Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom - William Glasser M.D. 1998
Compatibility, Personality, and the Strength of the Needs
BY THE TIME I was four years old, I realized that my parents were almost totally incompatible. There had been sporadic violence in which my father broke things, and once I saw him hit my mother. Whenever my parents started to argue, I was frightened. By the time I was six, the violence stopped, and they seemed to get along better. Whatever difficulty they had with each other, they were always loving toward me. Much later I realized that my mother had won by the simple tactic of giving my father the message that he would have to kill her if he didn’t want to let her rule the marriage. He was a gentle man, and I was aware of how mercilessly she prodded him. As young as I was, I could see that he erupted only when he had been pushed beyond his ability to endure.
If the Olympics had an event in controlling, my mother could have gone for the gold medal. My father was totally choice theory. Never in the more than sixty years that I knew him did I ever see him try to control another person except when he was being goaded by my mother. And even then, his heart was not in it. My parents had been married almost seventy years when my father died; in those days most people stayed married. To illustrate what my father had to contend with, I offer the following example.
When I was twenty-four and married, just before I started medical school, my father called me and said he wanted to come to our apartment to talk with me privately. He had never done so before, and it seemed clear from his tone of voice that it was a personal matter. He was at his wits’ end; my mother had done something that was typical for her, but this time she had carried it to such an extreme that he was unable to cope with it by himself. He came to ask me what to do.
For a long time, my mother had been pushing my father to sell his business and retire so they could move to Florida, where they had spent part of each winter for many years. She hated the cold and damp of Cleveland. My father was only fifty-six years old, but he had worked since he was thirteen and could retire. While he was far from sure that he wanted to give up the freedom his business afforded him and the few Cleveland friends my mother allowed him to have, he told me he had sold the business and was ready to sell the house and move to Florida. Now that I was going to medical school and would never go into his business, he felt that there was no reason for him to work anymore. All things considered, he agreed she was right, and he was looking forward to the move.
My mother had seemed pleased with all his preparations and things were going well, but the day he told her that the business was sold and that he was putting their house up for sale, she said to him: “Why have you done all this? What gave you the idea that I wanted to leave Cleveland and move to Florida? I don’t want to leave this house and all my friends.” She had no friends in Cleveland and acted as if it was all his idea, that he had not consulted her and that she had no intention of leaving. He asked me what he should do. I thought a long time and told him, “Pop, you’re only fifty-six. You may live another thirty healthy years (which he did). Divorce her. She’s never going to change.”
He was not prepared for this advice, but if I had to do it over again, I’d say the same thing. When it registered on her that the business had been sold, that there was no turning back, she did go to Florida. She had what she had been pushing him to do for years. It must have occurred to her that she had nothing more to fight about. He had disarmed her by surrendering unconditionally. But after that initial outburst, she did as she always did. She shut up and acted as if she had never said anything. If he had asked her why she said what she did, she would have denied saying it and responded, “I don’t know where you got the idea that I didn’t want to go to Florida.”
But, of course, he let it drop. My sister moved to Florida a few years later with her family, and the last thirty years of my father’s life were much better than any of us, including him, expected. There is a lot more to this story, but I’ve made my point. My parents were incompatible from day one; it was her way or no way. There is such a thing as personality, and hers was much different from his.
I believe that the way we usually relate to other people, best called our personalities, is, in part, written into our genes. I don’t mean that anything specific, such as my mother’s fondness for warm weather or that she was an omnivorous reader, was genetic, but her huge need to control everyone she came into contact with was. What gives us our different personalities is that our five basic, or genetic, needs differ in strength. Some of us have a high need for love and belonging. Others have a high need for power or freedom.
The strength of each need is fixed at birth and does not change. Autistic children have a low to almost nonexistent need for love and belonging. This means they have hardly any desire for human interaction and none for the close interaction that most of us want so much. Given enough human contact, some may learn to interact with others a little but never to the extent to which a normal child or adult wants. This lack of the desire to belong, much less love, was illustrated clearly in the movie, Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman. On the high end of love and belonging would be the kind, unselfish people who care for and give a lot of love to severely handicapped children and adults, those who, compared to what they are given, can give little or nothing back.
The differences in people’s personalities, even between brothers’ and sisters’, is striking. My mother and father were hardly unique; many husbands and wives have very different personalities. Some are outgoing, gregarious, optimistic, liberal, and fun loving. Others are sober, quiet, conservative, pessimistic, controlling, and gloomy. The variations are endless. Our personalities are created out of a genetic need-strength profile that is unique for each of us. Some of these profiles, like those of my parents, are highly incompatible; some, such as mine and my wife’s, are highly compatible.
