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The TL:DR is the actual heading. The rest is all backstory on why I am asking. I am asking if I can (or maybe even should try) to assist my spouse on becoming more self aware.


My husband and I were doing a quiz last night. Sometimes we do these. They are often just interesting. Usually we each do our own and then compare and contrast results. Tonight he wanted me to read him the questions and I would input the information. This was a very eye opening exercise simply doing it this way. I normally do not know what each answer is, only his "results".

To start off explaining, all questions had a 1 to 4 rating. 1 was "strongly agree" and 4 was "strongly disagree". Right out of the gate he told me he would only be giving me 2's and 3's because you either agree or you don't, and these were "clearly" yes or no questions according to him, that didn't require 4 options.

As we go through the questions, I was really dumbfounded by his answers. For an example one question stated that you look forward to social gatherings. He responded yes. However I have been with this man for 25 years and have dragged him to every event we have attended, with a ton of complaints, and often just left him home and went on my own when his complaining was too much work. They said something about liking travel, which he also agreed. That made me laugh because just a week ago I cancelled a trip that we were planning because he constantly tells me he doesn't want to go, and it was a trip to see his brother, whom he is close with. I have even tried to get him to go alone, thinking it was me or the kids that were the reason. He wasn't interested in going at all.

Then the best part was when the question was about seeing the world as very black and white without many shades of gray. He said no. The same man who wouldn't rate levels 1-4 because "everything" is just a yes or no, now says he sees "degrees" to things and could not understand when I was trying to explain to him that this was relatively ironic, given the refusal to rate each item, that now he thinks he is not prone to black and white thinking.

So my question now is, how do I find information on how to encourage him to become more self aware? I was always a little aware that he isn't aware of how he comes across at times. I have even in the past recorded him for the purpose of showing him that he can be gruff even when he isn't intending it. That seemed to help, but now that we did this 50 question quiz and I saw how he answered them and at a loss. About 80% of how he answered did not match up to what I would have answered on his behalf based on actual behavior. I am not claiming I was right on the way I would have answered all of them, but I know he was really not being real. At one point I actually thought perhaps he was messing with me until he became a little irritated at me asking if he was serious.

And if there is nothing out there that assists in helping someone become more self aware, then I guess so be it. I figured I could at least look. I did some of my own digging but didn't turn up much and most seemed to relate to workplace issue, not life. I am not even positive I think it is something someone can do for someone else.

For clarity, things are fine in my marriage. We get along well, and accept one another's quirks and such overall. It could always improve though and I do think him being more aware of his own "way of being" would help that. The other day for instance, I was talking on the phone making plans to go to an event. After I got off the phone he acted hurt I didn't ask him. I asked him if he wanted to come too and said that I would love him to come (I would). He seemed enthused about it (I was thrilled he wanted to come). Then, the following day, when we were supposed to go, he had not only changed his mind, but made it seem like he never really wanted to go in the first place. I hadn't asked him initially because usually he doesn't say yes anyway so sometimes I even forget him coming could be an option because I am so used to going to things alone. I wasn't upset, I am very used to this 25 years into it, I am just giving an example of "how he is".

  • 11
    I'm exactly the same as your husband (ironically I'm self-aware of being un self-aware, but because someone has already called me out on it). I have no clue why, but I wouldn't remember something as it happened and someone else would tell me it happened differently (again, I have no clue why), You've made me want to go do some digging on the subject now, though. – Bradley Wilson Aug 23 '17 at 8:00
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    Do you think he WANTS to become more self-aware? I don't think this is a topic you can do on your own, you'd need his agreement to join in. – Erik Aug 23 '17 at 8:40
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    @Erik that is the thing. I don't know if he does. I don't want to cause or create an issue if no good can come of it. That is why I thought to ask this group. I figured if I was crossing some lines, people here would be open to saying that to me. I really am not sure what if anything can or should be done. I knew before now he wasn't very self aware. I had no idea it was this much. On nearly every question his answer was nearly opposite to how he operate in life. Unless he is secretly trying to make himself miserable acting out of character 24/7, it shows real disconnect. – threetimes Aug 23 '17 at 8:52
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    would you mind sharing th quiz? It sounds interesting! – user230910 Aug 24 '17 at 5:04
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    @threetimes: This might sounds dumb, but do you really have to do the things you like in order to not be contradictory? e.g. I like astronomy, but you'll have a hell of a hard time getting me to go stargazing or doing astronomy research or basically anything astronomy-related. Does it mean I don't like astronomy? Also, another question: what about the things he claims he doesn't like? Does he show any difference in attitude toward them? – Mehrdad Aug 24 '17 at 9:10
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I guess there's an obvious answer here.

