Shame in Marriage

The Power of Shame

Shame is one of the most powerful and harmful feelings we all have as humans. Shame silently and secretly undermines many relationships. Marriage may be the relationship where shame does its most significant damage. It can work in secret when we don’t know what it is or where it comes from. We call shame by other names like self worth, identity, sadness, isolation, loneliness, even feeling self conscious or shy, or they don’t love me are feelings of shame.


Experiencing Shame

One of the most common ways we experience shame is when we feel unappreciated by our spouse. When he said, “you don’t understand how hard I work for this family,” shame is speaking. When she says, “he doesn’t help at home. I am busy all day and when he comes home he says, ‘what have you been doing all day,’” shame is speaking. Many marriage disagreements are caused by shame.

Shame is a “value” word. Shame results from making a value judgment about yourself or another person. When we feel shame, we feel devalued. Shame is the opposite of honor, respect, and appreciation. It is the opposite of love. To feel unloved, lonely, or empty is to feel shame. It pretends it is the truth. In my years of working with couples, I have found that shame speaks up quite often in counseling sessions. Unless we unmask this tricky emotion it is never exposed for what is and it can haunt us all our lives.


Understanding Shame

Many couples don’t understand what I mean when I talk about shame. Shame is not something people are aware of or talk about. My hope is that may be starting to change. We need to be more aware because shame can derail self-care and cause us to want to run and hide. Shame is a very self-fulfilling emotion. The ancients described shame as the feeling of ugliness, which was often connected to how a person feels when naked. It portrayed exposure to others’ low opinion of you as a person. It was a community word based on what the significant people in your life thought of you. This description is very close to what researchers say about shame today.


Identifying Shame

In today’s world, I often see shame’s harmful impact on marriages. It is almost always called something else because it rears its ugly head in many ways and has many manifestations. What can we do to identify this ugly monster and chase it away? Below are 5 ways to find where shame is hiding in your life.

5 ways to find where shame is hiding in your life:

1. Get help.

Shame is hard to identify in your own heart. Speaking with a trained counselor can help you find where shame hides.

2.  Grow in personal awareness.

Pay attention to feelings of ugliness, and exposure, when you feel unsafe or vulnerable. Notice when you think you have low value, aren’t worth much, or are unappreciated or demeaned. Notice when you are not comfortable in your “own skin.”

3.  Practice learning to “trace and replace”

Trace and replace the underlying thoughts that cause you to feel shame.

4. End shaming self-talk

Watch out for, stop, challenge, and choose to end all shaming self-talk.

5.  Check out these helpful resources.

Shame can be identified and replaced. As we discover and expose our feelings of shame we can remove and replace them. There is hope and we can get help. Don’t let shame cause you to think less of yourself, your spouse or your marriage. At Married Life, we counsel and coach couples because we know your marriage has tremendous value. Reach out, we are here to help.

Dr. Jeffrey Brown

Dr. Jeffrey Brown

Jeff is a guest blog writer for Married Life Counseling. Through his own experience as a husband, and many years of counseling couples as a pastor, Jeff has developed a passion for marriage and helping to restore relationships. Jeff has been married to his wife, Joyce, for 39 years. Together they have continued to grow a healthy and flourishing marriage.


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