There's a psychic in my bed

Personality types have always fascinated me. Mostly, of course, my own personality. How do I relate to people? How do I respond in conflict? How do I show love? To what extent do I include others in my life? In short, who am I, really?

I can tell you all about the MBTI, the Big Five, Jung, 16PF, and many other well-researched personality assessments. Nothing much wrong with them. But I have discovered the best one of them all. It is spot on. Brutally honest. As balanced or unbalanced as you are. It accurately describes your light and your shadow sides – a spectacular display of your very best and very worst characteristics.

It is this:

I AM WHO I AM WITH MY HUSBAND

At the deepest level, the way I act, talk and t08 Maskhink around my spouse, is who I really am. The rest is either an outflow of this, or an attempt to hide this. Yes, I know you cringe. You want to argue with me. I’ve been cringing and arguing with myself for days now. Because what happens at home is often not a pretty picture. My anger, irritation, tiredness, despair all have a sharper edge at home, towards my spouse, than when I leave the front door – or even when my children walk into the room. In my engagement with my husband, I can see my naked self, with all its beauty and brokenness. And oh boy, how the brokenness shows up when the guard is down.

This realisation dawned on me when I tried figuring out my distrust towards someone close to me. Why, when she is always friendly, kind and helpful to me, do I not allow her into my heart? Why, despite her proclaimed fondness of me, am I so sure that what she thinks of me differs from how she acts towards me? 

It is because I’ve seen her in action towards her spouse. The discrepancies in character are hard to miss. I’ve heard her resentful, bitter and demanding self ooze out in private moments, under her breath. She can turn around and be just delightful, hardly aware of how she habitually cuts down the person who lives with her. And that’s when I realised that, if we differ so much between our behaviour towards our spouses and others, it is the private behaviour that most closely reflects our hearts. 

THE SPOUSE IS ALWAYS WATCHING

The relationship with a life partner – whether it’s a happy relationship or not - inevitably brings out one’s deepest wounds, unresolved issues, irrational needs, and most hurtful habits. Whether my husband realises this or not, he is the one who experiences first-hand my views on life and my perceptions of other people. He is the one who sees my anger and hears my justifications; he experiences my hurt and sees what expectations they stem from; he’s the one who bears the sharp-tongued commentary after exchanges that left me feeling unworthy. He’s also the one on the receiving end of criticism, selfishness, appreciation, blame, kindness, irritation, coldness, humour. Can there be a more accurate display of all my facets in action?

I’M A BITCH, I’M A LOVER

It is hard work to keep up two sides of oneself.  Over the long term, integrity – when all your different parts and roles work together – is08 different facets the way to go. But it takes awareness and conviction to let your discrepancies soften. I’m reminded of Meredith Brooks singing I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint... It’s true; most of us have a little bit of everything in our make-up. Only human after all. Over the course of a relationship, we’ll be open, pathetic, selfish, kind, abusive, full of gratitude, critical, happy, judgmental, manipulative, loving, unapproachable, furious, and all the rest. It is no honeymoon to be in a long-term relationship, and it does sometimes bring out the very worst in us. The problem is when all the bitchiness comes out in one setting towards one person, and all the saint-ness is saved for the rest of the world. 

If there is openness in a relationship, the clash in personalities can be called. “You seem so happy when others are around,” my husband told me once, “but with me, at home, you’re sad and quiet.” At that stage, I surely had some excuse or justification for the different personalities; now I know that when one is lucky enough to get feedback like that, you have the opportunity to decide which one is closer to who you really are. And if there is a pattern that you feel betray your true self, then it’s up to you to change it. People are not entirely different in essence from one context to another. They just don different masks. So we get to figure out and decide: which behaviour is truly me, and which is the mask? 

BEHAVIOURAL PATTERNS ARE NOT SET IN STONE

The juicy part of the spouse-personality-test, is to discover what I usually do when I run into relationship difficulties. It's fascinating to see what patterns we have developed over the years - which inevitably points to my view of life and of myself. Do I tend to pretend and avoid what's clearly not working for me? Do I habitually blame the other one for not meeting my needs? Do I dump all my anger on the one closest to me? Do I expect more than I'm willing to give?  Or am I a resentful floormat? Do I purse my lips and act aloof in the hope that someone will come and fetch me out of my misery? Do I scream and shout and intimidate? Can I truly listen and try to understand a perspective that differs from own? Will I allow myself to be exploited, year in and year out...and if so, why? What does that say about my life assumptions? All these patterns are likely to be my default responses - which I'll eventually fall back on in all my relationships, given enough time and intensity. What an eye-opener. 

Patterns between long term partners are notoriously difficult to change. It’s not like getting new trainers; more like trying to get rid of a fungus under your big toe nail. You’ll have to be at it, consciously, over and over, for a long long time. And even then it’ll pop up again just when you thought you won the battle. But it is possible – as long as you can figure out exactly what it is that you’d like to change. We cannot change the relationship entirely, not in one go anyway, and we cannot change the other person. We can only make small changes in our own behaviour. For me, I started with a cheerful greeting when I see my husband after work. Easy enough, right? (Of course not. Don’t judge.) That one little change at a time is enough to bring about changes in the entire system - the relationship, the display of your personality. Maya Angelou said, Do what you think is best, until you know better. When you know better, do better. 

08 stone carvingOf course, if I feel deeply unhappy in my relationship, I cannot change a thing if I don’t acknowledge it. Explore it. Understand it. Only then can I do something about it. I want to bring about change where it matters: deep down, in my core relationship. I know it will ooze when I fix things on that basic level.

COMPASSION, NOT SELF-JUDGEMENT

If you're anything like me, you'll tend to get stuck on the icky edge of this personality test. No self-discovery is worth it if you just use it to judge yourself with. Fact is, there are beautiful things that play out in a long-term relationship, too. I know that I've worked hard at staying honest, even when it made me vulnerable. I've stayed loyal, also in times when running away seemed considerably more appealing; I've consistently tended to my own wounds in order to relieve my husband from the responsibility to be my centre; I've tackled the same old issues between us, again and again, to try and make things better. I haven't (yet) covered my ears during a monologue about share price fluctuations. 

We must remember to be kind to ourselves. We all try our best. We’ve fallen into bad behavioural patterns because of our need to protect ourselves. It’s often been necessary. But those patterns aren’t necessarily who we really are. They have been learned and can be unlearned. The point is to recognise when those patterns aren’t useful anymore, and when they contradict who you really are. You get to decide.

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