When you ran through the quiz questions with your husband, did you discuss the answers as they occurred, or did you simply take down the answers?

When doing quizzes like this, people subconsciously fall into the trap of choosing the "right" answer based on what they feel is the idea. You see a lot of this on dating web-site questionnaires where people want to appear to have more attractive personality than they really have.

If you discuss the answers, you'll get a lot more insight into each other's personalities and move forwards a lot more positively.

Sometimes things like this are a good catalyst to speaking to one another about things that are difficult to bring up in day-to-day conversations.

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    I think the quiz was a symptom of a bigger issue here (i.e. his lack of self-awareness) I'm not sure that if they did the quiz any differently it would change much. – Bradley Wilson Aug 23 '17 at 8:00
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    I'm just implying that discussing the answers would help a great deal in understanding your partner. Like I said, people sometimes answer quiz questions based on what they think the answer should be. – Snow Aug 23 '17 at 8:02
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    I tried. I dropped it for the night because he was defensive at any of my questions about his answers. It was near his time for bed, so I assumed it would be worse to push, so I just finished taking the answers & when he went to bed, started to research. I don't wish to make any problem with him. Things are good. He's a good man & I only want to even try if there is good to come of it. You know, the old "don't fix what isn't broken" idea. We have a good life. I don't want to make issues if this is inappropriate for me to broach with him. I can be happy if he never changes. ;) – threetimes Aug 23 '17 at 8:10
  • What has made me so curious is being totally stunned at the answers. I guess i didn't think after 25 years we can't fill out a quiz without being completely shocked about answers. LOL I retook the same quiz with the answers I would have thought would be his and got a result that I would have expected based on his observable personality/behavior. I don't even know what to make of that. – threetimes Aug 23 '17 at 8:13
  • What you're describing Pete is the social biais, When I runned the MBTI tests, my score was adjusted (like a little more towards Introvert than Extra) because there're always one or two question that when we're not sure, we will choose the most socially desirable (which tend towards E). However I don't agree with your post, his problem seems way something totally different, you don't answer on a behaviour test everything almost false about because of some social biais and with someone that know you well. To me he seems more like to lack self confidence in him and don't assume his personnality. – Walfrat Aug 24 '17 at 11:01
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First let me drop some important thoughts and ideas because I believe you're inferring too much and too easily. Your assessment might be true but you'll find that I'll also be questioning you here.

I like working out, if asked if I like working out I would answer yes, yet every time I hit the gym, go to do some swimming laps or out for a run I have to drag myself to it. The activity and result feels good but the actual act of getting started is a drag almost every single time.

An activity which is enjoyable might also be fraught with stress (while an extreme case this was especially obvious when I worked as a personal assistant for people with various disorders). The fact that you have to drag him to an event and the fact that he looks forward to or enjoys them are not mutually exclusive. You seem to have inferred that since you have to pull him there he must not enjoy the event in question.

After that long introductory interlude let's get down to business.

What people often grapple with in cases like this is called Cognitive Dissonance, which briefly put is mental discomfort caused by having conflicting ideas simultaneously. It might be that the reason this question exists is actually cognitive dissonance in you; after all your husband cannot both like going to trips and undertake actions to not go there.

Now, the cases you present actually makes it seem very plausible that your husband is very binary in his thinking. For him binary thinking might very well be a defense mechanism to protect himself from cognitive dissonance. What in psychology is called Splitting is when people reduce the spectrum of a concept into two polarizable extremes, we're all guilty of this at times even though the Wikipedia page and Google searches might lead you to believe that this only occurs in people with borderline personality disorder.

