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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

Owning Your Shadow Side

  • Dr. David Hawkins Director, Marriage Recovery Center
  • 2012 3 Jan
Owning Your Shadow Side

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

I love belonging to a Mutual Admiration Society, where I smile at the best side of you and you adore the best side of me. I want everyone to know and talk about all of my best traits. It's a wonderful treat when someone comes up to me and tells me they've heard good things about me.

All of this admiration, however, causes me to pause—what if they knew the complete truth about David Hawkins? Would they still admire me? If they knew my "shadow side," would they still invite me to speak or ask me to write a book for them? I'm never sure about this.

During a promotion for my latest book, Normal People Do the Craziest Things, I was asked why we were so afraid to share our true selves in church, purportedly the safest place on the planet. "Why," this talk show host asked, "are we not transparent in the place where we gather largely because we espouse the lack of judgment?"

I wasn't sure how to answer this man. What I believe, sadly, is that most of us are terrified of being transparent. Most of us have secret selves we show to only one or two people in our world. Even in the safest possible place—marriage—we often disavow our worst traits. We blame, shift the focus, minimize and outright deny these traits that are part of our personality.

Recently I received the following email from a man, struggling to make sense out of his shadow side.

Dear Dr. David. Recently my wife left me because of my history of control with her. She says I've been abusive, but I hate that word. I don't want to think I've been abusive, but it might be true. When I hear her describe me as a controlling man, I want to scream at her. I've never hit her, yet she says she has never been able to be herself around me. In my mind, I've never yelled at her, yet she says I've raised my voice many times at her and our three grown children. I'm wrestling with accepting her opinion of me. My problem is that if I don't come to terms with how she feels around me, I'll never win her back. But, I'm struggling to accept what she is saying. Do you have any advice for me?

First, understand that we all have a shadow side. None of us are perfect, though we live in a culture, which includes the church, where perfection is prized. As the saying goes, "Image is everything," and it seems we've all bought in to this impossible notion.

Second, clearly your behavior has had severe repercussions. Your wife has left for reasons that you seem to be trying to deny and minimize. While we don't know her full story, she uses words like "control" and "abusive" to describe your behavior. It seems unlikely that she would fabricate these accusations.

Third, lean in to her concerns. Rather then play down what she is saying, trying to sanitize your actions, boldly consider exploring "inner space." It is time for you to "lean in" to really see if there is validity to her concerns. If you continue to deny and minimize her complaints, she will continue to see you as unsafe and retreat from you.

Fourth, embrace your weaknesses. The Apostle Paul says something quite surprising: "If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness." (2 Corinthians 11:30) Instead of trying to put on a good front, Paul relates to us through his weaknesses—and his vulnerability is encouraging to us.

When inviting couples to come work with me at The Marriage Recovery Center, I ask them to be prepared to share their worst sides. I ask them to be prepared to allow me, their mate and the Lord speak into their life. If they had it all together, they wouldn't need help. But they don't have it all together and they do need help.

Fifth, when embracing weakness, we are often ready to reach out for help. If we continue to try to act like we've got it all together, we won't seek help. We won't admit weakness and fallibility. But, this pretense pushes people away. Vulnerability often draws compassion from others.

Finally, being candid with others about our worst side allows us to relate to each other more honestly. When we share our mistakes with others, we become more approachable. When we admit we are jars made of clay, we become ready to be used by God. We no longer boast in our righteousness, but know that we receive God's love by grace.  

I'd love to hear stories of how you came out of denial, moved through acceptance and into allowing God to change you.

Dr. Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.