The personalities of some couples are different but complementary; that is, the differences enhance the relationships. But, in my observation, the best marriages are ones in which the husbands and wives have similar personalities. If my father had married a woman who matched his high need for love and low need for power, he would have been a much happier man. My mother, who had an off-the-scale need for power, could love intensely but only if she owned the person; she was not able to separate love from power. This is another illustration of how individual our need strengths are.
What I explain in this chapter is that finding a compatible mate and getting along with a less-than-compatible mate need not be luck. Figuring out your need-strength profile and the profiles of those you want to get along with may not be totally accurate, but it will give you a good working understanding of how you and others deal with people. Not only should you not marry a person with a markedly different personality, but you should not go into any endeavor with anyone whom you may have difficulty getting along with.
Most of the people who are reading this book are already married, and some of you may be wondering, if we are not compatible, is it too late for us? The answer depends on how incompatible you are. In most instances, your need strengths are not so different from your partner’s that working things out is impossible. If you are willing to give up trying to control each other and to begin using choice theory in the relationship, you can usually negotiate these differences. But to negotiate accurately, you need to become aware of what these differences are, that is, which need or needs are in conflict.
Once you have this information, you can focus on where you are different and stop criticizing and blaming each other in areas of the marriage where you are actually compatible. If I want more freedom than you are willing to let me have, we can negotiate that difference and not exaggerate it into blaming me for not being loving enough. The love part may be fine. It is foolish to link it to the disagreement over freedom. As long as the differences in the need strengths are not too extreme, they may not do serious harm to a marriage. It is how you deal with those differences that counts. You always have a chance for success with choice theory. But if you use controlling and coercing, the differences will remain, the effort to change the other will magnify them, and you will find yourself arguing over unimportant issues that you wouldn’t even think about if you used choice theory.
During our long marriage, my first wife and I had one conflicting need strength that gave us some difficulty. But when we both learned choice theory and started using it in our marriage, we were able to work out where we differed. For me, freedom is a very strong need; for her, it was no more than average. When we discovered this incompatibility and negotiated it, we got along much better. After my wife died, I married an instructor in my organization who also teaches choice theory; however, before Carleen and I were married, we checked the strength of our needs and found we were highly compatible. We also agreed to use choice theory with each other from the start. So far we have had a very happy relationship, and it seems to get better as the years go by.
Since we are dealing with a normal distribution, the odds are against people marrying whose need strengths are so incompatible that the marriage is in immediate danger. But the odds against a perfectly compatible marriage are also small. What a couple, or at least one partner, can learn from the need strengths is to pinpoint any difficulty as soon as it is recognized and then use choice theory to do something about it.
To illustrate what I am talking about, look at how a difference in the need to survive can cause problems in an otherwise good marriage. Even a moderate variation in the strength of this clear-cut need can cause trouble. A common problem is that one partner’s lifestyle is more conservative than the other’s, usually because of a difference in the strength of the need to survive. For example, one is a saver, the other a spender. That combination does not augur well for the marriage unless the couple recognizes this difference early and sets up a plan to negotiate when trouble arises.
Assume the usual case, that there is enough money but no surplus. When the less conservative one wants to spend, the other says it’s not necessary. If each is dedicated to fighting over this disagreement, they will have an argument every time and will soon escalate the argument into the personal, You don’t love me anymore, which they will then use to blame the other for every difference, large and small, they have. As long as they argue, there can be no resolution. If their need for power is about the same, neither will give in, and in time both will harden their positions. Without knowing what they are doing, they are trying the impossible: to change the other’s genes. All they can negotiate is a compromise. Choice theory is the way to compromise; fighting, arguing, and trying to control are the paths to increased conflict.
THE SOLVING CIRCLE
A good way to use choice theory to solve marital problems is to start by agreeing to picture your marriage (or other relationship) inside a large circle I call the solving circle. It helps to draw an imaginary circle on the floor. Then both you and your spouse take chairs and enter the circle. There are three entities in the solving circle: the wife, the husband, and the marriage itself. Recognize that you both have strong positions based on the differences in the strength of your needs, but these positions are not so strong that you are unwilling to enter the solving circle. What you are agreeing to when you enter the circle is that the marriage takes precedence over what each of you wants as individuals. Both of you also know choice theory. You know that if you try to force the other, it is likely that the weaker person will be pushed out or will decide to step out of the circle. Unless both of you are in the circle, you cannot negotiate; all you can do is argue.
The reason you have moved into the circle is that during the time one or both partners are outside the circle, a marriage problem cannot be solved. The marriage has suffered a wound and is bleeding. The wound is not fatal, but it will continue to bleed as long as one or both of you are outside the circle. This is how most marriages end, slowly bleeding to death, one or the other unwilling to step back into the circle. A more severe wound, often fatal, would be if they were so dissatisfied that both stepped out; that wound would indicate that the marriage is hemorrhaging and will soon be dead.