If this had been an actual problem in your relationship my obvious recommendation would have been therapy. That is however still my recommendation if only because I frankly don't know myself if there are some simple exercises to undertake to ease people out of this. What little experience I have tells me that, as in most cases, the person must first come to realize that they actually are doing this. Perhaps you can achieve this through meaningful discussion.

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From the tone of your question, your conclusion about your spouse self-awareness doesn't seem to be an element on which you have doubts.

Have you tried to discuss his answers individiually with him, so that you could understand why he answered that ? I ask this, because unless you really understand why he answered that he likes to travel and why he canceled his trip to his brothers, you cannot conclude anything significant.

The reason why you don't know how to solve his lack of self-awareness issue, to me, is that you barely noticed it, diagnosed it and started looking for a way to cure it.

Whether or not your conclusions are correct, what you are refering to is both a part of your spouse's personality and the way it appear from the outside. That's a trait of his.

You should talk to him about it in a neutral way.

You say that he became irritated when you asked if he was serious. You were basically calling him for being wrong on questions about himself. Whether or not your were right regarding him being wrong, that's pretty irritating.

You should get more information by talking about it with him in a more neutral way. In other words, don't go to him with loaded questions assuming that his lack of self-awareness is a real thing. Go through the test one more time with him asking him to explain his reasoning to you if you haven't yet, tell him that the experience interested you the other time because it gives you the occasion to learn more about him, which is the truth.

Making assumptions about how other people think or work can be seen as reductive or arrogant, whether or not it's your intent, so you would benefit from not walking that path. Work with him to know the real deal about him instead.

You can't have certaian conclusions if any of the observation it's based on is dubious.

  • I agree with nearly everything. The cancelled trip was just one example. The last several times we have gone on any trip he drags feet, makes it hard to nail down plans, tells me how much he "hates this" as we slug through an airport or load a car. I would have never in a million years told anyone he "likes travel". He barely tolerates it. And it's not things he would hate because it's visiting my family or some thing he hates doing, it's how it is on all trips. I was aware he lacked self awareness, I wasn't aware to what degree it seems. – threetimes Aug 23 '17 at 8:44
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    @threetimes I'm not denying that. Indeed, maybe your conclusions are spot on. But for example, maybe he basically like the idea of traveling while his routine makes him grumpy with the idea of having to go on a trip. Even if his self-awareness is real, the dots can be anywhere and only you and him can know precisely where. – ksjohn Aug 23 '17 at 8:50
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    I don't know how to explain the answers other than it seemed like he was answering what he "wished" his answers would be almost. He even answered he enjoyed small talk. He has always complained about the uselessness of small talk and how much he tries to avoid it. I really did think he was kidding when I asked "Are you serious" because I couldn't make sense of the answers to most of the things. If he tells tomorrow he was kidding, I might actually believe him. He seemed serious though. – threetimes Aug 23 '17 at 8:55
  • @threetimes That's why I think the both of you should dicuss it. It's either in your head or in his, and it seems to concern you. That seems important enough to justify a discussion, don't you think ? – ksjohn Aug 23 '17 at 9:47
  • @threetimes Maybe he hates the journey but likes the destination? That's how it is with me! – rrauenza Aug 24 '17 at 14:03
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I think you answered the question in your own post; you can help someone become more self-aware (assuming they want to become more self-aware, some people might not) by showing them themselves.

We don't usually go through life experiencing ourselves objectively as an outsider, and unless you make a point of reflecting on your own behavior a lot, you won't really know how you come across.

But there are ways to help yourself see how you act when you aren't thinking about the questions, to see how you really are, and how you're being perceived, by keeping an objective log.

The first step would be asking whether your partner is actually interested in doing this, because it'll take some time and it might be quite confrontational for both of you.

But if he's up for it, I would suggest both of you keeping a diary. When events happen, sit down together for a moment and each for yourself, write down how you felt about that event.

At the end of the week, review both diaries, side by side. One diary will be "how did I really feel?" and the other will be "how was I perceived by my partner?". Events like the trip will have multiple entries, ideally they will show how your partner's feelings towards it (and your perception of them) changed over time.

That should be a good starting point for your partner to either find out more about himself, or find about more about how he comes across.

