If you marry a Jackson Pollock you get his drinking and his rages. If you marry a Diego Rivera you get his womanizing. If you marry a Virginia Woolf you get her manias and her despair. If you marry a Paul Gauguin you get his sarcasm—which he will call irony. If you marry a Picasso and you upset him, he will put his cigarette out on your arm. If you marry a Judy Garland or a Marilyn Monroe you’ll get a bottomless well of unhappiness right behind the charm. If you marry a Dali you will get a man so claustrophobic and anxious that he couldn’t tolerate riding on the Paris Metro. If you marry …
The time to notice if a prospective partner is right for you is early on. Do they keep their word? Are they cavalierly cruel? Are they incapable of listening? Are they always rushing off and running around? Are their plans plausible or do they smack of wishful thinking? Do they do the simple things with some grace and good cheer? Is everything a drama or an argument? Early on is the time to notice the failings of a prospective partner. If you notice them and do not heed them—well, you know the consequences of that.
One part of the relationship puzzle is choosing wisely. A mirror image task is upgrading your own personality so that you are the sort of person you want to be and need to be, someone equal to the responsibilities of partnership. It is your duty to minimize your own unwanted qualities, whatever they are—your addiction, your unhealthy narcissism, your overly critical nature, your histrionics, your timidity, your lack of self-confidence, your arrogance, or whatever else it might be. It would be lovely if both you and your partner did this work but your partner is not in your control: only you are.
The necessity for a personality upgrade makes itself known in all of the small and large bones of contention that partners encounter as they interact. These bones of contentions are growth opportunities for you, if you take them as such. They allow you to begin to look in the mirror, take a fearless personal inventory, identify and then change those aspects of your personality that harm the relationship, and start the process of minimizing your unwanted qualities, those qualities that you yourself decide ought to be changed.
Let’s say that you agree that you need a personality upgrade. How can you pull that off? It is exactly as simple and exactly as hard as admitting your drinking problem and entering recovery, seeing yourself in the mirror and beginning a diet and exercise program, listening how you speak to yourself and beginning a regimen of more positive self-talk, or acknowledging that life makes you anxious and learning an anxiety management strategy or two that works for you. Upgrading is that simple and that hard. Countless books, workshops, and programs are available to you. The starting place is that magic sentence: “I need to work on this.”