One Unexpected Key That Will Make Your Marriage Really Work

In his work as a psychologist, Dr. Mark W. Baker has found that chronic feelings of shame have caused more problems than any other feeling. He has also found the path to healing shame is through grace. Mark utilizes a relational approach to counseling modeled after Jesus’s relationships with others. He marries theology and therapy to point people to God’s grace, bringing healing and restoration to their lives. It’s a grace to welcome Mark to the farm’s front porch today….

guest post by Dr. Mark W. Baker

Shame is a painful feeling that directs your attention onto yourself in ways that make it difficult for you to care about what other people are feeling around you.

Your own feelings of defectiveness become so weighty that your attention is diverted into coming up with strategies to hide.

Shame-proneness causes people to mismanage their fear.

Rather than using fear as a signal that directs your attention outward toward some approaching problem, shame forces you to direct your attention inward toward a bigger problem you don’t want to face—painful feelings of inadequacy.

Shame-prone people tend to respond to fear by either trying to hide or trying forcefully to overcome it.

But the best response to fear is to face it — with vulnerability.

Drew and Nicole came to marriage counseling a little late.

People often wait for years before they come for help, struggling with the same pattern of fighting over and over again with nothing changing. It’s really too bad, because in the vast majority of cases, marriage counseling helps. And Drew and Nicole certainly needed it.

Drew is a successful businessman and Nicole is an accomplished architect. They have two wonderful kids and a beautiful home, and they are involved in their local church.

But even though their lives looked pretty good to everyone on the outside, what went on within the walls of their house wasn’t so good.

Nicole is an energetic woman, passionate and excited about life, traits to which Drew was immediately attracted when he met her.

Drew is more of an introvert than Nicole, and his serious attitude about his career and finances gave Nicole a peaceful feeling of security when she met him.

This guy would be a good father, she thought, and his non-confrontational manner made her feel safe.

But as happens with most marriages, what attracts us to our partners at first, eventually becomes a source of irritation later.

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Nicole grew up with an alcoholic mother who would yell at her for the smallest things, and if she had been drinking too much would even hit her in a rage.

This unstable environment wreaks havoc on a child’s sense of self, so the unpredictable and abusive atmosphere of her childhood left Nicole with a shame-proneness that she tried to keep hidden as best she could.

Consequently, what started out in their marriage as a passionate and frequently excited Nicole, morphed into a critical and angry Nicole as the years went on.

Drew, on the other hand, was always an even-tempered and thoughtful person.

At first this is exactly what Nicole wanted—the opposite of her mother.

But as the years went on, what was originally a securely non-confrontational Drew morphed into a withdrawn and depressed Drew in response to his conflict with Nicole.

The pattern that Drew and Nicole developed in their marriage is a common one.

Each time conflict would arise and one of them got hurt feelings, they both had their own deeply engrained responses.

Drew would withdraw and Nicole would attack.

Each response was equally powerful in hurting the other, and both were convinced that the other person was the root of their marital problems.

Nicole was convinced that Drew’s depression and emotional withdrawal were damaging their marriage and their children, and Drew was convinced that Nicole’s rages were doing irreparable damage to everyone she unleashed them on, especially him.

Neither Nicole nor Drew understood the problem in their marriage. When they finally came in for help, all they knew was that they both were very angry.

Drew was mad at Nicole for her unbridled displays of rage directed at him, and Nicole was just as mad at Drew for the way he had emotionally cut her off. That, she insisted, was the reason she was so infuriated with him.

What neither could see was that the very thing they were doing to deal with the conflict in the marriage was causing the other person to respond the way they were.

What I was eventually able to get Nicole and Drew to realize was that they were both afraid.

Anger is a secondary emotion, which means that there is always another emotion underneath it that is more primary.

In their case, Nicole was afraid she would live the rest of her adult life as lonely and unloved as she had been in her childhood, and Drew was afraid that who he was simply was not enough for her and that her disgust of him was proof.

Nicole’s anger made him feel worthless, and Drew’s withdrawal made her feel the same way, and it was killing them both inside.

They were fighting because they felt disconnected, and living disconnected in a marriage violates the very purpose for which humans were made.

Drew wasn’t withdrawing because he no longer loved Nicole; he was just trying not to make things worse.

Nicole wasn’t raging at Drew because she didn’t respect him; she was trying to get through to the only man she has ever loved, and she didn’t know how to get him to listen to how much she needed him to make her feel safe again.

Once they understood they were fighting for connection, they learned the only way to truly deal with fear is to face it—with vulnerability.

As Drew came out from behind his stone wall of invulnerability, Nicole could drop her wall of rage, which she was hiding behind as well.

And as Nicole could vulnerably admit her fears of never being lovable, which were the real reason for her rage, Drew could easily confess how much he loved and needed her in his life.

The best cure for the fear of vulnerability is to have the courage to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability done the right way has the power to change us and everyone around us.

The power of vulnerability to get you unstuck in life is there for you — whenever  you are ready.

 

Dr. Mark W. Baker is a licensed clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist. A bestselling author and the executive director of La Vie Counseling Centers in Southern California, his latest book Overcoming Shameexplores the only remedy that can bring real healing to the pain no one talks about.

Shame is debilitating. It ruins relationships, thwarts growth, and destroys hope. It can masquerade as various problems—guilt, envy, pride, resentment—but until you heal the core issue, freedom will remain out of reach. Dr. Mark W. Baker wants to open your eyes to the real battle you’re facing and teach you the skills to effectively fight back.

In his book Overcoming Shame: Let Go of Others’ Expectations and Embrace God’s Acceptance,  he combines psychological research, biblical teachings, and clinical experience to provide a valuable resource for readers. This book will open your eyes to the real battle you’re facing and teach you the skills to effectively fight back.  Overcoming Shame will help you discover the reasons behind your hidden pain—and the only remedy that brings real healing.

[ Our humble thanks to Harvest House for their partnership in today’s devotion ]

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