  • The second part, about the journal is very good advice that I use myself, to help deal with anxiety and depression. – Reed Aug 23 '17 at 13:02
  • This is a great suggestion as far as a couples therapy approach, but very often a partner's perception of a person is far from objective. As in how a partner perceives a person is every bit as clouded as how they perceive themselves, it's just a different point of view. – apaul Aug 23 '17 at 15:10
  • @apaul34208 agreed; it's why I said the other perspective is "how was I perceived by my partner?". Probably both people involved will learn a lot about themselves and their perceptions of the other. – Erik Aug 23 '17 at 15:12
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I think the short answer is 'probably not' in this case.

You're too close to the person in question to offer an objective point of view. You can shed light on how you perceive him, but that isn't anymore objective than how he perceives himself.

Human interaction is often messy because we all tend to have differences in how we see our selves, how we would like to be seen by others, and how we are actually seen by others.

The problem with trying to make someone that you're close to "more self aware" is that success is in the eye of the beholder. Are you trying to make them aware of how others perceive him, or are you trying to make him aware of how you perceive him?

It's natural to think that your perception of his behavior is shared by others, but being so close to him you have a unique point of view. That's not to say that he shouldn't be aware of it, it's just saying that it isn't objective.

As an example...

My ex-wife and I are still very close, we value each other's opinions because we know each other so well and often have a way of seeing through each other's nonsense to get to the root of an issue, but we both also have to acknowledge that we see each other through a sometimes distorted lense. The way she sees me is not the same as how a close friend, without all the history and baggage, would see me, and vice versa.

Self awareness is something that your husband could probably stand to work on, because... Well... It's something we could all stand to work on. Just be aware that your awareness of him isn't necessarily the same thing.

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    This "probably not" is also what I was thinking. Even if I could (not saying I can, just saying if I could) truly see him objectively, I would highly doubt he would think it was objective and therefore I would not be the right person to give such input. Kids even do this with parents by discounting positive things you say to them often with "you love me so you are just saying that" versus believing the parent might be right about the compliment. – threetimes Aug 24 '17 at 4:56
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My experience with helping along with self-awareness is that it often comes from experience; experience with dealing with the consequences of one's own actions. To me, it's a part of maturing, and it's sped up by having to deal with obstacles and challenges in life - and by not having other people deal with them.

I won't know if I'm bad at cooking if I never have to do it myself because somebody else always takes care of it. I might even think it's easy because I never wasted much thought on it. But if that somebody suddenly can't or won't cook any longer, I'll find out real quick if I'm good at it or where else I can get my food.

A part of letting people mature is stopping shielding them from the consequences of their own behaviour.

What would happen if you stopped dragging your husband along for trips and just went on your own (or with others)? What would happen if you stopped inviting him along to things he normally doesn't want to do? What if you stopped apologising for not inviting him along and just said (neutrally) "Oh, I thought you didn't want to come because you usually never come. I didn't think it would be a big deal". What if you stopped accepting his... reality distortion if he skips planned events by claiming he never really wanted to go? "You were upset yesterday because I didn't invite you along. Now you claim you didn't want to go from the start. Something is off here."

Obviously, that's somewhat at odds with your desire to not rock the boat. I felt similarly in my relationship but over time discoverd that a little motion doesn't immediately make the boat capsize. My partner didn't run away when I confronted them with their BS; rather we talked it out (when they really had to because they realised it was serious for me) and it made the relationship stronger.

What helped for me was:

  • Framing behaviour as consequences of their own actions ("You always complain about travelling so it was natural to assume you didn't want to come along").
  • Acknowledging (to myself) and pointing out emotional costs ("Hey, talking you into travelling takes a lot of time and patience on my side - and frankly I can do without that. You sound like you'd be much happier at home anyways.")
  • Not buying into their "Being complicated is just way I am (and you have to deal with it)"-mindset any longer. Turns out people can "uncomplicate" themselves pretty quick if they have to.
  • Accepting if they didn't want to do something I would have liked them to join - and doing it on my own without regrets.

So, you can't "make him" more self-aware but you can change the incentives a little so that he has more reason to think about his behaviour.

edited to add:

Is it possible that in this quiz exercise, he's trying to appear as the kind of person he thinks you would like to be with? Is he (ineptly) trying to make himself look like (what he thinks is) your dream husband? Is the idea that couples must like the same things and must do everything together very strong with him - or you - or both?

