June 28, 2007


Crazy Love: Dealing with Your Partner’s Problem Personality. By W. Brad Johnson, Ph.D., and Kelly Murray, Ph.D. Impact Publishers. $17.95.

      We’ve all been there – many of us, anyway. We’ve met an ideal partner who turns out, after some time and some length of relationship, to be less than ideal. Far less. In fact, he or she has deep personality flaws that it’s almost impossible to realize we didn’t notice in the first place. How did we get into this? How do we keep getting involved with people like this? How do we get out of this rut? What if we’re married to someone whose personality drives us nuts? What can we do?

      Clinical psychologists W. Brad Johnson and Kelly Murray don’t quite answer all these questions, but they answer some of them, and in a readable, accessible way that makes it easy to spot your particular “personality-disordered partner” (PDP) – assuming he or she fits one of the authors’ categories neatly. In real life, no one fits perfectly into a pigeonhole: a flaw in the book is its lack of discussion of the personality blending that almost everyone possesses. But by choosing specific personality extremes and discussing them at some length, Johnson and Murray can help you decide where your PDP belongs on the personality-disorder scale – and whether he or she has enough compensating positive traits to make the relationship salvageable.

      The authors’ introductory material deals usefully with why people are attracted to PDPs. Johnson and Murray say there are nine basic reasons for the attraction: being fooled by first impressions, seeing only the good while ignoring red flags, repeatedly pursuing the same dysfunctional type, needing to be needed, feeling unworthy of more, trying to fill an emptiness in yourself, feeling too guilty to leave, having your own problems that result in attraction to PDPs, and simply making an occasional mistake. Eight of these nine reasons would seem to indicate you should read no further – get yourself into therapy. In the ninth, “occasional mistake” instance, Johnson and Murray do state, “Personality impairment exists on a continuum of severity. Sometimes more subtle forms of these disorders are hard to detect early on.” This is certainly true – and it is also true, as you will find by reading the rest of the book, that just about everyone has some elements of some of the characteristics that the authors say define people as PDPs. None of this is simple – certainly not as simple as Johnson and Murray make it.

      But take the book for what it is. It breaks PDPs down into three “clusters”: Odd, Eccentric, and Weird, including Doubting (paranoid), Detached (schizoid) and Odd (schizotypal); Dramatic, Erratic, and Dangerous, including Dangerous (antisocial), Stormy (borderline), Theatrical (histrionic), Self-Absorbed (narcissistic) and Undermining (passive-aggressive); and Anxious, Withdrawn, and Needy, including Scared (avoidant), Sticky (dependent), Rigid (obsessive-compulsive) and Glum (depressive). There is overlap aplenty among these categories in everyday life, sometimes obviously (dependent plus depressive or paranoid plus antisocial, for instance). But Johnson and Murray, to keep things as simple as possible, treat the categories as pure, and provide specific checklists for each of them: seven characteristics for the paranoid personality, eight for the borderline personality, seven for schizoids, nine for narcissists, etc. The characteristics are well thought out and well presented: a Theatrical (histrionic) person, for example, likes to be the center of attention, is often seductive or sexually provocative with others, uses physical appearance to get attention, tends to have shallow behavior and be highly suggestible, etc. The difficulty in using the book is that most people have at least a few characteristics of some of the PDPs – which does not mean that most people are PDPs (a fact that the authors might have made clearer). In real life, people’s personalities tend to develop along a spectrum rather than fit a series of specific characteristics.

However – and it is an important “however” – there are plenty of real-life situations in which people do deserve definition as PDPs. Johnson and Murray cite case studies throughout the book, giving an idea of what it can be like to be attracted to a particular PDP and attempt to have a relationship with him or her. Whether these are genuine cases or composites scarcely matters – the stories have the feeling of real-world occurrences, and may be as helpful as the lists of characteristics in identifying any PDPs in your life. Some of the writing, however, is irritatingly sloppy: “head over heals” rather than “heels,” “alright” instead of “all right,” “could care less” rather than “couldn’t care less.”

As for what to do if you find yourself in Crazy Love – the authors make specific suggestions for each type of PDP, and even point out when a PDP may be a good match (this depends on your personality oddities). In the long run, though, as the brief final chapter on being married to a PDP points out, you have to take care of yourself – whether by finding ways to deal with the PDP in your life, finding ways to spend time away from him or her, going into personal or couples therapy, or planning a way out of the relationship. Crazy Love will not tell you which of these things to do, or help you unravel the PDP elements that exist in virtually every relationship. But it can hold up a mirror to the defects that may enter into your choice of partners, particularly if you seem to keep making the same sort of mistake over and over again.

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