In the book, “How We Love,” Milan and Kay Yerkovich describe various personality imprints. The Yerkovichs use the term “imprinting” to refer to the lessons we’re taught during childhood regarding comfort, listening, and resolving problems with other people. The examples our parents set for us determine how we will approach these social skills throughout our life. One of these imprints is called the “avoider” imprint. Here I will discuss its impact on marriage.Have you ever noticed that some people just need to be hugged! Think of Batman. Perhaps if he had more than his rigid British butler available to process his parent’s dreadful death, he wouldn’t be brooding in a hole under his house most of the time. According to the Yerkovichs, Bruce Wayne would be classified an “avoider.” Avoiders are cautioned in childhood to suppress emotions and rather find practical, tangible solutions to the problems they face. (In Bruce Wayne’s case, saving Gotham!) Unfortunately, this approach can often leave a spouse feeling alone in their marriage. Avoiders habitually do not consult others or seek advice as they make decisions. Furthermore, they can also struggle with anger.
Because of their upbringing, avoiders typically block out their emotions, and often other people, as well. The Yerkovichs call this an “imprint.” Throughout childhood, they are molded a certain way, and behaviors are shaped accordingly. Often the parents of avoiders would prefer to give praise for accomplishments in lieu of affection. Avoiders were also frequently left to themselves and thus learned to independently solve their problems. However, as they grew into adolescence and more challenging, perplexing issues presented themselves (i.e. stress, sexuality, the onset of adulthood), these avoiders distracted themselves to rebuff any emotions or feelings. Sex, drugs, and other risky or reckless behaviors may have been used to cope or drown out feelings. Since the home environment discouraged seeking advice or help for problem solving, avoiders attempted to deal with the challenges of growing up in the best way they could. For the avoider, “emotions become annoyances to get rid of rather than opportunities to develop closeness and experience comfort.”
This isn’t the case for all avoiders. Even our example of Batman (Bruce Wayne) shows that. He was born to devoted, loving parents, and would most likely have grown up emotionally healthy if not for the tragedy of his parents being shot and killed before his young eyes. Unfortunately, it was those surrounding him in the aftermath that were unable to provide the necessary comfort and processing he needed in a crucial, painful moment in his life. Thus, he turned inward and bundled his pain with anger.
Feeling Alone in Marriage
As a side effect of solving problems on their own, avoiders may alienate their spouses, leaving the spouse to feel alone in the marriage. It seems the avoider spouse prefers to deal with problems in isolation and make all decisions by themselves. However, “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.”
Many times in their history, avoiders received ridicule or punishment for showing emotions. They may have been mocked for crying or were banished from the room until they finished crying. Thus, their patterned behavior is to shield their vulnerability from their spouse. However, it is easy to miss that the avoider spouse may also feel alone. Having been taught to hide unpleasant emotions and to isolate themselves until gaining composure can leave the avoider spouse feeling as if they are on the outside looking in at their family.
Even Jesus Wept
The Yerkovichs highlight that men are more often the victim of avoider personalities because cultural norms depict emotional expressions as “unmanly.” Yet, they are quick to point to the example of the greatest man, Jesus Christ, who was unafraid of showing His emotions to others. He flipped over tables in anger, wept in grief, and showed children affection.
Jesus weeps in John 11, as he informs Mary that Lazarus, her brother, is dead. Though He knows, as God incarnate, that by His very hand Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead is imminent, He weeps before performing the miracle. He cries for the death of His friend and the grief of his sister, openly and unabashed. Though the passage lacks this detail, we can imagine Jesus sobbing, face in hands, tears pushing past His fingers.
The Bible mentions no one that criticized Him for this “emotional outburst.”
From Jesus’ example, we can conclude that God did not intend for us to ignore, abandon, or suppress feelings. And, certainly, God did not mean for us to solve problems alone. He created us for community. We can see in Paul’s letters to the church a constant admonition that working together as the body of Christ elicits the spread of the gospel. Paul encourages each to use their individual gifts, to avoid behaviors that weaken the witness of other believers, etc. Similarly, the marriage union is like the body of Christ. Each member must play their part in flourishing the marriage, figuring out what works and doesn’t work. This includes the challenge to avoider spouses to grow in sharing their feelings, and to face the emotions they have long kept locked inside. This is necessary for the marriage to succeed. All loving spouses are desperate to hear the feelings of their beloved. Sharing your struggles and pain is initially awkward and may require significant effort, but it will ultimately strengthen your marriage.
There is Hope for Avoiders Through Christian Anger Management Counseling
Did this article resonate with you? Would you like help undoing the “imprint” of an avoider personality? Professional Christian counseling in Spokane can offer hope. It is a huge task to change behaviors that have been entrenched over a lifetime. Having regular meetings with a Christian counselor who listens to your progress is more valuable than struggling by yourself. Also, if you are married, the Christian counselor can guide you and your spouse as you discover how this imprint impacts your marriage. Take the first step today to improve your relationship with one another.
“How We Love,” by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
“Keep the Blinds Closed,” courtesy of Iz zy, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Lost in the Wilderness,” courtesy of Toa Heftiba, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Enough,” courtesy of Darius Anton, unsplash.com, Public Domain License