Taking off the Mask in Marriage Conversation:
The single most difficult task any professional helper who is dealing with a marriage that has lost its bearings is this: there is an immediate need to ‘take off the masks’ that each individual wears. Necessarily so. Why? Masks are created to meet the expectations of the world we are born into.
Early on we create ‘good girl’ or ‘good boy’ masks for parents who might have been ill equipped to fully experience the two or three or four year old individual that showed up in their lives. They had their own masks though the understanding was that we weren’t supposed to notice them.
Teachers expect masks – they make for a well controlled classroom. Masks are created gradually over time and serve the obsequious need for being ‘normal,’ accepted, successful, attractive and so on. T
he mask is pretense (which carries the meaning of ‘aim’ or ‘endeavor to arrive at’ and suggests that our masks are something we aspire to become), it’s pretense but not necessarily of an evil sort. Masks serve a purpose. We survive behind them. People think of us as ‘OK’ or ‘responsible’ or ‘nice’ or cultured or ‘spiritual’ and more.
We can be ‘good neighbors’ without letting anyone in on the shadow side of our lives that flourishes within the black box we call our privacy. In marriage work, a couple drags their pretense into someone’s office and conceals it by offering clear analysis and diagnosis of their partners. They may be happy to pay for the privilege but if they stay with pretense the counseling will fail.
I coach couples and I’m not suggesting that they intentionally try to fool me. I am suggesting that it is critical they identify what is mask and what isn’t. Confounding your coach or counselor with a known discrepancy between what you think or feel and what you’re willing to show is at best not productive, at worst a recipe for failure.
A coach or counselor or spiritual advisor will need to be carefully centered in their own wisdom and authority, knowledgeable about their own shadow work, intuitively alert and cautiously loving in their approach to the masks they encounter. This takes immense discipline.
It also takes a significant amount of courage and willingness to open to their most closely held secrets if the couple seeking help is going to be helped.
We’ll continue this look at pretense in coming articles: • A good place to start – mask removal is not that mysterious. • Journaling – observing the contours and qualities of your own mask • Partnering – risking exploration of familiar masks • Breaking Point – confronting pretense • Good News – what legitimacy is about and how to move towards it. • The Healing Power of your own higher power – why God matters.
Photo credits: ekkeekke