- Hiding your faults in intimate relationships is natural, but can also limit the intimacy and vitality of the dyad.
- By sharing your flaws with your partner, you are essentially creating a space where you can feel more comfortable and loved.
- You will have to confront several core beliefs in order to dare bring your shadow into the light.
“We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” —Ernest Hemingway
We are used to hiding our defects. It is a natural tendency to hide our shadow (which refers to all the traits, behaviors, and beliefs we think are wrong or faulty). We do this because we believe that if others see our faults, they will reject, ridicule, or leave us. So we create relational environments where we hide our shortcomings (read: shadow) and emphasize our best selves (also called self-presentation). Yet, such long-term intimate relationships that are only self-presentational can, over time, become stagnant, shallow, and superficial.
There are many prices for continuously hiding your defects:
1. You are constantly reactive and fearful.
You relentlessly monitor your partner as a way to assess your value (also called reflected sense of self). Some may begin to develop an imposter syndrome in their own relationships, afraid that if their partners found out, they would leave. After all, secrets are the quicksand that keeps relationships stuck.
2. You "walk on eggshells" and censor yourself in your most intimate relationship.
Since you don’t want your partner to find out about your shadow, you are careful not to ask them about anything too sensitive.
3. You experience less passion, zest, and depth in your relationship.
Since there are more and more taboo topics, the dyad is left with fewer topics open for discussion. This also hurts your ability to be playful, spontaneous, and vital.
For some, this dynamic might seem unavoidable. But there is another option.
A relationship where your faults are welcome
Imagine a relationship in which whenever you confess (or get called out on) a “bad” behavior, belief, or attitude, your partner laughs and gives you a hug. How would that impact your confidence? Your sense of agency? Your self-love?
This is indeed possible. I’ve witnessed dozens of couples in the clinic move from enemies or strangers to allies and accountability partners. It requires a belief that you can bring your whole self to your relationship. This sort of paradigm shift demands that both partners confront themselves and challenge some deep core beliefs and behaviors. Going against your natural tendency to hide your faults is hard at first, but eventually will become a positive, liberating experience.
How do you create a fault-friendly relational space?
This process takes time and energy. Here are a few steps that can help you move toward that goal.
1. Share this article with your partner.
This change necessitates a common language because it is counterintuitive to our natural defense mechanism.
2. Reflect on your own core beliefs regarding your shadow and flaws.
Do you believe that if you show your faults, people will leave you? Try to soften that core belief by choosing to believe that if you really want to feel loved, you must show your shadow. Remind yourself that shadows and faults are part of being human, and expressing them enables you to bring your full self to your relationship. Remember that your partner implicitly, semi-consciously, is already aware of your shadow, so you aren't really revealing something they have no idea about.
3. Make a shadow list.
Write a list of small behaviors or traits you usually deny or hide from your partner. Start small, like not putting your clothes in their place or “forgetting” to wash the dishes.
4. Begin with small confessions.
Prepare your partner and playfully share some small shadows from your list.
5. Let it land.
The next time you get called out by your partner, let it land. Give yourself a couple of moments for that comment to enter your body and see if there is any truth to it.
6. Love the “sinner.”
When your partner confesses a fault, give them a big hug and thank them for owning up.
If you follow these steps, then over time, you will be part of an intimate relationship where there are no mistakes, and personal and relational growth is more valued than ego. You will start to discover the superpowers that are hidden in your shadow and grow. Eventually, you will feel more free to bring all the different parts of yourself because, after all, love is the liberty to be yourself. So create spaces where faults are not only welcome but celebrated.
Schnarsh, D. (1997). Passionate marriage: Keeping love and intimacy alive in committed relationship. New York, NY: Owl books.