“Ah, he’s afraid of his own shadow.” Certainly, you’ve heard the expression, often used in a derogatory way to describe a fearful person, or by a bully to torment.
Actually, we all are afraid of our shadow, if by “shadow” we mean those aspects of ourselves that we keep out of sight, not only away from others, but often from our own awareness.
Naturally, there are individual differences in how much we hide away, or how fiercely we strive to know and show only what we deem acceptable.
Nevertheless, we all have aspects of the self, which we are afraid to embrace. One secret to sustaining a vital marriage is to do the work to identify, embrace and express your shadow.
Disclosing your shadows to your partner
Imagine the following interaction. On the way home from a party, Jane says, “I couldn’t believe how you were fawning over Sally. You couldn’t seem to keep away from her. What the hell gives?”
Joe begins to deny he did anything inappropriate; then pauses. After a moment of silence, takes a deep breath and says, “You’re right, I was. I’ve been pissed off at you since last evening when you fell asleep before I came out of the shower. You knew I was feeling amorous. It hurt me to have you close the door on sex like that.
I wanted to punish you, so I behaved the way I did with Sally. It’s not how I want to express myself to you and I’m sorry.
Next time, I’ll tell you how I feel without the drama.” Can you imagine this dialogue?
It takes a lot to speak the truth
It takes courage, self-awareness, and compassion to acknowledge that we can be vindictive, or vengeful, or greedy, or jealous. To reveal ourselves this nakedly is not something most of us can easily do.
Speaking the truth which doesn’t reflect well on you
Now let’s look at another example using the same scenario above. Imagine Jane responding to Joe, “You know, when I feel underneath my anger, I was scared. I felt really threatened seeing you with Sally. It’s so important to me to know I can count on you, that my feelings matter to you, and that you wouldn’t ever want to deliberately hurt me.”
Imagine these words said directly from the tender heart of Jane without an iota of resentment, sarcasm or criticism.
On either end, how would you respond?
Embracing our shadows
We don’t like to see ourselves in a less than wonderful light – it can be painful. But I have found, over many years of being in relationships, it is so well worth the time and energy to invest in exploring and getting acquainted with those shadow aspects that hide-out in crevices of shame and judgments.
In the above examples, Joe was willing to embrace his vindictiveness and both he and Jane embraced their vulnerability—usually shadow aspects of self.
Ability to engage keeps your relationship going
My wife and I have been together for 33 years, and it has been our growing ability to engage at this depth that makes our marriage grow and thrive. In our mid-seventies, we have not only a profound friendship but a satisfying sexual relationship.
Emotional and sexual intimacy, friendship, companionship and a growing sense of mutual discovery are more than just possible in a long-term marriage.
They are attainable. This is what is required.
- First, believe in our heart of hearts it is possible.
- Second, decide that we really want it, and are willing to do what it takes to get there.
Building intimacy with yourself
We need to become more intimate with ourselves. The more we can connect with ourselves, the more we can discover we have the capacity to be strong, vulnerable, sensual, intelligent, compassionate, erotic, spiritual and virtuous. These capacities can be grown through practices of various kinds.
Google “somatic practices” and you will view a plethora of possibilities to help you become closer to yourself, more intimate and connected.
Good depth psychotherapies that focus on healing attachment wounds and expanding consciousness rather than “fixing your so-called mental-health disorders” are another great source of self-knowledge. Meditation and other spiritual practices are yet another.
Get connected with your partner
In the second step, the essential practice is improving our ability to be with another human being while simultaneously staying connected to ourselves. This may sound like a “walk and chew gum” suggestion, and while it is conceptually quite simple, it is anything but easy.
It goes like this. You are having lunch with a friend who is now doing the talking. You are interested and listening attentively only now you are also paying close attention to your own bodily sensations, feeling tones, reactions and anything else you notice.
All the while continuing to pay close attention to your friend. In other words, you are practicing being aware of the “field” that includes self and other.
Try out different therapies
Good relationship therapies such as Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy is a great resource to help you be with yourself and your partner, as well as learn to communicate the deeper levels of feelings and needs as in the examples above.