A few years ago I met a woman, and we hit it off immediately. Her boyfriend and I did not.
Despite being the sort to give everyone a fair chance, there was something about this guy that I immediately disliked and did not trust. As it turns out, I had good reason to feel that way—besides having a string of past arrests, he also came across as very aggressive and full of anger.
After a while when we had been friends for some time, I hesitantly brought it up to my friend that her boyfriend scared me. Her response: Oh, he’s just misunderstood.
Her words were all too familiar to me.
I had said those words more times that I cared to remember about several past boyfriends and, in all those cases, it took me a while to learn that they weren’t misunderstood but were rather troubled men or in some cases, just plain jerks.
If anyone was misunderstood, it was me for making excuses for them.
The misunderstood boyfriend (or in some cases, girlfriend) is a popular character in literature and movies—from Jim Stark to Christian Grey, many of us are drawn to the tough guy who comes across as a bad boy to the world but is actually a sensitive, loving soul behind closed doors. More often than not, or at least in art, all it takes is the love of a good woman to draw that out.
While the mere idea is romantic and there may be actual cases like this in real life, the truth is the majority of people really are like the persona that they put on in public—if someone is acting like an angry aggressive jerk in public, then chances are they are like that in their private life as well.
People who are alway blaming others for their problems should immediately set off our alarms.
Misunderstandings happen, but anyone who has abandoned a committed relationship, their child or been in trouble with the law multiple times and refuses to take responsibility, should send us running.
As someone who has had quite a bit of experience with these sort of people, I know how emotionally draining it is to be with such a person. In addition to explaining their behavior to friends, family members and even people they may rub the wrong way, there is also the danger of falling into the role of an enabler. Few consciously choose that role, but it can happen easily, without even realising it.
For example, I was once involved with someone who had the habit of blaming everyone for his problems no matter how great or small. The chip that he carried on his shoulder was huge and more often than not, I was apologizing to others or getting him out of jams when he managed to alienate someone. In order to keep the peace between us, I was constantly telling him it wasn’t his fault but rather the fault of others who did not get him or understand all he had been through. Eventually, though, I became one of the people he added to list of those who were responsible for his problems.
While it came as a shock at the time, it makes total sense in retrospect: I was actively encouraging him to shift the blame from himself to others. It was only a matter of time before he ran out of people to blame and I was the next one in line.
Looking back, one of the most important things I learned from that experience was letting others be responsible for their own actions and behaviour. And while it sounds simple, many of us, especially women, have a desire to “rescue” others and keep the peace in a relationship even if it’s at our expense.
However, for those of us prone to do it, it is time to stop that.
Stop making excuses for the behavior of others.
Listen to what others have to say, and be aware how they act towards others. If multiple people are saying that someone close to us is a jerk or acting in an unacceptable way, then they may be right.
At the end of the day, the only behavior we are responsible for and can change is our own.
While it may be hard to admit, sometimes our misunderstood partner is a just a jerk, and it may be a sign that we either need to move on or things need to change if the relationship is to survive in the long-term. It’s not easy but far better in the long run to address the problems that are there than to make excuses for them.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Apprentice Editor: Katarina Tavčar / Editor: Travis May
Photo: Daniel Zedda on Flickr