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Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 12:08 am

While you were sweeping

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
My boyfriend unplugs my laptop when it’s charging and plugs the charger into his, despite knowing that I need my computer charged for work. This is actually part of a pattern – a general lack of consideration, from constantly being late to always leaving messes for me to clean up to knocking the shower door off the track and then just leaving it leaning against the tub. Recently, my dad emailed him three times without hearing back – in response to a favor he’d asked of my dad – and I had to bug him to reply. How can I get him to be more considerate? – Disturbed

When somebody has a pretty pervasive pattern of carelessness – when they’re basically an entitlement-infused, corner-cutting slacktastrophe of a person – it points to their coming up short on what psychologists call “conscientiousness.” This is one of the five core personality dimensions (along with openness, extroversion, agreeableness and emotional stability), and it reflects a person’s level of self-control and sense of responsibility to others.

Personality researcher Brent Roberts explains that people who are “high in conscientiousness” “tend to write down important dates, comb their hair, polish their shoes, stand up straight and scrub floors.”

Meanwhile, on the perennially chillaxed end of the spectrum, people “low in conscientiousness” tend to break promises, cancel plans, watch more TV, oversleep, and see credit limits as credit suggestions. The plan-canceling and promise-breaking reflect something noteworthy – self-centeredness and a lack of concern for how their behavior affects others.

However, it isn’t just your own level of conscientiousness that impacts your life. Psychologists Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson find that having a partner high in conscientiousness makes you likely to have higher income and job satisfaction and a better shot at getting promoted. They suggest that having a more conscientious partner makes for a more satisfying and supportive home life, allowing a person to focus more on their work.

Personality traits are, to a great extent, genetic and are largely stable because of that. However, Roberts finds evidence that people can increase their level of conscientiousness. This starts in the smallest ways, like making the bed and tidying the house in the morning so it looks more “lived in” than “ransacked.” Repeated behaviors become habits, and collectively, our habits form who we are.

Of course, changing starts with wanting to change – valuing conscientiousness enough to be motivated to make it an integral part of everything one does. This sometimes happens when a person gets a tragedy-driven wake-up call. Absent that, your best chance for inspiring your boyfriend to want to live more conscientiously is by using empathy as a motivator – gently explaining to him how unloved you feel and how disrespected other people must feel in the wake of his constant sloppy disregard for anyone but himself.

If he says he wants to change, give yourself a deadline – perhaps two or three months down the road – to see whether he’s making meaningful improvement. If you decide to break up, you might want to make conscientiousness one of the “must-haves” on your “What I Need in a Man” list so your next relationship feels more like a romantic partnership than a remedial finishing school for one.

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