Signs Your Partner Lacks Self-Awareness (& How To Address It)

Self-awareness is easier in theory than it is in real life. Many people may think they have self-awareness, but tragically, many of those people don't. In fact, according to research by psychologist Tasha Eurich, Ph.D. published in the Harvard Business Review, only 10% to 15% of people are actually self-aware.

To be genuinely self-aware is to be able to see yourself objectively and clearly, and to understand how you are and why you're that way. Self-awareness means the ability to read a room, understand how the room perceives you, and having the ability to put yourself in the shoes of those around you. Self-awareness is steeped in the reality that you're not perfect, you have your shortcomings, you know what they are, and you're either working to change them to better yourself or, at the very least, you know when to curb those less-than-ideal aspects of yourself for the sake of others. In other words, people who have self-awareness make for great partners and friends.

But because not everyone is capable of self-awareness, it's not too hard to find yourself in a relationship with someone who, when it comes to self-awareness, there's just nothing there. While someone who lacks self-awareness isn't deliberately a "bad" person or lacks a conscience, they can be difficult to deal with when navigating a relationship. It's when you finally see the signs that you need to broach the subject with your partner. Love is sometimes not enough to make up for someone who's just, well, clueless.

You can't trust them 100%

Although you can't trust your partner, similar to not deliberately being a bad person, they're not maliciously untrustworthy. Instead, it's just that their inability to see themselves as they truly are and how others see them can make them seem unpredictable. How are they going to act in this situation? What will they do if we go to that event? Did they really just say that to my mom? Because someone who doesn't have self-awareness can't read the room, you never really know what type of shenanigans they might have up their sleeve or ways in which they might accidentally offend or hurt others.

Due to this lack of self-awareness, even if you call them out on what they've done, there's a good chance they won't understand what they did or said that could have created a problem. So what do you get? An unreasonably defensive partner.

They're unreasonably defensive

If a partner is constantly being corrected or called out for their behavior, it's normal that they would eventually get defensive. When you have someone with zero self-awareness who needs to be called out even more so than those with at least a modicum of self-awareness, you better believe you're going to have one heck of a defensive partner on your hands. It won't matter how often you explain what they did or how you frame it in the hopes of them "getting it," the ability to comprehend the problem isn't there.

Someone who's consistently reprimanded is going to feel attacked and is likely to blame others. That crude joke your partner told that upset your friend? Well, she's just sensitive and has no sense of humor. The passive-aggressive way they handled their undercooked meat at the restaurant last night? Clearly, the server doesn't know how to do their job, so that's the server's fault and not your partner's issue. With defensiveness comes the inability to take accountability for one's actions, which negatively affects not only the dynamics of your relationship but the relationship they have with others too. Not having a filter is only cute for so long. Eventually, it becomes a whole boatload of cringe. 

They're not emotionally intelligent

People who have self-awareness are more in tune with others, have a grasp on their own emotions, and can easily place themselves in the shoes of other people and know how to appropriately respond to them — this is how one exercises their emotional intelligence. But those without self-awareness don't have the necessary tools to relate to other people or be empathetic to the concerns of others. It's not that they don't care, it's just that they don't have the ability to experience and express empathy.

Empathy is an important skill to have in all realms of one's life. It not only enables people to have healthy relationships — platonic, romantic, professional, and familial — but it's also an asset in leadership roles too. An empathetic manager is going to create a positive work environment in which their employees feel safe and can flourish, just as an empathetic friend or partner, is going to do the same in their personal life. Even Charles Darwin cited in his 1872 book, "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," how necessary it is for people to recognize emotions in not just other people, but animals too. Basically, harnessing empathy, which some researchers say is possible to learn as an adult, is a fundamental requirement for being a successful part of society.

