Ignoring Feelings Creates Marriage Problems for Avoiders
By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
Referenced from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s book “How We Love”
This article is part of a series about the personality imprints covered in “How We Love.” You can find an introductory article about imprints here. This will be followed by a practical article with steps for dealing with your avoider imprint. That article can be found here.
Some people just need a hug. Batman comes to mind. Maybe if he’d had someone a little warmer than a stodgy English butler around when his parents died, he wouldn’t spend so much time brooding in a hole under his house. Bruce Wayne is what Milan and Kay Yerkovich call an “avoider” in their book; “How We Love.” Avoiders are people who have been conditioned to ignore their emotions, and instead, focus on practical problems with tangible solutions (such as saving Gotham). Their spouses often complain they feel alone in their marriage because avoiders rarely consult others for advice or help. They may also have trouble with anger.
“I Can Do it Myself”
Avoiders shut out their emotions, and often other people, because of the way they are raised. The authors call this an “imprint.” Their childhood molds them a certain way and they behave according to that mold. Avoiders usually grew up with parents who eschewed affection in favor of praise for accomplishments. They were often left to themselves and so learned to take care of problems independently. But when they grew out of childhood and start experiencing weightier predicaments such as sexuality, stress, and impending adulthood, they may have turned to distractions such as drugs, sex, and other reckless activities to avoid their feelings. (60) Their home life discouraged them from going to others with their problems, so they dealt with their growing pains as best they could. “Emotions become annoyances to get rid of rather than opportunities to develop closeness and experience comfort.” (59)
However, not all avoiders grew up in cold homes. After all, Bruce Wayne was born to two devoted parents and probably would have probably grown up to be about as emotionally healthy as anyone else had they not been shot and killed in front of him when he was young. It was because those around him were not able to comfort him as he needed during a critically painful time in his life that he turned inward and boxed up his pain with anger.
“I Feel Alone in My Marriage”
Because avoiders learn to handle everything themselves, their spouses often complain they feel like they don’t have a partner. It appears the avoider spouse would rather make all the decisions and deal with their problems alone. “Spouses of avoiders need to realize their mate is not deliberately excluding them. They’re simply acting out of their imprint… Avoiders have learned to make decisions on their own. As a result, it does not occur to them to include others in the decision-making process.” (63)
Avoiders have been taught to expect punishment or ridicule when they show their feelings. Their parents may have sent them to their room until they could stop crying, or may have even mocked them for crying. It’s only natural they would hide their vulnerability from their spouse.
But the avoider’s spouse isn’t the only one who often feels alone. Because they are so accustomed to doing things on their own, the avoider spouse often feels alone too. They have been taught they should isolate themselves until they can hide any unpleasant emotions. This sometimes makes them feel as if they are on the outside looking in at their family, as one woman told the authors. (65)
The authors point out that avoider personalities are usually men because society tells them showing their feelings isn’t “manly.” However, the greatest man whoever lived, Jesus Christ, often shared his emotions with those around him. He angrily flipped over tables and wept beside graves and showed affection to children.
In John 11, Jesus cries with Mary when she tells him her brother Lazarus is dead. As God incarnate, he knows he will raise Lazarus to life in a few minutes, but he is so upset by the death of his friend and Mary’s grief that he has to let out his feelings before working the miracle at the tomb. Jesus cried. The description is not detailed, but for all we know, Jesus broke down and sobbed– face in hands, tears squeezing through his fingers.
And no one criticized him for it.
Jesus’ behavior shows us God never meant for us to ignore our feelings or deal with our problems alone. We are social creatures for a reason. In all his letters, Paul advises his churches about how to improve their spread of the Gospel. He encourages them to work together, to figure out how best to use their individual talents, to avoid behaviors that detract from the work of other believers, etc. As with a church body, a marriage is a union with multiple members who need to figure out what they must and must not do to make it successful. This means avoiders have to face the feelings dragon they’ve keep locked in the pit of their stomach. You cannot hide things from your spouse and expect your marriage to succeed. But if your partner loves you, they are desperate for you to share your feelings with them. Telling your spouse about your pain and struggles is arduous initially, but inevitably strengthens your marriage.
How Christian Counseling Can Help Avoiders
If this article has read like looking in a mirror, and you would like some help fixing that, you have a couple options. There is a companion article to this detailing some exercises outlined by the authors for avoiders to practice connecting with others. Watch for this to be published in a few days. But you also might want to make an appointment with a professional Christian counselor. Changing core behaviors you have had a lifetime to entrench is a herculean task. Having a professional you can sit down with every week or so to talk to about your progress is more productive than struggling alone. Also, if you are married, a Christian marriage counselor can sit down with you both to discuss how your individual imprints affect your marriage and what you can do to improve how you relate to one another.
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.com – “Young Troubled Couple” by David Castillo Dominici
“Hugging Elder Couple” by Ambro
“Elderly Couple Standing” by Ambro