A couple who knows choice theory will not try to make the other do what he or she does not want to do. When they step into the solving circle, they agree not to wound their marriage. No matter how serious the disagreement, they must stay in the circle and negotiate this difference. They would start by one saying and the other agreeing, We have a disagreement over money. It may be based on the fact that one of us has a much stronger survival need than the other. But that difference does not mean we can’t negotiate. We both know that arguing and blaming will do no good. We need to stay in the circle, talk, and find out how much each of us is willing to give to avoid wounding or killing the marriage.
In the circle, each tells the other what he or she will agree to do that will help the marriage. Within those limits, they must reach a compromise. At times, one may give in completely, but, realistically, a compromise is usually necessary. One may say, I will agree to your spending this much. It is more than I want to see spent, but it is my attempt to reach a compromise. The other may say, I will cut my spending more than I want to, but this is as low as I will go. If both agree on what is acceptable, the negotiation has succeeded; the marriage has taken precedence over individual wants.
If no compromise can be reached in this first attempt, one or both must be willing to say, What I want right now is more important to me than this marriage. I am going to step out of the circle now, but I am willing to try again tomorrow. This is a test. If they give themselves a night or even several nights to think this over, the next time they get into the circle, both should be ready to say, It is more important that we stay in this circle than that we spend or save any amount of money. As long as they both know they are willing to do it, disagreements will surface but then fade away. The awareness that this circle is there to use and that both will agree to use it does the job. This simple vehicle can give any marriage a chance. If one or both stays outside the circle, external control takes over and soon dismantles the marriage.
From survival, let’s move on to disparities in the strength of the need for love and belonging. It is important to understand that the strength of this need is measured by how much we are willing to give, not by how much we are willing to receive. Most of us would like more love than is usually available. There may be significant differences in the strength of this need, and a difference here can be more serious than a difference in the strength of the need to survive (such as over money). But no matter how much we want, we have to learn that we can’t get any more than our partner is able to give. We can’t give any more love than the amount that is written in our genes, but in the vast majority of marriages that’s enough.
If I am to get all that my wife is capable of giving, my best chance is to try to give her as much as I can. Here, even a little holding back can cause great difficulty. In conflicted marriages, holding back love is a common punishing behavior. A controlling husband sees his wife paying attention to a man at a party and asks her, “Why don’t you treat me that way?” She thinks, If you would stop trying to make me over, maybe I would. The other man got the attention because in that social situation, it never occurred to either the man or the woman to be controlling. The husband may not know how much love his wife is capable of giving, but what he wants is well within her ability. He is right to assume she’s holding back. What’s wrong is that an accusation is unlikely to persuade her to give him more and probably will result in her giving even less. As they are, both are not even close to being in the circle.
Beware of confusing love and sex. A strong sex drive is not indicative of a strong need for love and belonging; hormonal sex is related to the species’ need to survive. Early in any marriage, a strong sex drive may have little to do with love and belonging. The test for love and belonging is not early sex but a continuous interest in sex and ongoing attempts to please the other as much as or more than to satisfy oneself. When sex starts to wane early in a marriage, it is not because the couple lacks hormones. It is because one or both partners begin to feel that there isn’t enough love attached to the sex. This is rarely genetic; there is usually enough love, but the love has been turned off by too much control.
There can be some genetic variation. If the partner with the strong need for love, often the woman, gives a lot, she may be dissatisfied with what she gets in return. Perhaps the partner with the weaker need is not able to give as much as she wants, or he may be choosing not to give as much as he could. In practice, it doesn’t matter. Either way, there is good reason to negotiate, and the solving circle is the best way to do so. Keep in mind that the circle will work only if the couple is committed to choice theory, to understanding the needs, their strength, the quality world, and total behavior.
Step into the circle and tell each other not what you want but what you are willing to give. Remember, we can only control our own behavior, so you should talk solely about what you are willing to do, not what you want the other to do. If a partner is not willing to stay in the circle with the amount of love and friendship the other is willing to give, there is not much hope for the marriage. Because the negotiation in the circle is, in itself, an offering of love, what is offered is usually enough. As soon as the discussion centers on giving instead of taking, the love problem has an excellent chance of being resolved.
Where survival and love are concerned, the closer your need strengths are to your partner’s, the better the chance for the marriage. This doesn’t necessarily hold for power, the most difficult need to satisfy in or out of marriage. There are so many frustrated people who have no chance to satisfy this need in the coercive workplaces that are the norm in our society that they try to get from their marriages what they can’t get anywhere else. If both partners have a strong need for power, this attempt may doom their marriage. Battered wives are often the victims of powerless husbands who are trying get from their wives at home what they can’t get elsewhere.