Maybe things'd get a little easier if you allowed each other and yourselves to occasionally do stuff and like stuff the other one isn't interested in.

  • Thank you for this perspective and example on cooking. I hadn't really thought of that as self awareness as much as I have thought it was a reality check. I did something like that when he didn't understand why I had such a hard time "keeping up" and one point (i.e. getting less done than planned) so I left him for 8 hrs with the kids when the baby was teething. When I came back he was much more aware of why things hadn't gotten done. She was a clingy little screeching koala that made just making lunch a chore at that age. – threetimes Aug 24 '17 at 1:54
  • @threetimes Thank you! Yes, things are always easier if other people do them ;-) I've edited to add a few more questions, maybe they're helpful (or maybe not). – AllTheKingsHorses Aug 24 '17 at 10:52
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One crucial question would be

Is it really important that he become more self-aware?

And you answered it yourself:

I can be happy if he never changes.

Interpersonal skills is not just about improving communication or improving awareness including self-awareness: it is about accepting people as they are, especially our loved ones.

My parents may have some confusions with self-perception but I might, too. So too your husband and maybe yourself? As one of the earlier answers has wisely noted, not everyone even wants to be self-aware. Self-awareness is not everyone's strong suit, though I try to understand my own motivations myself.

The strength of the relationship matters more and again you said this yourself:

For clarity, things are fine in my marriage. We get along well, and accept one another's quirks and such overall. (...) Things are good. He's a good man & I only want to even try if there is good to come of it. You know, the old "don't fix what isn't broken" idea. We have a good life. I don't want to make issues if this is inappropriate for me to broach with him. I can be happy if he never changes. ;) – threetimes

So that's your answer. You have a lot of interpersonal talent (as evidenced by your answers and comments at this website) so if you want, you can be self-aware for the both of you. I am glad that you and your husband have built a good marriage over 25 years, so you just keep up the good work!

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With reference to the previous answer

Is it really important that he become more self-aware?

For the happiness of both, I think the answer is yes. Somebody disconnected from reality (even from their personal inner "reality") suffers shocks and frustrations every time reality defeats the personal beliefs; @threetimes wants to protect her husband from these defeats and from the hurt they would cause him and her as well.

With this in mind, and since making him "more self-aware" is what she aims for, she should look for the aspects where his lack of self awareness is more likely to cause harm. I suggest picking just one particular problem, and dealing with it specifically (e.g. "did you realize how disappointed was your brother you didn't visit him?") rather than addressing "self-knowledge" in general. It seems that not liking small talk, or travel, are not in that category. So, she should wisely choose her "battles" -- i.e. the aspects of their life where more self-awareness, or possibly awareness of the feelings of others, would help. As an aside, it does seem the husband is also ignoring the constant disappointment he is causing his wife by not sharing outings, trips, social occasions with her.

@threetimes One thing you could do to understand what to you must be so baffling is to try to find out if his likes and dislikes are not actually true of a much earlier time in his life. I don't know if there is a scientific term for this, but mature men do seem to harbor a longing for life as "boys", life before the age of responsibilities. Perhaps he simply remembers that he loved small talk, traveling, etc back when he was young and careless. Perhaps he would actually enjoy them now too, with those people from the past. So from his point of view, he is the same, only the world around is more boring and more unpleasant.

@threetimes I have seen in men around me some of what you describe. They say if you marry a man expecting to change him you are a fool, and I agree. But men --husbands-- do change, a little, and slowly, if they care about you and if they see you also care about them.

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Who is who in this situation? If you want to boost self-awareness for someone else, work on making yourself more self-aware. Ask their perspective about things you do or say. Pay attention to how you feel and consider various reasons why you might feel that way. Talk about your emotions without assuming they are caused by another person---even if you think they are.

To me, the tone of your question reveals some angst or frustration, as well as some deep fascination and care. Your generosity shows up in the desire to help your husband, while your angst shows up in the urge to make him different. But I'm not 100% sure that these are your emotions; my only sure point of reference is that I can relate to these emotions myself.

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