Saturday, March 12, 2022

Romancing the Shadow

With former clients I often paired coaching with Jungian shadow work to explore their relationships in work, in friendships, and in romantic pairings  Here, I offer insight from my own first marriage at age 22-- before I had any in-depth self-knowledge--illuminated by what I've learned since.

Now I can see I'd married my father, but I thought I'd found his opposite in my husband, Dave. My father was a military officer and stern disciplinarian. I always felt an emotional distance from him, though he and my mother were responsible parents and he drove me wherever I needed to go as a teenager. Those rides were agonizing for me, because neither of us could think of a word to say to the other.

Dad wore his toughness on the outside, however, so when I met Dave (deceased long ago), I fell immediately in love with his sweet, quiet demeanor and our in-depth conversations. Soon into our marriage, however, his unwillingness to explore emotional depths was a huge disappointment to me, and before very long our relationship felt very much like interacting with my father

Unfortunately, I was young and naive, hadn't yet studied Jungian psychology, and was years away from learning the Enneagram, so I saw Dave as "the problem," having no notion that projections of my own shadow were keeping me from seeing our relationship as an opportunity for consciousness.

In their analysis of one couple cited in their book, Romancing the Shadow, Connie Zweig and Steven Wolf suggest "The couple's parental complexes are shadow-boxing with each other . . . they can put on the brakes only by taking responsibility for their own feelings, romancing their projections, and moving out of the past into present time."

As we do our shadow work, waking up to unconscious drives, we can acknowledge that no one person is "the problem;" both contribute to the interaction dynamics that feed a self-fulfilling downward spiral. We learn to look differently at feeling hooked and--instead of reacting as usual--we romance the shadow, describing to ourselves, our mate, partner, or friend what's happening inside, and asking for space or support or conversation to help us move through it in a way that doesn't perpetuate the cycle.

I don't take these suggestions lightly, nor do I expect anyone else to do so. But what relationship have you ever had that was easy, day after day, year after year? You know the pain of compromise; you know the depression of defeat. Romancing your own shadow will help you engage in the disquieting and lifelong task of being truly open and authentic in relationships:

No more blaming, manipulation, false diplomacy, retreating into melancholy, withholding emotions, casting worst-case scenarios, skating away from personal responsibility, shutting people down, or passive-aggressiveness.
"Oh, is that all?" you must be thinking.