A good workplace, in which you have some power and work for people who don’t try to push you around, is very good for your marriage. The only time I saw my mother really happy was when she served for almost six months on the county grand jury. If she had been born fifty years later, she might have been able to use both her brains and her tremendous energy in a job. With her huge need for power, she might never have been able to be happily married, but she might have been a happy single woman. How happy the people who worked under her would have been is a point for conjecture, but she would soon be in charge. My guess is that if they behaved in a way that showed they accepted that she owned them, she would have treated them well. I’ve seen a lot of employees do so; it’s not difficult if you don’t have a strong need for power.
Partners who both have a low need for power are almost always compatible. Low power leads to a high desire to negotiate, and low-power couples are usually in the solving circle most of the time. Even if one partner has a much higher need for power than the other, their marriage may be OK because the one with the low need for power won’t mind the other calling the shots as long as he or she is loving. I’ve seen this combination of high-power loving men and low-power loving women work reasonably well, sort of like the last half of my parents’ marriage.
But if both partners have a strong need for power, a common occurrence because power attracts power, the urge to push the other out of the circle is almost impossible to resist. This marriage isn’t big enough for both of us is the battle hymn of these unhappy, often doomed, relationships. The only way for two high-power people to deal with each other if they can’t satisfy their need for power outside the marriage is to find a way to work together so that their combined effort gets them both more of what they need. This is what my late wife and I did in our marriage, and it worked well. My present wife has a much lower need for power than did my late wife, and we work well together. We both enjoy power, but it is not as crucial for this marriage as it was for my first marriage. I have seen many successful husband-and-wife teams join together to build what neither could build alone.
Unlike the needs for survival and love, the need for power can rarely be negotiated in the solving circle. High-power people push each other out of the circle before they realize it. By its very nature, power is difficult to negotiate because to negotiate always means that both agree to give up some power. Negotiation cannot take place if neither is willing to give up some power. Since the negotiation is how much power to give up, it is essential to try to find out how strong each partner’s need for power is before marriage. After marriage it may be too late. I explain this power problem further when I describe the two kinds of people who have need-strength profiles that I believe are incompatible with marriage.
People with a high need for freedom struggle with all long-term close relationships, but they struggle the most in marriage. The very nature of being free is that no one owns them. When someone tries to own them, they don’t fight, as people with a high need for power tend to do, they move on. In a world in which almost half the people who marry divorce, a lot are moving on all the time. Marriage has the best chance when both partners have a low need for power and a low need for freedom. If one partner has a high need for freedom and the other has a low need, there is no problem until the partner with the low need tries to limit the other’s freedom.
Unlike power, this difference can usually be addressed in the solving circle. In the circle, the partner with the high need for freedom has to tell what concessions he or she is willing to make. Simply by agreeing to accept some restrictions to freedom to please the partner with the low need for freedom, the partner with the high need can ensure that the negotiation will have a happy ending. Just the willingness of the high-freedom partner to call home if he or she is going to be late will make a big difference. If in their frustration they reject each other, they have no chance.
If both partners have a high need for freedom, the marriage may or may not work. It will work if each can accept the freedom the other wants. To do so, both partners must get into the solving circle and tell each other what freedom they are willing to give up. A blank check for freedom can’t work in any marriage unless there is a lot of love and belonging to make up for the times the partners are not together, and even then it is very difficult. Marriage is not a situation in which there can be anywhere near total freedom. This is a difficult test of the solving circle, but mutual high-freedom needs will constantly challenge any marriage.
Today, as many couples live together before marriage, this incompatibility may surface before they take the legal step, and that is the time to use the circle—maybe here it should be called the premarital solving circle. If a couple finds out after they marry that they both have a high need for freedom, they will divorce or just leave without getting a divorce. Unlike a mutual high need for power, a couple can’t unite for increased freedom. Shared freedorn for two high-freedom people is an oxymoron. For these reasons, the solving circle makes no sense for high-freedom people. They don’t want to be in a circle with anyone; to them any circle may seem like a prison.
Sharing a high need for fun is excellent for every relationship, especially a marriage. If fun is the genetic reward for learning, then partners who learn together have the best chance to stay together. Fun is almost never limited by age, sex, or the lack of money. With a minimal effort, you can laugh and learn anytime, anywhere. But fun is not critical to a relationship. Partners can learn to enjoy themselves independently and not hurt the marriage, and they often do. If both partners have a low need for fun, neither will ever know what he or she is missing, and things may work out fine. I don’t think the need for fun, strong, weak, or equal, makes or breaks a marriage if all else is compatible.
