“I Should’ve Known!”: Warning Signs That Your Partner Is Ungiving, Difficult, or Just Plain Awful

Posted on March 30, 2012 by


Do you remember that commercial where the man is drinking a soda (if I remember correctly), filling his body and coating his teeth with refined sugars and providing nothing in the way of nutrition, and then, in a burst of heaven-sent inspiration, realizes (a bit too late, it seems), “I could’ve had a V8!”? Really, as far as I can tell, it’s a fact he knew at some level all along.

Well, sometimes relationships are like that, too–people wind up picking the unhealthy, damaging choice, only to say afterwards that they knew, deep down, they just weren’t getting tomato juice.

Throughout my years in practice, I have had more than a handful of patients involved with partners who are, to be extremely tactful–unpleasant. Controlling, ungiving–sometimes downright nasty.

What are the warning signs when you first meet and engage with a person, that they might be “unpleasant” people with whom to spend a lifetime?

Let me start you off with my younger daughter who was, during an unpleasant stretch for all involved, Queen of the Blind Date.

No need to go into all the gory details, but, as the experience evolved, she noticed certain situations where the date was, for lack of a better term, somewhat on the jerky side. I believe she has a good eye, and that she identified a few of the following warning signs:

Early Warning Signs That Your Partner Might Not End Up Being Prince/Princess Charming

  •  On a date, your partner–fine and able-bodied–parks in a handicapped parking spot, as it’s closer and more convenient.
  • You’ve once again left your umbrella in the car, hopefully at least keeping your seats dry, as you’ve left your windows open, too. You and your partner walk through the rain. He opens his umbrella and holds it over himself alone, leaving you to the same wet fate as your car.
  • Your partner walks first through into a building, failing to hold the door, or even delay its shutting as you find yourself scrambling not to be left outdoors.
  • You pick up your girlfriend for the evening, and she–kindly referred to as “the chatterbox”–launches into a complex story involving her mother, her great-aunt Esther, her second cousin Herbie’s tie–and a grapefruit. She never does get around to asking how you are.
  • And let’s include in here partners–and friends, too, really–who never ask about you and how you’re doing in any deep way. Perhaps they provide a cursory, “how are you?” but they don’t bother to know who the players are in your life, to know your hopes and dreams, to know your hurts and losses.
  • Another from my daughter’s diaries: A date who stiffs the waiter at the restaurant, without extenuating circumstances, might not be someone to whom you want to tie your fate.
  • Yet another of her gems: She dated a man for a short while who was never pleased with his first table–and often not his second, or even his third–at a restaurant. It was standard operating procedure for him to ask his waiter to move him twice–and she had hidden her head, mortified, each time, finally walking out once he asked to have a different table yet again. Hypothesis: This will be a hard man to please, and he will make no bones about his displeasure.
  • And what of the date at a restaurant whose food comes first, and, without the slightest encouragement from you, digs in, while you watch, fascinated?
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The man or woman who doesn’t believe in following communal rules will, most likely, not believe in respecting yours either. My younger daughter lives in a condo building. In order to keep up the value of the place, no renting is allowed, and every owner signs on to that when approved through the board. But on my daughter’s floor is a young man who got married to a woman who already owned a house. Realizing that, with the market such as it is, he wouldn’t be selling their condo too soon, he merely underhandedly rented, asking all to collude in the deal and hide it from the business office.  There is a young man quick to put his own needs before others’–and a man, I might guess, who might be slow to accommodate his own partner’s needs, if they didn’t fit with what suited him.

  • To avoid: What I call “The Shoulder-Rider.” Anyone caught in traffic has experienced this one. Two lanes merge into one, and traffic is backed up for miles. The weary commuters have worked out a system combining the forking lines of cars. Our friend? He pulls out of the line of traffic, scoots over to the shoulder, and speeds past those poor fools waiting patiently. Then, at the final merging point, he signals (how chivalrous), and muscles his car in, impressed with himself for having bypassed 25 minutes of stop-and-go. Take a pass on this prince.
  • Any healthy young person who won’t give up his or her seat on the train or bus to an elderly or handicapped person, or a pregnant woman, is probably one you’d do best staying away from.

  • Speaking of the devil, Joan, a lovely woman in her 50s, has a handicapped placard she can hang over her rearview mirror so that she can have the best access when caring for her aging mother. Her husband Joe pulls out the placard when he can’t find a parking spot nearby his favorite restaurants and shops. Apparently it’s just one of his many charms. I wouldn’t recommend Joe so fast, should Joan ever decide to move on, placard in hand.
  • Although Lisa, as a second grade teacher in a poor district, had far less money than Lou, her lawyer date, she always insisted on splitting things equally. But every time they went out to eat Lou ordered not just a bottle of wine, but multiple entrees, saying he liked ‘a bit of this and a bit of that,’ and, besides, he could always pack of up the leftovers and take them home. Time for Lisa to reconsider.
  • Janey is extremely social and loves to talk. Really, there isn’t anyone in her elevator building she wouldn’t like to pass the time of day with. So when she gets in the elevator but sees someone outside in the lobby, she puts her foot in the elevator and chats the day away. When the tenants have to wait unreasonably long for the elevator, they shrug and say, “Must be Janey.” Something for her partner to think about before they sign on to marry her and improve the building’s vertical transportation.
  • Beware: The Insincere Returner. Lisa has a taste for designer clothes, but not the budget. So she buys a fancy dress at a store [she's done this multiple times, but knows she needs to rotate her retail maneuvers], wears it the desired affair, and then returns it, showing how this or that thread is pulled, and she’d like her money back. Leonard buys clothes at Nordstrom Rack, and insists that Nordstrom should take them back. His profit margin in this endeavor is excellent, and he brags about it to all who will listen. The dishonesty and deceit inherent in these moves should be a warning signal to you–watch out, or, better yet, stay away.

  • Finally–for the moment–be cautious about committing yourself to a life with someone who can’t make it through a half hour on your dates without checking his IPhone or Blackberry. Someone who regularly spends more than a few minutes of your date time chatting on his cell–barring emergency–might also not be the greatest find.

Sometimes inconsideration is localized, and a person who doesn’t believe he has to wait in traffic or should tip a waiter for his efforts or should actually walk to the restaurant instead of pulling out his mother-in-law’s handicapped placard–they can turn out to be the King of Selflessness in other areas. But it’s not too common. If you see warning signs like these as you’re dating, maybe it’s time to re-consider–while you still can have your V8 and drink it, too.


Here’s hoping you had a lovely dating experience, and have a flawless marriage. But, just in case you find your sometimes find your spouse ungiving, difficult, or just plain awful–what were warning signs you had that your partner wasn’t going to be a V8?

And if and when you want out, don’t go it alone. Make sure a neutral wintess and guide is with you. Another good case for mediation.

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