Communication is a struggle

Communication isn't just about one person. It's about two (or more) people talking things through, admitting when they're wrong, understanding where each one in the discussion is coming from, and eventually reaching a healthy resolution. However, if your partner isn't self-aware, communicating with them isn't going to be easy. With both a lack of empathy and defensiveness in your partner's pocket, trying to have an argument — something all relationships have from time to time — is going to make you feel like you're running around in circles. You can say one thing, something really obvious that pertains to the discussion at hand, and your partner isn't going to see the reality of it because their scope of truths is narrowed by their lack of self-awareness.

One of the most paramount things in a relationship is the ability to communicate openly and honestly. But to do so means self-reflection and seeing things from their partner's point of view — two things that someone who doesn't have self-awareness can't easily access or accomplish. 

They have a hard time being alone

If someone doesn't know who they are deep down and has difficulty reading others (but doesn't realize they have difficulty reading others), then being alone can be hard for them. When they're alone, they don't have someone they can rely upon to reflect back to them who they are, because they don't know who they are despite thinking they know who they are!

What this means is that a partner who's not self-aware is going to create a codependency and a need to be with you more often than not. It's not about trying to keep track of you or wanting to control you, as it would be with a partner who's a narcissist. It's more about it being easier for them to be with someone who can give them subconscious insight into who they are, so they don't have to do the work on their own. If you really are "the average of the five people you spend the most time with," as author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, then someone who lacks self-awareness needs those people around them more often than most.

They're arrogant

A lot of us like to believe that the entire universe revolves around us. In doing so, we can pretend we're more special than we are and convince ourselves that we always stand out in a crowd. But then we come back down out of our fantasy land and realize Rihanna has already taken that position.

However, someone without self-awareness is not going to come down out of their fantasy world and is likely to firmly believe that the sun rises and sets on them, as their thinking is that they're absolutely the real star of the show. It's not a matter of selfishness or insecurity that prompts one to behave in such an arrogant way, but the inability to acknowledge that others around them exist and experience the ups and downs of life. Everything that happens to them, good or bad, is more important than what happens to others, and if something really tragic happens? Your partner is going to think they're the first and last — in other words, the only person — for this tragic thing to happen to. Your partner loses their job because of layoffs? Well, brace yourself, because your partner is the only person to suffer as deeply as they're suffering, and none of the other hundreds of laid-off employees matter or have feelings about it. It's infuriating, to say the least.

They don't understand the concept of boundaries

Everyone needs boundaries in their life. Boundaries keep us safe and give us the strength to say "no," instead of just going along with whatever is presented to us. But a partner who doesn't have self-awareness isn't likely to have boundaries, which means they're not going to respect your boundaries because, well, they don't "get it."

When people respect our boundaries, in addition to making us feel safe, it allows us to feel validated and appreciated. It's someone else acknowledging that you have drawn a line in the sand in regard to certain issues and they won't be crossing that line. Boundaries are necessary for all aspects of our lives. However, if your partner doesn't adhere to your boundaries and consistently ignores them, you have another sign that they lack self-awareness. Someone who's self-aware, even if they're not good at setting boundaries of their own, will honor your boundaries and be mindful of not crossing them. 

How to address it

So, you've reached the end of this article and you've realized — ding, ding, ding — your partner lacks self-awareness. Now what? Now you have to stop making excuses for their behavior to others and sit down and have a nice long conversation about what self-awareness is by giving them examples as to how they don't have it. You may find that they're surprised by what you say because where there's no self-awareness, there's a shock that what they do, or don't do, could wreak such havoc on situations and relationships. You should also expect that defense mechanism of theirs to kick in, so you're going to get a lot of pushback as they can't see things as clearly as they are. It's here that you can practice your own self-awareness by putting yourself in their place and empathizing with what they might be feeling.

Having a partner who doesn't have self-awareness may not, technically, be the end of the world, but it can definitely make for awkward social experiences and create a difficult environment for your relationship to grow. If you talk to your partner about the issue, calmly and openly, and they still can't grasp the concept, then you may want to suggest they get into therapy. If researchers believe that self-awareness can be a learned trait, then not all is lost. You might eventually get to the point where taking your partner to parties and events is less likely to induce that dreaded cringe factor, so you'll be able to relax and have fun for a change.