Therefore, the best marriages share an average need for survival, a high need for love and belonging, low needs for power and freedom, and a high need for fun. Any deviation from this not-too-frequent pattern will need to be negotiated. The greater the difference, the more negotiation. What this information gives you, whether you are already married or looking, is a clear picture of where there may be trouble. Armed with this information, couples who want a better marriage will use the circle to negotiate. Unsatisfying marriage is, by far, the most frequent cause of human misery. As a friend of mine said years ago when we discussed the value of negotiation in marriage, “Consider the alternative.”
If you agree with what I have just explained, you are wondering, How do I assess the strength of my needs and the needs of my partner? I have given a lot of thought to this question, and I don’t believe it can be done by any simplistic paper-and-pencil self-test like a questionnaire. The questions have to be asked by each individual on the basis of what the person knows about himself or herself and what he or she can assess in the other. Basically, it is an assessment of quality worlds, yours and your mate’s.
By the time you are ready to marry or remarry, you have already had some relationships. Since you were a teenager, you have been looking for Ms. or Mr. Right. It is impossible to have a relationship and not evaluate it against some ideal relationship that has been forming in your quality world for years. But if you are an external control person, the heart of that ideal relationship is what the other can do for you. Having this other-centered relationship as the ideal leaves you unprepared to find what you really need—a relationship that is based on what each partner can do for the other. O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” depicts both the sadness and the joy of choice theory love.
To help you create this right person in your quality world, you have observed your family and friends, read books, and seen movies and television shows. And during your teenage years, especially if you are a woman, you talked endlessly with your friends about why this boy and that girl were or were not right for each other. On the basis of all this information, you should be able to see where you stand in comparison with others in many of the things you thought or talked about.
Because your basic needs underlie almost all you do and think about, much of your talk has centered on these needs. You may not have come right out and used these words, but you have talked a lot about love, power, and freedom. You have done so because you have seen, and even experienced, that when there are differences in these needs, things are difficult. If you are a woman, you have talked about the fact that all some guys want is sex when you want love, how some of them want to own you (power), and how the guys always want to go off with other guys (freedom). You have done a lot of thinking about relationships in these terms. Driven by a more intense need for power than women, most men rarely talk to each other this way.
If you have found that you are less willing to take risks than most people, you have a high need for survival. If you have about the same willingness as most people you know, you have an average need, and if you are willing to take more risks than most of your friends, you have a low need. The same goes for love and belonging. The key to assessing the strength of your need for love and belonging is how much you are willing to give, not take, compared to your family members and friends. Be careful with this need; look hard before you leap into a loveless marriage. Don’t confuse sex with love. Pay attention to belonging. As I said in chapter z, don’t marry someone you would not be friends with if there was no sex between you.
To assess the strength of your need for power, ask yourself if you always want to have your own way, to have the last word, to own people, and to be seen as right in most of what you do or say. If you do, you have a high need for power. If you don’t care that much about having your own way, don’t want to own anyone, and won’t often fight for the last word, you have a low need for power. If you care somewhat, you probably have an average need for power.
If you can’t stand the idea of following rules, conforming, or even staying in one place or with one group of people very long, you have a high need for freedom. If you are a little this way, you have an average need. If it doesn’t bother you to conform, you have a low need for freedom. And the same goes for fun. If you enjoy learning and laugh a lot when you do, you have a high need for fun; if you enjoy teaching a class that tends to laugh at what you do and with each other, you have an even higher need. A little less enjoyment of learning and laughing make you a person with an average need for fun. But if you really don’t want to make much effort to learn and you depend on others for enjoyment, you have a low need for fun. If you hardly ever laugh when others are laughing and are not much interested in finding out more than you know now, you have a very low need for fun.
Another way to assess your needs is to take a look at your quality world. If you and your partner or prospective partner trust each other enough to share your quality worlds, there is a good chance you love each other. As you assess your own quality worlds (separately or together), look for the following: If your quality world is filled with people you get along well with, you have a high need for love and belonging and are a happy person because you have been able to satisfy this need. If your quality world has just a few people, but you are very close to them, you may have a high desire for love but a lower desire for belonging.
If you have a lot of people in your quality world but are not close to any of them, you may have a high desire for belonging but a lesser desire for love. And if you have only a few people in your quality world and are not close to any of them, you have a low need for both love and belonging. This does not mean that you have no need, but it may mean that you have a lower need than does your mate. If your desire is more in the area of belonging and less in the area of personal closeness, this could be a problem.
As I have already explained, use this information to negotiate and use the solving circle as a vehicle for negotiation. As long as you can stay in the circle and accept that you can control only your own behavior, you can negotiate almost anything. If you are able to see the rationale of choice theory, you understand that there is no sense blaming the other partner because that is the way he or she is. It’s like blaming the other partner for not being tall enough or being allergic to seafood. Working together to become aware of your need strengths can give you information you can both use. If you are willing to use it for the sake of the relationship, you will get closer to each other just by starting this assessment. Most people are not that incompatible. The solution is as much in what you are willing to try to do as it is in actually doing that much. A small compromise sends the message, I care more about our relationship than I do about what I want personally. This is a powerful message.
