Reading my Shadow Vows to my wife on our wedding day was one of the most potent experiences of my life. It was powerful, enlightening, and liberating. The idea of creating Shadow Vows came to Sheleana and I as we were preparing for our wedding and brainstorming about how to best honour our relationship, the people who support it, and the conscious relationship work we’ve done as a couple.
Over the past decade, I’ve learned the value of exposing some of the more unappealing parts of my mind to my partner and to the community that supports us. In this article I’ll explain the principles that underpin Shadow Vows, and why I think we could all benefit from a little more “shadow work”.
All of my previous relationships had elements that I would relegate to the shadows. We would fight, bicker and our egos would flare as each of us tried to get our way. Occasionally, things would get ugly, and we would hide that ugliness and sweep it out of view.
The world knows you’re not perfect, but you try to make it look that way anyhow
No relationship is perfect, yet we have a tendency to project an outward image that everything is fine. It’s a symptom of how we do things in this society. Certain realities are ‘inappropriate’. As a result, our egos become more covert and the dark parts of our relationships don’t go away – they just get hidden from view.
“What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size”
– Carl Jung
The principles of shadow work involve bringing awareness and expression to aspects of the self that have been rejected, hidden, and repressed. If you’ve rejected your own anger (a very necessary and useful emotion at times), shadow work principles state that your anger will change shape, fester, and find a way to express through you in another way. In this case, your anger will manifest through judgment of self and others, control, depression, or even a constant state of boredom.
The point is that when we reject some unsavoury part of ourselves, we often do more harm than good. Shadow work is the process of reclaiming those missing parts, and the results are often surprising. Reclaim and integrate a part of yourself that you’ve been rejecting, and you feel more whole. There’s a sense of relief in breaking through to some part of your nature that you’ve denied for so long.
Shine light on the shadows, and the darkness loses its grip
Shadow work principles apply to relationships too. The more a couple can acknowledge and own the darker parts of their relationship, the more they can feel at home in it. This doesn’t mean sitting back and basking in our anger, conflict, or power games; it means going deeper than naming the issue.
Shadow work is about taking responsibility for your ego, owning your anger, owning that you play power games, owning that you have a little jealous monster inside you who wants to have everything for himself. Taking the risk to illuminate this stuff in the right forum actually makes you more human, more approachable. When done right, shadow work allows people to see beyond your mask, and that actually makes them feel closer to you.
“The shadow is made up of all of the parts of ourselves that we have to deny hard in order to fit into our culture”
– Robert a Johnson
Our culture (and arguably every culture) has norms that govern behaviour. Inevitably, our objectionable traits must be denied and rejected in order for us to ‘appear normal’. Deviating from the norm is an act of heresy, yet it is refreshing and we tend to be attracted to the heretics of our society. So here’s to becoming a heretic, and owning all parts of our humanity.
“No man can get to God until he becomes a heretic.” – Rumi
In the interest of owning our messiness and allowing our community to see our shadows, Sheleana and I wrote Shadow Vows to be read in the ceremony before our Wedding Vows.
My ‘Shadow Vows’ to Sheleana
I own that I’m going to expect you to be more like me, instead of embracing our differences.
I own that I’m going to be stubborn and want to hold on to “my truth” and my perspective instead of letting go.
I own that I’m going to dominate the space and not leave room for you
I own that I’m going to seek to be right, because I believe that’s what will make me happy.
I own that I won’t want to hold space, but will pretend I want to, and then psychoanalyze you and attempt to “solve” your emotions instead of holding actual space.
I own that I will project my wounds with my brother on to you, and seek to win the battle even though there’s no battle to begin with.
I own that I’m going to be overly protective of my things because my things weren’t protected when I was growing up, so I will growl at you when you drink my water.
I own that I’m going to interpret everything you say literally, and leave no room for your feminine energy to flow and change.
I own that I’m going to make myself better than you in my mind, putting myself on a pedestal.
Other days, I will put you on the pedestal and make you better than me. This will all be very confusing.
These are my Shadow Vows, exposing the darker parts of my mind to my wife so we can both see them in full view. My wife wrote her own Shadow Vows and they are arguably better than mine (see what I did there? Pedestalizing her). She has shares her vows and the story surrounding them in a written article on RisingWoman.com. She called it: Why I Vowed to Demonize My Husband on Our Wedding Day.
Shadow ‘Vows’ isn’t totally accurate, but it’s simple
I will mention that by calling these Shadow Vows, I am not vowing to do the above things to my wife on a regular basis. I wouldn’t want to promise or make a pact with my shadow. After all, we are aiming to be more loving, more generous, and more accepting of one another every day. A better title would probably be “A list of unconscious and divisive behaviours that I will exhibit from time to time in our marriage”, or “This is how I’m going to be a jerk in our marriage”. But for simplicity sakes, we called them Shadow Vows.
I hope that by sharing this vulnerable list, I can help others feel closer to me, and to the ideals I want to share in the world. I hope to inspire, uplift, and help people integrate all parts of themselves.
In the end this work is all about self-acceptance, and the more we accept ourselves, the less we act out unconsciously, and the closer we will be to our partners. If you want true, real closeness, you must expose yourself and be vulnerable. Shine a light on the dark and you’ll find you’ve got more room to breathe, and more room to love.
If you liked this article, check out my podcast episode on the subject with my wife Sheleana here.
PS. I put my wedding vows in an Instagram post here.