The Shadow of Our Strengths -by Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC

While engaged, my soon­-to­-be husband and I took a premarital class. Many years later, one comment made about marriage has continued to stick with me. This statement was so simple yet profound, and I like to share this bit of wisdom with other couples when I get the chance.

The things that you love about your partner will be the same things that drive you crazy. Every strength has it’s shadow side.

Do you love that your partner is sensitive? Expect that at times they may be emotionally reactive to criticism. Do you love your left­ brained partner’s ability to make logical decisions? Expect a tendency to occasionally intellectualize or to have a hard time being in touch with their feelings. Do you love his outgoing, fun-­loving, nature? Expect that he might need more nights out with friends than you. Love her ambition? There may be times when she gets hyper­focused on work.

The point is to be able to view both ourselves and our partners in a balanced way. We also want to be able to encourage our partners to grow in their own self-­understanding.

Expecting that your partner’s strength may have it’s shadow, you can view them with more compassion. You can also see them more realistically. This contributes to a more aware, conscious marriage. Does this give your partner an excuse for behavior that is inconsiderate or mean? Absolutely not. Having a more conscious marriage, and knowing each other beyond the surface level will lead to more meaningful conversations and more chances to compromise.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when considering the shadow self:

1. Know yourself deeply. You will not see the world the same way they do. You owe it to yourself, as well as your partner, to recognize your strengths AND the shadow side when it appears.

2. Consider the importance of humility. You are not perfect; neither is your spouse. We all get defensive at times and it can be hard to be called out on something. So take a deep breath, and consider what someone is saying before you react defensively. A good rule of thumb is if you feel defensive, part of you believes or worries what they’ve said is true. If you mess up, apologize!

3. Focus on, Remember, and Remind yourself and your partner of their strengths on a continual basis. Share your appreciation for their contribution to your marriage, and their unique way of seeing the world.

4. When frustrated with a perceived flaw of your partner, you are looking at the shadow of their strength. Try seeing the strength associated with it. This doesn’t mean being in denial of their weaker areas. It means seeing the positive and reframing the negative on occasion.

Keep these factors in mind and you and your partner can be a great source of strength and support for one another.

If you have questions or would like to set up an appointment, contact Laura Novak, LCSW, CADC @ x151.