photo: Sara Rogers Photography
When my husband Ben and I met, we had been respectively doing our own inner-work for many years. I was on the tail end of a tumultuous yet profoundly awakening divorce, and he had been testing the waters without ever getting very far in short term relationships. We both had our own plans to be single for a few more years, but one fateful day at our mutually favorite coffee shop, that plan was intercepted.
Almost instantaneously, our connection felt unique. There was an instant feeling of safety and friendship between us, but neither of us was falling head over heels. At first, I even swore to my girlfriends that I wouldn’t sleep with him. Our first date consisted of the two of us sitting around a table at a Sushi restaurant while I declared how miserable I felt that day, and him responding with “that’s ok, we’re just using each other to feel good”. We chuckled, and I invited him to my place so I could make him ice-cream in my fancy-schmancy ice-cream maker.
After scrolling Netflix for about the same time it would have taken us to watch a whole movie (you know how it is), we finally gave up and put on a Tiny House Documentary. I watched the whole thing, he fell asleep in my bed 15 minutes in. And so, our first date was a sleep-over. I awoke in the morning to him brushing the hair past my face, and something about his touch felt so familiar.
We dated for a month before becoming intimate, as we took time to get to know each other slowly, going on walks, having tea-dates, and laughing a lot. I spit out my drink about 3 times in that first month, and for me, that was very good thing. One of my core values is PLAY, and this man was a true embodiment of playfulness in ways that complimented my own childlike nature so well.
Early on in our relationship (around that 1-month mark), I wrote him a letter. I shared all of my wounds and the Work I had left to do on myself, what I wanted in a relationship, what I needed to hear to feel safe, and what I wanted to give in our partnership.
I asked him point-blank if he wanted to build a Conscious Relationship with me, and he said yes. If he had said no, that would have been ok because I knew what I wanted, and what I was ready for. He responded to my letter with his own desires, needs, and dreams for our relationship.
After two months with warranted hesitation, Ben agreed to join me for a 3-month Conscious Relationship workshop with my teacher and therapist. Here we found ourselves neck-deep in shadow-work and tantra while marinating in the delectable honeymoon phase.
Our practices involved eye-gazing, breathwork, revealing our darkest secrets to one another, expressing our anger, and talking about our childhood wounding. In a way, we expedited the process of getting to know each other on a soul-level. So even though we took our time with things like moving in together, or getting married, we held nothing back when it came to doing our inner-work as a team.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a story about a perfect couple that drove off into the sunset. We eventually hit the power struggle phase and as it turns out, Ben and I are carbon copies of each other in some of the best and also, the most annoying ways.
For example, we’re both extremely driven, ambitious leaders. We are self-directed and always have our own agenda. Which might sound like a really good thing and often, it is. But the shadow-side of two strong leaders with their own plan in a relationship together, is they butt heads a lot and are unconsciously trying to control everything.
Given that our relationship had been dedicated to awakening, we expected the lessons to come. Thankfully, Ben’s background as a counselor of 15+ years, and our combined dedication to our Conscious Relationship training, shadow-work and tantra practice gave us the capacity to stay in the game when the seas got stormy. And did they ever get stormy!
Once on a 10 week South East Asia Trip, we had a big fight and I ditched him in our ritzy hotel room for the night and slept in a $20 junker. I barely slept because I was so creeped out by the hotel I was in, but my desire to show him how independent I was and hold onto my anger trumped my need to feel safe or get a good night’s sleep. These days, we’re a little better at letting our hearts run the show. But now we have some funny stories to tell.
We are two incredibly stubborn people with different conflict styles. My style was more anxious, and his avoidant.
Over a period of 3 years, we slowly detangled this pattern and now at 4 years and newly married, it’s safe to say we both feel a lot more “secure” in how we fight. Our work is neverending, but if you want to read about how we navigated the anxious-avoidant cycle, click here.
