Monday, May 02, 2005

Notes on choosing a spouse

From Dr. Gordon Livingston, MD:
So what is it exactly that we need to know to decide if someone is a suitable candidate for a lifetime commitment? Perhaps one way to approach this screening process is to learn more about who is evidently not suitable. To make this judgment, one needs to know something about personality.

...the formal definition of personality includes our habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and relating to others. Most of us understand that people differ in certain characteristics, such as introversion, fondness for detail, tolerance for boredom, willingness to be helpful, determination, and a host of other personal qualities. What most people fail to realize, however, is that the qualities we value - kindness, tolerance, capacity for commitment - are not randomly distributed. They tend to exist as constellations of "traits" that are recognizable and reasonably stable over time.

Likewise, those attributes of character that are less desirable - impulsivity, self-centeredness, quickness to anger - often cluster in discernible ways...

The psychiatric profession has taken the trouble to categorize personality disorders. I often think that this section of the diagnostic manual ought to be titled "People to avoid." The many labels contained herein - histrionic, narcissistic, dependent, borderline, and so on - form a catalogue of unpleasant persons: suspicious, selfish, unpredictable, exploitative. These are the people your mother warned you about. (Unfortunately, sometimes they are your mother.) They seldom exist in the unalloyed form suggested by the statistical manual, but knowing something about how to recognize them would save a lot of heartbreak.
And the qualities to seek:
At the top of the list would be kindness, a willingness to give of oneself to another. This most desirable of virtues governs all the others, including a capacity for empathy and love.

(from Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.)
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