The Strength of Strengths
I have done a lot of work with positive psychologists, devising ways to use the internet to collect their data or teach what they've discovered. One of the most fascinating aspects of this work for me has been the study of character strengths.
I see them at work in my marriage and in other folks' relationships all the time. An example of a character strength is a sense of humor and playfulness. Those who possess an abundance of this strength, including my husband, are wonderful to be around. They can help us transcend our fears or pains.
For those blessed with a lot of this strength, finding the humor in a situation or turning a chore into a game comes easily and feels right.
But the same is true of the other strengths. Modesty feels right and comes easily to some folks. They deflect praise, disguise their physical beauty, defer to those with greater age or authority because they cannot imagine doing anything less. It feels right and good to be humble and modest.
It is a pleasure to be around the very modest, too. They seek no praise from us. They don't compete for attention.
If you see the strength of modesty or humor in your spouse, or perhaps the strengths of social intelligence, fairness, leadership, love of learning, persistence, or curiosity, you know what a joy it can be to benefit from a strength by proxy.
What you might not see is what happens in a clash of strengths. Your own greatest strengths are irresistible. You must use them, and you are happiest when you use them. If you excel at modesty, your mate's humor and playfulness may be delicious, right up until it attracts undue attention or makes you feel overexposed.
Your mate's generosity and many kindnesses may thrill you right up until they interfere with your overwhelming urge to keep things fair and just.
Or your mate's integrity may knock your socks off most of the time but really rankle when your strength of forgiveness urges you to overlook a white lie from a loved one.
In the moment, exercising our own strength, we may feel like anyone not joining us lacks our degree of virtue. Just being aware of our different strengths lets me see two virtues clashing. It gives me a chance to look beyond my own strength and ask how I might be an even better (and happier) person with both our strengths at my disposal.