Tis the season for dressing up and pretending. What are you going to be for Halloween? My kids will be Captain America, a cowgirl, and Minnie Mouse. I’ll probably be a superhero of some sort or another. I’m not sure what my wife Lisa will be, but I'm sure it will involve dressing warmly. It’s fun to run around the neighborhood, acting silly and having fun. But when Halloween’s over, it’s time for the masks to come off. I’m not going to work the next day dressed as Spider-man, we aren’t going to send the kids to school in costumes and make-up, and Lisa doesn’t want the strange looks she’d encounter if she wore a mask at work all day.
But in marriage, one of the most difficult things to do is totake off our masks. Transparency and authenticity are buzz words that are heard a lot nowadays, but the actual practice of being honest, open, and even emotionally raw with your mate is no easy task. Now, I’m not suggesting using your anger, or sadness, or confusion, or even joy and exuberance as an excuse for being disrespectful to your mate or acting out inappropriately. But I am suggesting that when we continually lock out our mates and refuse to let them know who we really are “behind the mask,” we limit intimacy, hamper communication, and create barriers to a fulfilled marriage.
When we’re dating and early on in marriage, most people try to “put their best face forward,” showing a potential spouse their strongest, most admirable qualities. After marriage, a real fear can set in that one's spouse might “see you for who you really are,” and that’s a scary prospect, because no one knows my faults and flaws better than me. So, it can become a lifetime distraction to continually try to hide behind the masks of the tough superhero, or the never-serious clown, or the helpless princess, or the tragically misunderstood monster, or the impish elf, or the crazy cartoon character, or the perfect adventurer…the list could go on and on. It is easy to pretend to be Superman or Wonder Woman. But it is hard to say “I’m scared,” or “I’m confused,” or “I can’t do this alone,” or “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know what to do.”
Masks can appear at any time in a marriage. They can last for a short time through a specific stressor, or they can last for years to try and hide a perceived deficiency. Sometimes a person wears a mask intentionally, and sometimes he/she will do it subconsciously.
Taking off the masks and being transparent with your mate means admitting weakness, accepting help, and surrendering yourself to someone else. Our pride works against us doing that. The culture tells us we shouldn’t do that. But a healthy marriage demands we do that.
So how do we do it? First, you have to create a safe environment for your mate to be transparent with you. We tend to expect from others what we know we would get from ourselves. You will never feel safe to take off your own mask if you can’t have empathy, love, kindness, and forgiveness for your mate in his/her weaknesses. When both mates create an ongoing environment of safety, it is infinitely easier to show one’s real face.
Next, you have to be willing to take a risk. It is hard to trust someone with information about yourself that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful. But, if you don't take that leap of faith, you will never know the freedom of being yourself and how that will bless your marriage and your relationship with your mate.
Finally, when you take off the mask and the issue is laid bare, prayerfully decide how you are going to proceed together. Whether one of you need to seek forgiveness, or you need to grieve together, or cry together, or figure out how to reignite intimacy—whatever the issue—recognize that you are one flesh, working for the same goal, the good of the marriage.
Again, taking off your mask isn’t an excuse to become a victim, or to be verbally, emotionally, socially, or spiritually abusive to your mate. It is a chance to find strength in your weakness so that you can bless each other and glorify Christ in your marriage. Are you wearing a mask that you need to take off?
*Please note in this post, I am not talking about ongoing affairs, substance abuse, or pathological issues that require professional intervention.
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