The Shadow Side of What Attracts Us

What’s most troubling to us about our partners is often the other side of what originally attracted us. As the French say, “We have the faults of our virtues.” The qualities that we initially found appealing frequently have problematic aspects that we did not see in the honeymoon phase.

Jack, who tended to be shy, was charmed by Jill’s expressiveness and directness. He had trouble, however, when her expressiveness came out as anger directed at him. Jill was drawn to Jack’s calm and stability, a contrast to the volatility of the family in which she grew up. (Jack and Jill could be Jack and Miguel, or Jill and Anita.) When they had arguments, Jack’s calm took the form of withdrawal, a refusal to engage.

New Yorker cartoon shows a husband sitting at the kitchen table. He says to his wife, who is standing at the counter with her arms folded, “When exactly did all the stuff you love about me become all the stuff you hate about me?”

 Here are common examples of qualities that initially attracted us along with their shadow sides:

  • Assertive vs Controlling
  • Fun loving vs Irresponsible
  • Independent vs Detached
  • Adoring vs Suffocating
  • Reliable vs Unexciting
  • Agreeable vs Passive
  • Knowledgeable vs Pontificating

As these examples show, we can experience our partner’s particular temperament at different times as positive or negative. It can be relieving to remember -- and acknowledge to our partner-- that the traits we find problematic are the shadow side of what initially attracted us.

About This Blog

With my husband, Dan Wile, founder of Collaborative Couple Therapy, I have given workshops for couples at our home in Oakland, California, as well as at Esalen (Big Sur), San Diego, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey. This blog is adapted from one of the sections I wrote in our handout.

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