“How do I help someone who lacks personal responsibility?”

Q—I recently attended a singles’ ward activity in Salt Lake where you spoke, and I was very moved by your message. I have shared it with my friend Karen, and we have discussed it a great deal. She reads your webpage avidly.

She was the one who pointed out to me your article, “Liars, cheaters, manipulators, beaters—Spot them in 3 dates or less.” We talked about the signs of an abusive relationship. We couldn’t help but notice that we each have a very important person in our life who shows all the signs of lacking personal responsibility—her brother, who doesn’t date, and one of my very closest friends, who does date (though he’s finding it to be less successful the more he straightens out). Both of these young men I honestly would have dated myself if not for this very reason of completely lacking personal responsibility.

Karen and I were wondering, how can we encourage the men we love—whether we date them or not—to take personal responsibility? Her brother and my friend struggle,  we know, with personal and family issues, and just saying “get with the program” won’t be enough to change the results of years of problems.

But we also have hope for their futures and faith in their goodness. Noticing that they completely exemplify one of the three elements of a terrible person—or at least someone no one should never marry—was a bit of an alarm. How can we encourage, help, and cease to enable them?
Please advise.

A—First, I recommend that you learn more about the skills of empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility as outlined in chapters 1–5 and appendixes A and B of Dating Game Secrets for Marrying a Good Man to determine if these men just struggle in a few areas with personal responsibility or in most areas. That will determine if they are normal and just need to improve in some areas, or if they are truly impaired.

Either way, my advice is the same: Express your faith in them and trust that they will work their problems out. Don’t do for them what they should do for themselves. Show them you care without taking away the challenges they need to face. If they truly have the skills of personal responsibility, in time they will face the situation, ask for help, read books, or do what they have known all along that they need to do. If they don’t have personal responsibility, they will do nothing (and nothing you do or say will change that anyway).

In the end, the reality is that no one changes unless they want to. Showing faith in them is the best tool you can use. Sometimes people are just not ready, but when they are they can achieve anything.

I hope this helps. Good luck,


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