How to deal with difficult personalities

5 tricky personalities (and how to handle them) 

Every relationship has both positive and negative dynamics, but when someone has a difficult personality, it can be even more complex. Is your partner so stingy the last time you had date night was 15 years ago at the local roadhouse grill? Or do you find it impossible to live up to their ‘perfectionist’ standards? We all have our own characteristics that make us unique, and in relationships, couples have to deal with an amalgamation of these unique traits. Clinical psychologists Renardo Treurnich and Dr Sherona Rawat offer advice on understanding them, and
dealing with them in your relationship.


The Perfectionist

The perfectionist insists on everything being flawless. They have a fear of making mistakes and possess very high standards. ‘According to them, there is only one way of doing things, and that’s usually their way,’ says Renardo. ‘For someone who’s in a relationship with this type of person, it makes it feel like the perfectionist is constantly judging their behaviour, and trying to find fault with it, making it difficult to live up to their high standards.’ Sherona agrees, adding that perfectionists can be overly critical of their intimate partner.

The Scrooge

‘The scrooge is typically selfish and doesn’t like spending or giving. This reluctance to share is not limited to finances.
Relationships are not seen as reciprocal and their actions would predominantly be for personal gain,’ says Renardo. Sherona adds that this exaggerated money saving mentality may be related to a past traumatic experience. Perhaps they grew up poor and their stinginess is a result of having to learn to save the little money they had, or they were once retrenched and now have a constant fear of being out of work.

The Aggressor

According to Renardo, aggressive partners are easily triggered and tend to blow situations out of proportion, they’re
hostile towards others, and exercise little control over their impulses. Someone who’s aggressive would, for example, lash out unnecessarily at a waiter who mixed up their order. ‘As their partner, this may leave you feeling like you’re constantly walking on egg shells, where even the slightest event can be a trigger for an angry outburst. You may find yourself compromising your own feelings in order to keep the peace,’ says Renardo. Sherona agrees: ‘Aggressive personalities are fundamentally at war with anything that stands in the way of getting what they want. Their overall “style” of interacting involves considerable persistent and maladaptive aggression,’ Sherona adds.

The Liar

‘Liars are dishonest, fraudulent, and misrepresent themselves frequently. They exaggerate or fabricate information when relating events. The constant use of deceit impacts the depth of connection, creating a space of mistrust in their relationship. What makes matters worse is there are many reasons why they lie; it can’t just be pinpointed to one thing,’ says Renardo. Sherona agrees, adding that a person with this habit will lie repeatedly, with no motive to benefit from the lie. ‘The fact the deceit could be exposed doesn’t bother them. They have an inability to consider the consequences of being caught out. In fact, they don’t fear it,’ explains Sherona.

The Man-child

‘The term itself is fairly self-explanatory: the “man-child” is basically a childish adult. A typical man-child is usually lazy and doesn’t help with responsibilities in the house or with the kids. They have difficulty concentrating on tasks and maintaining focus, with frequent efforts to be the centre of attention,’ Renardo explains. The result of this is his partner having to ‘mother’ him, leaving her emotionally and physically drained because she feels as if she’s not only raising their own kids, but also her partner, who hasn’t quite learned how to ‘adult’.

Can a leopard change its spots?

People’s personality traits are a result of biological and environmental factors, which makes it hard for them to change. But is it actually possible to alter characteristics? Sherona says the first step is introspection. They have to learn who they really are, and recognise and accept the good and bad parts about themselves. ‘They need to understand why they behave a certain way, find the underlying issues and deal with them. This will be followed by making a commitment to change how they treat others and respond to situations. Learning better ways to control their
impulses will take time and patience, but they can succeed if they’re willing. It may also help to see a professional
should they encounter any problems or setbacks along this journey.’

Could there be a bigger issue?

What if your partner’s character is a sign of a bigger problem, such as a personality disorder? ‘Firstly, it’s
important to keep in mind that in some cases the behaviour might be better explained by another mental or general health condition. The aggressor, for example, could be indicative of a person struggling with a major depressive disorder. The patterns in personality disorders are maladaptive and relatively rigid. Individuals with personality disorders lack the ability to modify their thinking or behaviour, even when confronted with evidence that the current approach isn’t working. This inflexibility leads to difficulties in social, occupational and/or relational functioning,’ says Renardo. ‘However, it’s important to keep in mind there are various degrees of impairment, so allow for some deviation.’


Consider the following questions:

  1. Does their behaviour end up causing you stress and result in arguing most of the time?
  2. When you try to talk to them, do they refuse to listen to you?
  3. Are they stubborn and don’t see they have a problem?

According to Renardo, these questions are useful to ask yourself as they’re linked to a person’s ability to be empathetic, intimate and flexible in their ways, which are indications of a healthy personality.

Talk it out

When speaking to your partner, do it in a calm and relaxed environment, and while you’re both in a good mood. ‘Approach your partner with a loving and caring attitude. Prepare them by setting a date and time prior and telling them you want to talk about something important for your relationship. But remember, there’s no guarantee your partner will be willing to discuss their weaknesses,’ says Sherona. The perfectionist, for example, could easily take offence and be angered if they’re confronted about their faults. ‘Be prepared for that. Should it happen, I suggest
seeking professional help,’ she advises.


Seek help

‘Couples’ therapy could assist in facilitating an environment for change, encouraging open and clear communication, creating a space for reflection, providing an understanding of the other person, as well as the impact of a person’s own behaviour on their partner,’ Renardo explains. ‘But remember, it’s not your responsibility to change your partner’s personality. Yes, you can assist them with the process of change and communicate to them your experience of them and how they make you feel, but the responsibility and need for change should come from them,’ he cautions. At the end of the day, Sherona stresses, your partner has to be on board and willing to take the first step if any changes are to occur.

Time to cut the cord?

‘An intimate relationship is supposed to be a means of support, safety and love, where two people commit to building
a life together,’ Sherona concludes. ‘It will have its ups and downs, but at the end of the day it should feel like home. When this is no longer the case, it defeats the purpose of the sacrifices often made to sustain that relationship. Should it no longer satisfy the core definition of what you deem worthy of a good relationship, and you’ve tried all avenues without any success, then perhaps it’s time to walk away. Moreover, if the relationship has become abusive or there’s any threat on your life, then staying is definitely out of the question.’


Source: Relationships -


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