Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

Understanding the Shadow Side of Your Man

  • Dr. David Hawkins Director, The Marriage Recovery Center
  • 2010 30 Mar
Understanding the Shadow Side of Your Man

"When it's good, it's really good," Cassie said to me recently, tears running down her face. "But when it's bad, it's really bad. It's like he's two different men."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I swear he's two different men," she said insistently. "There's a switch that seems to go off inside him. One minute he's caring and sympathetic and the next he's mean. He's black and white, talking in extremes. He gets irrational, twisting my words. I don't know what to do when he gets like that."

"I hear these stories a lot," I told her sympathetically. "Unfortunately, there are many men who seem to have this split personality."

"Yeah," Cassie said firmly. "What's up with that? Why can't he always be ‘the good guy,' the guy I married? That's the guy I want to live with."

"I wish it was as simple as that," I began. "There really seems to be something to this ‘Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde' thing. There's nothing officially documented," I added, "but women really resonate to this idea."

"There really are two different men: the nice guy, who is sweet and kind, willing to do anything for me, and then the mean one. The nice guy is really caring, sensitive and very expressive of his love for me. But Mr. Hyde can be outright mean. He can shift in a second, going from nice to nasty. That guy wants to hurt me and knows just how to push my buttons. I swear he's trying to drive me crazy."

"I don't think so," I said. "Let me tell you a few things that might make you feel a little better. I have some bad news and a bit of good news."

"Great," she said. "I need a little hope right now."

I began sharing what I've experienced from working with a lot of men during my career.

First, most men with ‘Mr. Hyde-like' qualities are not trying to be difficult. They really want to be nice guys, but their "shadow side"—when they become mean-spirited, controlling and even vindictive-- is outside of their awareness much of the time. Shifting from ‘nice guy' to ‘nasty' happens in an instant, usually when they feel provoked or defensive. They don't set out to be mean or cruel, though they are capable of such actions.

Second, these men aren't aware of the tension leading to the shift. These men are usually completely unaware of the shift that takes place internally, when they change from ‘nice guy' to ‘nasty.' When feeling threatened they will shift to defending themselves, which can include all kinds of ‘crazymaking' tactics such as shifting the blame, rationalizing their action, changing the topic, turning the focus onto you, angry power plays and possibly even outright deception. These actions take the heat off him. I talk about these tactics at length in my book, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life.

Third, they aren't trying to ‘hook' you, but their actions usually do just that. Because they cannot tolerate the tension of looking at their behavior, their retaliatory actions are often provocative, setting you up to respond or react aggressively. This in turn triggers more outrageous behavior on their part, creating an even larger confrontation. Getting hooked, you get pulled into the fray where both of you are now acting irrationally.

Fourth, they have little or no insight into their actions. Even when you point out what they are doing, they have little awareness in order to take responsibility for their actions. Using the primary defense of denial, they rarely learn from their actions. Because they don't recognize the gravity of their behavior and magnitude of their thinking errors, they have little motivation for change and thus rarely seek counseling, which could help end the cycle of problems.

Fifth, relational change is most often initiated by the woman. Sadly, women involved with these men often try repeatedly to coax Mr. Hyde into counseling, unsuccessfully. They wonder why he won't volunteer for counseling, failing to understand that his behavior is not troubling to him—only to others. Hence, he has no motivation for change until she becomes exasperated enough to insist on change.

Sixth, begging for change, instead of insisting upon it--with enforceable consequences—leads to profound discouragement. Many women become exhausted trying to argue with their man. Hooked into irrational behavior themselves, these women fight a battle they cannot win. They can't out-argue Mr. Hyde, won't be able to reason with him, and certainly can't make him calm down. What does help is to set firm boundaries on what Mr. Hyde can expect if he erupts in anger, uses foul language, treats you mean or acts irrationally. Setting clear, firm boundaries is the best argument against ‘nasty' behavior. Seeing the "hook" well in advance, and avoiding it, is your best offensive behavior.

Finally, couples counseling is often the only venue for effective change. Since these men aren't often motivated to change, and have little insight about the severity of their problems, as well as the impact it has on others, counseling is usually initiated by the mate of Mr. Hyde. Women, exhausted from years of dealing ineffectively with his antics, must ultimately set enforceable boundaries that provide an impetus for character change. She can elucidate his behavior and the impact on her in the safety of couples counseling. Even then, she needs to be prepared for rigorous, depth counseling, holding him accountable for specific behavior change. Anything less only enables continued outrageous behavior.

Are you in a relationship with Mr. Hyde? Have you held misconceptions about him that only make matters worse? Have you discovered strategies that others might find helpful? Please feel free to email me at

March 30, 2010

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. 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.