Are You Wearing a Mask in Your Relationship?

Posted by: Shel Harrington 13 Comments

Are You Wearing a Mask in Your Relationship?Fat Tuesday. Some are putting on masks and wrapping themselves in beads to appear happy or mysterious. Some of the masks are beautiful. But they’re temporary. They’re decoration. They’re an illusion. Somebody presenting themself differently than who they are.

Masks can be fun for a short time. We look different. Which sometimes makes us momentarily feel different. But behind the mask, we still are who we are. And the feelings remain, even though the pretend expression has changed.

Have you put on a happy face in your relationship? Or a bejeweled shiny face in spite of what you are actually feeling? Have you plastered on a ‘good wife’ face while feeling wholly inadequate to get everything done a ‘good wife’ should do? Are you the ‘happy jokester’ while inside you are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of how you perceive a ‘real man’ would provide for his family? Have you created a label for yourself – efficient, in control, peacemaker, the strong one, the helpful one, the go-to guy, the fixer – that you need to wear a mask for so that others won’t see that is not who you (always) are?

Temporary masks can sometimes be a good thing. “We put them on as coping skills, and they serve a purpose,” says Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Charlotte Lankard. ” The problem with labels is from the time we attach a label, we are in a relationship with our expectations and not with ourselves.”

Real masks may look attractive for a while, but the longer they are worn, the more uncomfortable they are. They make the face hot, the elastic holding them in place creates pressure, and the material becomes abrasive to the skin. But if you ignore the discomfort and wear them long enough, you can forget you have them on. Our emotional masks are the same. They make us feel uncomfortable after a while, like frauds. They create headache-inducing pressure and resentment as we begin to feel like we have to keep them on to be who we ‘should’ be. And if we pretend long enough, we can forget we are pretending and the expectation and striving for who we ‘should’ be becomes more real than who we are.

The longer you wear your mask, the harder it is to be vulnerable and appear in public without it. But you’ll never feel the cooling breeze or the warmth of sunshine on your face until you do.


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  • I agree with Kim H: excellent analogy. I tend to wear my masks more often in the professional realm. In personal relationships, I’m more transparent – despite efforts to be less so. 🙂

    • Shel Harrington

      I can relate – it’s actually an asset in my job to be able to keep a poker face no matter how I feel about what’s being said or done!

  • food for thought…thanks!

    • Shel Harrington

      If we were really doing masks the way they do on Fat Tuesday, we’d have to take them off at midnight – no such rules in our personal lives! Have a great weekend, Lin!

  • Excellent analogy! My masks are only temporary. If I’m not in the greatest of mood, no point in letting the world know.

    • Shel Harrington

      I know what you mean – bad moods seem even more contagious than smiles at times

  • What a great analogy, Shel.

    Sometimes I wish I could mask my feelings. Family and friends say I don’t hide much … it’s all over my face. And what doesn’t show up on my face comes out my mouth. My honesty is sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse, but your post makes me think I’m happier with this than the alternative.

    • Shel Harrington

      As well you should be, Kim! In my job, I so often have to be careful about letting what I am thinking reflect on my face – which is not nearly as difficult for me as monitoring what comes out of my mouth!!

  • I’m so tired and cranky right now that I’m guessing Garrett would love for me to put on a mask…if only for a little while.

  • Gina

    I never thought about it in terms of masks. I see this often in my work, failed marriages, with each party claiming the other “changed.” I think they just got tired of wearing the mask.

    • Shel Harrington

      I agree, Gina – one can only ‘put on a face’ for so long, and then it’s just too much effort. So I guess that does equal change, aye?

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