Owning our shadows in the relationship has been incredibly liberating for both of us. Not only does it invite deeper self-awareness, but it’s freed us both from holding onto a victim stance when we’re in conflict with each other. Another side effect of bringing this level of honesty into your marriage is the comedy of it all. It’s so much easier to laugh at yourself when the cat is out of the bag, and laughing is always more fun than fighting!
When Ben and I got engaged, our conversations about the wedding were centered around ceremony and the power of ritual, rather than flowers, and color palettes.
Though, I personally obsessed over things like flowers and color palettes on my own for way too long. We have sat in dozens of plant-medicine ceremonies and performed rituals together surrounding moments of grief, loss or healing – so to us, getting married was not just about declaring our undying love for one another, but in welcoming the full spectrum of our relationship to be seen, held and witnessed by our community.
We both agreed that we would feel a sense of incompleteness if we didn’t honor and claim our shadows in such a vital and sacred moment. This is when came up with the concept of writing “Shadow Vows”.
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. – Ben @EvolvingMan
Ben wrote a really explanatory article on Shadow Work and inviting this type of honesty into our relationships. Rather than repeating what’s already been said, I’m going to share my Shadow Vows and Sacred Vows with you below, and you can read his article Shadow Vows – Honouring the Messy Parts of Relationship on Your Wedding Day here.
My Shadow Vows:
- I own that I am going to project my anger at you instead of sharing my feelings or asking for what I need.
- I own that some days I’m going to be hard to be around.
- I own that I’m going to project people who hurt me in the past onto you and demonize you in my mind.
- I’m going to criticize and blame you and then get mad at you for not holding space for me and tell you that you’re bad at it.
- I am going to be defensive and guarded instead of letting you see my vulnerability.
- I own that I am going to judge you for being different than me.
- I own that I am going to hurt your feelings and let you down.
- I own that some days I’m going to want to run-away.
- I own that I am going to be stubborn and hold my position instead of letting go.
- I vow to see you as a whole person with your own path, to encourage you to follow your heart and honor yourself even if it means I don’t get my way.
- I vow to prioritize my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being in our partnership.
- I vow to take responsibility for my mind, my emotions, projections, and experiences so you are free to be exactly who you are in our partnership.
- I vow to commit to you even when the skies are stormy and my walls are up, I vow to come back to love and see your innocence.
- I vow to practice awareness and continuously open my heart to you.
- I vow to choose love and happiness over being right.
- I vow to communicate honestly, authentically and openly with you.
- I vow to show you my vulnerability when I’m afraid or angry.
- I vow to play with you, celebrate with you, and laugh with you. To create a paradise in our home and a safe space for you to land.
- I vow to trust your leadership and direction and to support you in actualizing your goals and dreams.
- I vow to speak my truth and ask for what I need in a clear and loving way to the best of my ability.
- I vow to support you in maintaining and strengthening your friendships outside of our marriage.
- I vow to maintain and honor my friendships and extend to the support we have around us.
- I vow to see your heart when you’re struggling or defensive and to hold you in your highest light.
- I vow to love and accept all of you. I enter this marriage with clear seeing of you in your entirety: your shadow, your weaknesses, your light, and your gifts.
- I vow to allow you to change, shift and grow rather than holding on to a stagnant version of you in my mind.
- I vow to continuously practice ownership and self-awareness in our marriage.’I vow to be your best friend, to keep the passion, play and laughter alive.
- I vow to honor our togetherness and separateness.
- I vow to create internal freedom for myself in our marriage and to release any expectation that you owe me something.
- I vow to encourage you, praise you, appreciate you and inspire you. To celebrate your wins and be your biggest cheerleader in this life.
For both Ben and I, revealing our shadow side in front of our community was both comedic and relieving.
Our friends and family got a real sense of what our relationship looks like on it’s best and worst days – and we invited them to witness us as real, full-spectrum human beings. We didn’t want to paint a picture for ourselves or anyone else that our marriage would be endlessly blissful and conflict-free. After saying our Shadow Vows, our Sacred Vows felt so much more authentic for us, and everyone present.
If you’re curious, click here to read Ben’s Shadow Vows on EvolvingMan.ca