To be human is to be perfectly imperfect. I was listening to a podcast recently about the role that self-awareness, particularly being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, plays on your overall well-being. It was directed at individuals but got me thinking about how these concepts apply to awareness of ourselves within our relationships.
Self-awareness allows you to take a look at what is going well in your life and which areas you would like to improve on. For some it can be difficult to look inward and freely focus on the things not going so well. For others, it is where they spend a good amount of their emotional energy-seeing only their faults.
For the person who is more naturally inclined to see only his or her areas of strength, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Embracing that confidence and security can very well get you closer to your life goals but when it gets in the way of truly hearing your partners needs or being able to listen with an open mind to how they are experiencing you, you may be missing out on key opportunities to connect with your spouse and your relationship may eventually suffer as a result of it.
Consequently, for someone who goes through their days with the voice of doubt whispering in their ear that they aren't good enough, they likely struggle to put a name to the things they do well. Not only is it difficult to feel proud of your personal accomplishments, you may find it difficult to acknowledge what is going well in your relationship. Likewise, you may focus on your spouses flaws over their good qualities-simply because your mind has been trained to look for the negative.
When I talk about improving your relationship through self-awareness, I'm not thinking about weighing out your strengths and weaknesses as they are reflected in your marriage or dating life. When we're open to exploring and expressing our emotions with our spouse we're able to better understand some of the areas of emotional vulnerability that we bring with us into our relationships. These areas of vulnerability not only effect how we perceive ourselves but they also serve as a lens for how we view others' behavior toward us.
We bring so much with us when we enter into a relationship whether we are aware of it or not. John Gottman, author of The Relationship Cure refers to it as our "emotional heritage" and it includes events from our pasts such as losses, trauma, or betrayals such as:
Essentially, any past experience that causes psychological pain, is distressing or disturbing in some way, has the potential to influence our relationships now or in the future. They leave an imprint on our body, mind and brain and our brains are hardwired to protect us from being hurt again. If you haven't healed from painful memories or experiences you remain emotionally vulnerable and possibly in survival mode. In this state even innocent interactions with a spouse or other loved one can serve as a trigger making it really hard to trust ourselves or others.
Becoming aware of and understanding these areas of vulnerability opens space for healing and better connections with each other. For that to happen you both have to be willing to look within yourselves and explore those unhealed spaces.