She complained that she had become nervous at home -- all the time. More specifically, about her husband who after one year of marriage, his first, her second, seemed to change his personality, becoming less cordial, more demanding, subtly domineering, controlling, loud, and reactive. During their dating over five months, none of these were on her radar. While dating, he seemed to be very compatible in every way.
She now walks on eggshells not knowing when he will "blow up" or scream. While they were dating this was not the case. He used to be pleasant, helpful, and agreeable. He was once romantic and intimate, but no longer. Sex has devolved into being obligatory. On two occasions he even took time off from hunting and fishing to help her with a personal matter.
She realized she had courted one man, but ended up marrying a different one -- though the same man. She's confused and dejected and it's gnawing at her.
This is a guy who adopts a chameleon personality to attract a particular woman.
He is a variant of the social chameleon, a person who wants to make a good impression, no matter what it takes or the situation; to be the the right person in the right place at the right time. There are people who conduct their entire lives this way, trying to be to everyone what they think that person expects them to be.
Mark Snyder, a social psychologist at the University of Minnesota, is an expert in the personalities of social chameleons and cites as the psychological credo of chameleons a remark by the poet W. H. Auden, who said that his private image of himself "is very different from the image which I try to create in the minds of others in order that they may love me."
Snyder says that social chameleons are people who constantly monitor themselves and others to determine how they should act or what they should say. They are "high self-monitors". On the other hand, there are "low self-monitors", people who engage others and situations with a fixed set of values and operate from that framework, regardless of what others think of them. Chameleons typically have a low confidence or low self-esteem status.
So why does this matter? Chameleons get along with each other in a relationship. But Snyder's study shows that "high self-monitors" and "low self-monitors" do not mix well -- because the "low self-monitor" doesn't care or unwittingly lacks giving cues to the chameleon so that he can adjust his response.
According to Snyder, chameleons display these key traits:
----- They pay careful attention to social cues, scrutinizing others with keenness so as to know what is expected of them before making a response.
----- In order to get along and to be liked, they try to be as others expect them to be. They try to make people they dislike think they are friendly with them.
----- They use their social abilities to mold their appearance as various situations demand. Some admit, "With different people I act like a very different person."
Also, social chameleons, compared with their opposites, more frequently fantasize about having a sexual relationship with someone other than their steady partner. Snyder says we might expect low self-monitoring individuals to display greater commitment to, and stronger attachment to , their marital partners."
So how does one avoid marrying a chameleon husband-to-be?
Being aware that the two types in fact exist is a start. Extending the time of courtship and exposing the candidate to various people in various situations permits a measure or gauge that can be applied in order to assess personality stability.
As for the chameleon himself, being aware of the two types can help him realize he's overly concerned about the impression he makes and move to adjust and change. Or, he might find himself so ungiving as to fail to connect with others -- in which case he may virtually cease to exist as a person of substance and find great difficulty in holding any type of long-term relationship in the future.
If you're a woman living with a man like this, pointing it out might be helpful. But him hearing it from a third party, a professional, is more likely to bring about the needed change, meaning individual or marriage counseling.