Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Do you know someone who is hard to love? Someone you care about who is extremely irresponsible, hateful, dishonest, criminal, substance addicted, out of control, who takes unfair advantage of other people or who has overwhelming long-term problems that make it difficult for him/her to handle adult responsibilities?

Bill Klatte and Kate Thompson have a name for such people: “Troublesome loved ones”—or TLO for short. The phrase refers to adult relatives, friends, adult children, siblings, parents, spouses or lovers who repeatedly engage in behaviors that seriously harm themselves or others, and who make the same kind of mistakes over and over again because they don’t seem to learn from their past.

We are not referring to a child going through financial difficulties or a friend who drinks too much and becomes obnoxious. We’re talking about truly troubled people who allow themselves to be used, or who harm others, or make a series of very damaging, hurtful or self-sabotaging choices. They may abuse alcohol or drugs, engage in self-harming behaviors, not take care of themselves or the people who rely on them, blow the mortgage payment on something frivolous or get themselves repeatedly fired from their jobs because they can’t show up to work on time.

Klatte and Thompson list some of the most common troubling behaviors in their book It’s So Hard to Love You (New Harbinger). They say that troubled loved ones are prone to at least one of the following:

  • They break promises and don’t complete tasks. He fails to keep appointments, doesn’t call, doesn’t follow through, leaves projects unfinished or is late.
  • They’re manipulative. She will twist circumstances or words, get angry or intimidating so you’ll give in or threaten you in order to get her way.
  • They lose their temper. They get irritable easily, blow up in public, strike out physically, throw things, swear or call you names.
  • Are critical and negative. He complains a lot. Looks for what’s wrong about a person or a situation.
  • Get in trouble with the law. She gets frequent traffic tickets, loses her driver’s license, passes bad checks, steals and gets arrested for disorderly conduct or domestic violence. Claims that other people are the cause of her behaviors.
  • They quit jobs or get fired frequently. Unmanageable conflicts with others are common.
  • They mismanage money or fail to take care of possessions. He chronically struggles with unpaid bills and loans, unmanageable credit card debt, or other money problems that are the result of his own poor decisions or choices.
  • They refuse to plan or participate. Doesn’t plan for retirement, the children’s education, vacations or special occasions—or doesn’t participate in the above.
  • They lie. The phone call saying he has to work late turns out to have come from another woman’s apartment. Says that things are great at work until you fund out that she got fired.
  • They move frequently.
  • May neglect or abuse children. May neglect a child’s needs, expose them to adult situations, and leave them alone or with an irresponsible care giver.
  • They choose unwise and unhealthy friends or intimate partners to be with.
  • They sabotage relationships. Will often behave in ways that forces someone to leave.
  • They engage in risky behaviors. Drives recklessly, carries a weapon or sells drugs.
  • They cut important people out of their lives, such as parents, children or family.

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