By: Davida Brown
Halloween is fast approaching. With the day falling on a weekend, there seems to be even more excitement in the air. My daughter is over-the-moon, waiting for the opportunity to wear her princess outfit and transform into someone completely different, at least for one evening. As I listened to the various radio personalities talk about the upcoming masquerade parties in the area and unique costume ideas, I started thinking about masks. Sure, they’re fun to wear for a night, or for a special event, but what about the masks that so many of us wear day-to-day as we go about our daily activities? What about the masks that we wear in our marriage, keeping us from being the best spouse we can be?
A mask is defined as “a covering worn on the face to conceal one’s identity.” But isn’t it really more than that? Yes, a mask can cover one’s face, but can’t it also cover one’s heart, one’s emotions, one’s thoughts, keeping them hidden from a spouse? And if so, how do we (1) recognize that it’s there and (2) get rid of it.
Recognize it: This seems easy and intuitive, right? We generally know when we’re putting up a front, or hiding behind our thoughts and emotions. But what about those instances when we don’t proactively decide to wear a mask? You know those times when the mask sort of develops and takes shape over time due to life experiences that we don’t address head on. Sometimes we wear a mask – an itsy bitsy small one – and don’t even realize it’s there until one day it’s no longer just a mask, but a full costume. So how do we nip this in the bud? Here are a couple of my tips.
- Self-evaluation: It is extremely important in marriage, or any relationship for that matter, to periodically do a self-assessment. Ask yourself if you’re able to be yourself in the relationship? Consider whether the way you interact with your spouse has changed in any material way. For example, are you able to be as vulnerable as you once were? Are you able to share your innermost thoughts like you used to? Answering these questions will help you identify if there are any barriers you have that are blocking your ability to fully connect with your spouse.
- Ask your spouse: Sometimes we change in ways that aren’t readily apparent to us. Check in with your spouse. Periodically ask your spouse if he or she believes the two of you are fully connected. Ask him or her to identify any areas where they’ve seen a lack of connection or intimacy. Then, take that information and self-evaluate. You may be wearing a mask, perhaps your spouse is, or perhaps there’s some other cause. These exercises will help you figure it out.
Get rid of it: This is easier said than done. A mask is “protection gear” in a sense, and once there it can take effort to remove. But don’t fret, you can do it. Here’s how I do it.
- Figure out the underlying cause: You can’t know how to fix it unless you identify and tackle the root cause. If, for example, you are now incapable of sharing your inner most thoughts with your spouse, determine why. Something happened that caused you to retreat. Was it something your spouse said or did, or perhaps your interpretation of the acts of your spouse or a third party. If you can’t pinpoint it, it may be a series of small things that led you to creating the mask. Don’t hesitate to engage your spouse in the discovery process. Ultimately, removal of the mask will inure to the benefit of both of you and your marriage.
- Take proactive steps to address it: Once you’ve identified the cause of the mask, it’s time to develop and implement specific action steps to address it so that you’ll be able to remove the mask. If your spouse’s words or actions have contributed to the mask, discuss what you both can do to minimize those actions. It could mean a tweak in how or when you communicate, how you handle your marital obligations and responsibilities, etc. Then follow through with implementation. If you can’t figure out an action plan together, enlist assistance from a marriage coach, counselor or therapist. It’s worth it.
Marriage is a journey and it requires teamwork. If there are barriers in your relationship, there's no time like the present to tackle them head on. Masks are best left for masquerades and other events. Let's leave them there.