I can think of several common ways this occurs:
- You're angry at your spouse, but you paste on a neutral expression and pretend everything is "Fine. Just fine." (I suspect most married folks learn to recognize "fine" as code for "I'm seriously ticked.")
- You come home from work all stressed out, but you paste on a happy face so as not to ruin the evening for your family.
- You wear your mask of civility when you're at the office, but come home and unload your true feelings on your spouse and kids. (I posted on this topic in Dismaying Story #36: Hurting the Ones We Love.)
Keeping our emotions inside can also be a mature, giving thing to do in some circumstances. The second item in the list above might be one example. Also, we've all likely had the experience where we're annoyed about something, but we realize it is unimportant or is only because we are feeling bad physically at that moment (tired, hungry, whatever) so we let it go without saying anything. I'd rate that as a good mask.
This is a skill everyone should develop, learning to recognize when it helps to open up and share with your partner what's going on inside you, and when it would be hurtful and counter-productive to do so. I'm not aware of any magic formula you can use to decide which is which. In my experience, though, people in long-term relationships tend to become quite skilled at making this sort of decision, usually without even having to think about it.
Happily, today we can put on real masks for no other reason except to have some fun. I hope you have a Happy Halloween!
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