I have described some simple and obvious parameters of need strengths. In any individual instance, you may vary from what I have described and be high or low for another reason. I can’t go through all the possible variations. That is a task for you. Take your time, discuss it with people who know you, try to be open-minded, and you should be able to do it well. Remember your feelings and how good you feel when your needs are satisfied. The better you feel, the stronger the need. It doesn’t take much to satisfy a weak need. Base your assessment on total behaviors that felt good, and your profile will be reasonably accurate.
If you are beginning a relationship and it seems as if it could get serious, you may think of making a compatibility assessment before the other person’s picture is so strongly in your quality world that you have little chance to see him or her as he or she actually is. Even if the person is already too much in your quality world for accuracy, doing so is still better than doing nothing. Try to assess him or her in the same way you have assessed yourself. If you see a problem, talk about it while you are very attracted to each other. Your assessments may be biased by your love, but your love will make you more willing to compromise at this stage than at any other time and well before you have used so many controlling behaviors on each other that negotiation is impossible.
Try to make sure that you do not let good sex or the desire for good sex become too much a factor in making this initial assessment. If, however, sex is not good or the desire for sex is not strong, you can be assured that this situation is unlikely to change for the better. Sex in the beginning of a relationship, before you have learned things you don’t like about each other, while you are firmly in the circle, is about as good as it is going to get. In a good relationship, it may lessen in frequency but will stay satisfying. If sex starts out good and gets bad, it is not sex but the relationship that has gone downhill.
If your relationship is not going as well as you would like, but you think that assessing the strength of the needs is too difficult, inaccurate, or not worth the effort, you are throwing away an important opportunity to know yourself. After you are married and the dissatisfaction with your partner begins, there are not many opportunities to help the marriage that both partners are willing to try. This is a golden opportunity—use it. If you depend on the widespread lover’s delusion, With my love he or she will change, you have little chance to help yourself. This delusion is external control to the maximum. If things are not good in the beginning, they are very likely to change—but not for the better.
Here is what I promised earlier, the two personalities that are totally incompatible for marriage with anyone. Marrying a person with either personality will result in nothing but misery. There are no silver linings in these two clouds. If you are not yet married but suspect that the person you are involved with has either type of personality, run as soon and as fast as you can. Start packing your bags as soon as you read this section. Don’t wait to finish this book.
If you are married when you discover that your partner has one of these personalities, realize that no matter how bad the relationship is now, it is guaranteed to get worse. Begin now to think of what you can do to extricate yourself. With this kind of a person, man or woman, whatever you are feeling now, you are well off compared to how you are going to feel later. But I don’t have to tell you that your relationship is bad; you already know it. What I explain here is why it’s bad.
The sociopath seems to care only about power and personal freedom and has no real consideration for the needs of anyone else. Most sociopaths are men because genetically men have a lower need for love and belonging and a higher need for power than do women.
The survival need of a sociopath is below average, but he has enough of a need to survive that he can concentrate on what he is doing for short periods. What is characteristic about him is that his need for love and belonging is almost nonexistent, while his need for freedom is high. He is always on the move trying to satisfy his need for power and doing so at the expense of anyone he can cheat, swindle, or steal from. His need for fun may vary, but if he has a high need for it, he will enjoy learning all the ways he can exploit you and everyone else he meets. He also enjoys putting you down, no matter how competent you are. The only person he sees as competent is himself. In the beginning, sociopaths may be exciting because they are so active and full of charm that they get things going. But because of their low need for survival, most have little follow-through. Life may be miserable around them, but it isn’t dull.
A sociopath is good at fooling people because he believes he is much better than almost everyone else. He may be funny and even seem kind. When you notice he has some flaws, he may cheerfully admit them and compliment you on how perceptive you are. He’ll tell you how much he appreciates your love, that with it he’ll change. He’s been looking all his life for a woman like you, and that’s true. But you have not been looking for a man like him. For this unscrupulous predator, life is a hunt and you are the game. He’ll use any weapon to get you; there are no rules in the games he plays.
This man is genetically incapable of feeling love or belonging for anyone. He may be charming and sexy, but only to exploit, never because he really cares. Once he has gotten all he wants from a woman, he will run away if she attempts to cling to him because of his need for freedom. If she is too clinging, he may beat her in the hopes that she will do everything for him and expect nothing from him except more beatings. He may even beat her for not guessing what he wants—he won’t tell her—but after he beats her he will say, “You should have known.”
