Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My associate and I watched in amazement as Geoff shifted from being pleasant and loving, to cold, hard and perhaps even calculating. He had been sitting facing his wife Beth, smiling and interacting lovingly during the previous fifteen minutes of the Marriage Intensive.
In a moment, immediately after I asked Geoff if he would be willing to talk about his wife’s recent emotional affair, he snapped.
“I don’t have any feelings about it,” he said matter-of-factly, turning away from us. He pulled out his cell phone to check the time. Beth reached over, touching him softly, asking him to please talk about this.
“Nothing to say,” he said coldly. “I don’t know what you all want me to say, but I have nothing to say about this. We can sit here all day if you want, but I have nothing to say.”
My associate and I looked at each other in amazement. We had seen small glimpses of this before, but nothing this striking. Warm and engaging one minute, cold and aloof the next.
Geoff was not angry. He looked at us blankly, offering little and certainly willing to give even less. He had disappeared behind an invisible plexiglass screen. He was physically here, but emotionally in a distant land. His wife had witnessed this hundreds of times before and had learned to accommodate to it, albeit in a destructive way.
“This happens all the time,” Beth said softly. “If I get too close to him, he clams up. If I push now, he will get angry and then we won’t talk for days. I’ve learned to just leave him alone, and we will never talk about my emotional affair. But, I can’t take this anymore. It’s too crazy for me.”
Her response had no visible impact on Geoff. He fiddled with his moustache and watched as we tried to consider our next intervention. My associate and I were still perplexed as to this seamless movement between his warm, jovial self and his distant, detached and slightly annoyed self. We spent the next hour talking to Geoff, who explained he had no control over switching between selves. He didn’t voluntarily move from present to absent; from contact to detachment; from engaging to vacant. It was automatic, a response to threat.
An in-depth history from Geoff revealed he was raised by an abusive, alcoholic who had humiliated him for any vulnerability. Subsequently, he learned to guard that vulnerable part of his personality, showing it only to his wife during playful exchanges. When she came too close to any real pain, he forgot who he really was---a wonderful, caring, sensitive man, loved by her, God and many others---and shifted into a detached, insensitive and even mean-spirited man.
Our work during the Intensive was deep and at times painful, yet Geoff was ready for emotional surgery. To our surprise, Geoff announced, “I’m tired of carrying my dad around with me. I want to shed the weight of his anger and abuse and start living the way I know God wants me to live. I want to remember who I really am—a child of God’s."
In the safety of The Marriage Recovery Center, the four of us created a safe container for Geoff, and to a certain extent Beth, to distinguish between parts of their personality. This is work all of us can and should do.
First, recognize that we all have parts to our personalities. Sometimes these parts are subtle and hardly noticeable. Sometimes, as in the case of Geoff, the parts are very separate and distinct. Often times these parts are isolated from each other and don’t interact with each other, shifting from part to part without awareness. We see this when we fly into a rage, or slip into a depression. We see this when we move from lighthearted laughter to sullen sadness.
Second, we can learn to integrate these different aspects of our personality. It is natural to have different aspects to our personality, and trouble occurs only when we refuse to acknowledge these different parts. It is tempting, and perhaps even unconscious, to cut off parts of ourselves because of early pain and trauma in our lives. We must learn to love and accept our parts, interacting with them and essentially asking them what they want from us.
Third, try to act and feel from our core, true self. It is helpful to remember who we really are, reminding ourselves that we are children of God (1 John 3:1) and are loved by Him. We have been created to shine forth his light, to love others and to love God. When we interact with others from this core part of our personality, we are loving, gentle and caring. We make healthy decisions and make true contact and connection with our mate. We are vulnerable and receptive to love. We live out the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness. (Galatians 5:22)
Fourth, catch yourself shifting into another aspect of your personality, asking that part of you what is needed. Sometimes these other parts of ourselves have been abused and neglected and are desperate for love and gentleness. That part of you needs caring and compassion. But, it can be frightening to sit with our pain and integrate that aspect of ourselves into our personality. To not do so, however, leads to the craziness exhibited by Geoff in his relationship to Beth.
Finally, remember who you really are. Slipping into an angry, detached, perhaps even mean-spirited part of your personality may be seamless and natural. However, doing so will create disruption in your connection to your mate. Doing so will keep that part of you from growing up and receiving all that your mate, and God, have for you. It’s time to remember who you really are and how you have been created by God to be.
Reflect on this Scripture: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
I would like to hear from you. What do you think about loving and accepting the different aspects of our personality? Have you seen this unconscious shifting at work in your marriage? What have you found helpful in connecting to your mate?
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