Why People Tolerate Difficult Personalities, According To My Marriage Counselor

I may gravitate toward difficult personalities, but most people don't want to take them on.

Man and woman at counseling RyanKing999 | Canva

I was at my marriage counselor’s office. My husband had refused to continue going. It was my own personal oxymoron: Couples counseling for one.

I explained to my therapist — who was also a psychologist — some recent conflicts I had. I really wanted to know if it was me. I wanted to be hit with the hard truth because a friend was so mad at me she didn't seem to want to get over it.

Worse, she had been somewhat punishing.


It was a trait my controlling husband had mastered as well.

If he was angry at me there would most certainly be a price to pay.

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"Okay," I said. "Is it me? Why would my husband and friend both act this way?"

"Colleen," said my marriage counselor. "You have a propensity to gravitate toward some very difficult personalities."

At this point in counseling, I had already been told some of my attributes. 

My marriage counselor didn’t call me an enabler, he called me a major, major enabler. Enablers are overly caring people who tend to tolerate and make excuses for people who behave badly and remain in bad situations for too long because of this.


My counselor also tossed in that I am a people-pleaser and a fixer. But that part I had already deduced.

Or as my marriage counselor once told me, "It’s unusual that you see some of your own faults. It’s not that common for even easier personalities to recognize their own shortcomings."

But I’m a beat-myself-up kind of girl and the undesirable trait of being hard on myself probably makes me self-examine more.

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Anyway, back to the difficult personalities.

"I don’t get it," I said. 

"What?" asked my counselor.

"Why do people look the other way while difficult personalities do outrageous things?" I said. 


Of course, enablers look the other way and tolerate difficult personalities. It’s in our DNA. We see the best in the person we love. We rationalize. We make excuses. It's unhealthy but it's the signature of an enabler. 

A few of those excuses? 

"I know my husband is behaving badly but I think he’s sad over losing his dad."

"I know my husband is drinking too much I think maybe he’s having a midlife crisis."

"He's a really good person in a bad place."

Blah, blah, blah.

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"Why do people say nothing when difficult personalities act outrageously?" I said.

"Well," said my counselor. "People don’t tend to want to take on difficult personalities because it generally doesn’t end well."


There you have it.

I couldn’t deny his answer.

I was a master of avoidance and fixing things with some of the most difficult people I knew for that exact reason: I was trying to keep the peace.

I was trying to keep them from getting annoyed or mad. I was trying to navigate their difficult personalities.


But I still couldn’t believe someone who was close to my husband wouldn’t call him out on his behavior. I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t tell him to knock it off and stop treating his wife and children so horribly.

Because he had crossed a major line: You can’t drink and scare your wife and children.

All because I had told my husband it felt lonely being married to him and I was thinking of leaving.

I mean, grow up. Get over yourself. Try and save your marriage. Stay in couples counseling

Grab your self-respect and move on.

For the most part, everyone my husband knew just watched from the sidelines — and even this enabler will never understand that.


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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a national relationship columnist, journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, life, relationships, family, parenting, divorce, and narcissism.