If you have any suspicion that you are involved with a sociopath, look for his friends. You will find that he doesn’t have any; they are always far away or about to visit, but they never show up. One thing about him that you can absolutely count on is that you can never count on him. Never! If he does what you ask, it was a mistake or it’s part of a scheme to exploit you further. If early in the relationship he takes you out to an expensive place and tells you he’s forgotten his credit card and asks to borrow yours, never see him again and make sure you get the card back. If he says he misplaced it, cancel it immediately. He has no credit cards, but he is already thinking about going on a spree with yours.
The workless person is the most puzzling of all the people we encounter. He easily relates to others and, at first, you may easily relate to him. But if you get close, if you marry him, you will become increasingly frustrated. There may be women among the workless, but they are less visible because it is still more accepted in our society for a woman not to work and to be supported.
Unlike a sociopath, who quickly shows his true colors, the workless person goes about what he does slowly. You may get deeply involved before you realize who you are involved with. Also he doesn’t prey on you directly; you are hurt more by what he doesn’t do than by what he does. But, in the end, because of your longer involvement with him that may take up years of your life, he may hurt you more than the year or less of adventure that you will have, if you survive, with most sociopaths. I call this person workless because he doesn’t work. Although he doesn’t usually drink or use drugs excessively, he is like an alcoholic in that he needs enablers—wives, family members, and friends—to survive. And like an alcoholic, he usually finds them.
The workless person seems able to work and may hold a job for a while, especially when he is young, but never for more than a few years. Mostly he gets fired, but sometimes he quits. By the time he is in his forties, it is unlikely that he will ever work again. He depends on others to take care of him.
I believe that the workless person has a very low need for survival, significantly lower than the sociopath, and a very high need for power, much like the sociopath. But he has none of the ganas, the desire to work hard to survive that I talked about in chapter 2, so he rarely if ever is able to satisfy his need for power.
The low need for survival has left him with insufficient drive to do anything for himself, much less for others, even for an employer who will pay him. The high need for power has inflated his opinion of himself to the unrealistic idea that almost anything he is asked to do is beneath him. But it is the relationship between these two needs, a lot of power but no drive to achieve it, that is the critical part of his need profile. He talks and dreams big, but he performs small.
The workless person’s need for freedom may be average or slightly above average. He does move around a lot but I don’t think it’s so much for freedom as just for something to do. He likes to drift around, meet strangers, and talk about himself. The latter is characteristic. He talks to you, never with you, about himself or people he knows. He is not interested in what you have to say. He has no real interest in anyone but himself. He also seems to have no insight into the fact that he is the way he is, especially, that he doesn’t work.
The workless person does have the ability to receive love, an ability that is foreign to the sociopath. He likes to be loved and, even more, to be befriended. Unlike the sociopath, he has no problem making and keeping relationships, as long as nothing difficult, such as holding a job, is required of him. When he is asked to do the things that are normally done in a close relationship like a marriage, he won’t do his part. If you marry such a man, you are marrying a child who will never grow up. He is so pleased and appreciative when you give him love and friendship that this show of appreciation will fool you and his parents into thinking that he can give some back, but he can’t; he has none to give.
He does, however, have a very high need for fun in a childish sense. He tends to like school and makes up a significant proportion of the group called perennial students. Sometimes he finishes what he is studying, but mostly he doesn’t. It is typical for him to get right to the end and then drop out. What he fears is finishing and having to go to work using what he has learned. If he goes to work, he does nothing. He acts as if he doesn’t know what to do or what is expected of him.
The workless person has little contact with the reality of the world; his reality is almost all of his own making. He seems normal, and as long as nothing is expected of him, he can act as if he’s normal, but he’s not. If you marry such a man, you may have a good companion as long as you support him, do almost all the work, and don’t ask anything of him. When you ask him to take a little bit of responsibility, he won’t do it and can get quite mean and abusive if you persist. When he does something, which at times he may, it is more for himself than for anyone else.
Generally, if the workless get into top jobs through family influence, they do nothing, just sit there, paralyzed, while things fall apart around them or bark a lot of senseless orders that no one pays much attention to. The workless man tends to live in the past with the fantasy that before now, I was very competent and things were fine. He is perfectly willing to talk about his nonexistent accomplishments and may talk about school, where he may have done fairly well.
If the workless person worked a few days, he talks about it as if he’d worked for months. The past, as he remembers it, is always good. He also treats the future like a world of opportunity that is waiting for him. What he doesn’t want to do—and doesn’t do—is live in the present, work, take responsibility, get things done. For him, life is always back then or soon to be; it’s never now.
The workless often marry and have children so, if this condition is in their genes, it can be passed on. They say they love children, but they do not love children enough to do much, if anything, for their own. When their children are young, they enjoy playing childish games with them. When their children are teenagers, these children may see their fathers more accurately than anyone else. At this point, many of the children lose interest in their workless fathers, and their fathers seem to lose interest in them. The fact that the children of the workless lose interest in them is a positive for the children; otherwise, they would be disappointed.
