “mistake.” Still, Fran wanted him to go with her to counseling because her gut was telling her that there was something not right about their intimate life and also about the way he tended to look at and relate to women. In the early days of their relationship, she felt treated almost like a princess. But things quickly changed and emotional distance grew. Lately, she wasn’t feeling valued at all, which is what perhaps was bothering her most, so she hoped a good therapist could help them sort things out.


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