Almost all of us have known some workless men, and we want to help them. They are frequently sent to psychiatrists—I’ve seen a lot of them—but few are amenable to psychotherapy because the goal of therapy is to help people to develop better relationships, which they can use to live more effective lives. When the workless start therapy, they often fool their counselors because they are often charming, relate easily, and give the appearance that with a little help, they can straighten themselves out. But this is the point: They just seem to want help.
The workless love therapy. Instead of acting as clients and trying to get some help, they quickly become cocounselors, always talking, suggesting, and helping out. In a sense, what they try to do is to go into business with their counselors. If their counselors realize this is going on and become confrontational, the workless get angry, blame the counselors, and break off the relationships. In therapy, they act the same way as they do everywhere else. As long as nothing is asked of them, they are fine. But they are fine only for themselves, not for anyone else.
In their efforts to deal with the hand their genes have dealt them, they may choose the up-and-down behavior that goes by the common diagnosis of bipolar disease or manic-depressive disorder. But whether they are up, down, or in between, the workless are never competent. This is what makes them different from other bipolar people who are quite competent when they are not choosing to go too far up or down. Unlike bipolars who are sometimes helped by lithium carbonate, I don’t think lithium or any medication will help the workless. (That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried.)
The workless choose bipolar behaviors because this up-and-down activity reflects their struggle with reality. Driven by their huge need for power, when they are on the high or the upper part of the bipolar cycle, they put pictures of themselves as very powerful, almost omnipotent persons in their quality worlds and go around acting as if they were such persons. They have no desire to see themselves as they really are. As high as they are, with all the energy the high releases, they cannot do anything of value. They are like cars burning a lot of fuel to keep the motors racing, but they seem unable to stay in gear. For them, the only gear is neutral.
Eventually, reality—other people’s, not their own—begins to impinge on their activities. They run out of money and a place to live. Wives, families, and friends stop helping them; they run out of gas and the engine turns off. Now they start to depress seriously. What they are depressing about is the fact that they live in a cruel world where no one seems willing to recognize their talents enough to stay with them. They never think of how little they give and delude themselves into not seeing that they are mainly takers.
They depress not because of all the lives they have damaged; they never see it that way. Their depressing is a kind of resting and forgetting phase. After a while, they start up their motors again, and the process repeats—up and down but always standing still. When they are low, they may be suicidal, but not as suicidal as competent people who are better able to recognize reality.
If they run out of money and need care, their families or whoever else cares for them should offer them a structured home setting in which they have to prepare their food if they want to eat. It should also be an environment in which they can just sit if they don’t work. They should not be locked in; they should be free to come and go but given only enough money for the food they have to buy and prepare. There should be no passive entertainment, such as radio or television, except in a special room that they can gain access to only by working. Active entertainment like basketball should be available if they can find someone to play with. Activity is good for them; they are generally inactive. The staff should not talk with them unless they do something tangible for the house that is, in the staff members’ judgment, worth talking about.
I have described sociopaths and the workless as if they were pure cases. Sociopaths are close to pure cases; they don’t vary much, except that some are killers and others are not. What makes one a killer and the other not I don’t know. I suspect that the killer has the worst possible or nonexistent relationships, but this is a guess. If I was involved with one of them, I would always suspect the worst.
The workless come in many shades of gray. Some of the high-grade workless can hold special jobs in which nothing much is asked of them and they don’t even have to be present all the time. Some work for themselves doing odd jobs but never steadily and never if there is any hard work to do. If they have jobs when they go into their high phase, they will walk off them because they view themselves as overqualified for whatever they are supposed to do.
But I can’t think of any workless man of any shade of gray whom you would want to marry. But if you are married to one of the high-grade workless and he treats you well, you may be able to stay with him. That is the real difference between the high-grade and the usual workless. The high-grade workless man treats the wife who takes care of him well. It’s like being married to an adult child. He won’t change, but he may not get worse. If I were married to one, I would make it clear that this trip through life with me will last only as long as he treats me well.
I have described these types of people partly so you may realize that the strengths of the needs lead to some unusual people, people you need to beware of. But only a few people have need profiles that push them to become sociopaths, although the workless are much more common. The vast majority of us have genes whose strengths lie well within three deviations from the norm, a wide range but still considered statistically normal.
Most of us can create quality worlds that work in the real world and are strong enough to create an effective life with good relationships. We are, of course, limited by things, such as our age, sex, size, looks, health, and talent. But even within those real-world limits, we have more choices than most of us even conceive of using. We are much more limited by external control psychology than by our genes.