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By Cliff Barry and Vicki Woodard

Read this article as a PDF file

In the last newsletter, we shared Ten Tools for Couples. We received a lot of response from that article. We heard that it had stimulated some good exchanges for couples, so we've decided to share more.

In this article we are going to be talking about some more parallelisms in relationship, and we are going to tell you more about the process of connecting very deeply with your partner's point of view on life.


What is parallelism? To refresh your memory, we define a parallelism as a way we can discover how love is fair.

We start from the assumption that "all in love is fair." That means that in relationship it's possible to discover that for each gift to one partner there's a parallel gift to the other, and for each pain to one partner there's a parallel pain for the other.

We don't always see the parallelism immediately. Sometimes we need to play the role of the victim for a while. Or sometimes we need to play the role of the offender for a while. But in the end, we usually see how things were fair in some way. Maybe we just see how we both learned a lesson. Or maybe we both gain a new appreciation for each other, or for life itself.

But since we usually end in seeing fairness, we have started to bring that concept in earlier and earlier in our processing, because it helps us move along with more clarity and ease.

But parallelisms can be hard to find, because they are often located on different sides of a gender gap. Men and women are often polarized in the way they view issues in relationship. So we want to delve a little deeper.


Whenever you look more deeply into anything, you are likely to find two opposing forces at work. This is sometimes seen as paradox. Other times it's seen as a battle between good and evil, or pain and pleasure. But the duality is there.

Even when we look more deeply into something as mundane as physical matter, we find there to be particles with a strong positive charge and particles with a strong negative charge. Did you know that if all the energy holding the positive and negative particles in your thumb were released at once it would explode with about the same force as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima? That's a lot of energy.

And in our exploration of human dynamics we often find the same thing. Powerful positive forces are bound together with powerful negative forces.

Take the negative force of pain and suffering as it is opposed by the positive force of love and grace. The two are most often found together in some way. Think of the times in your life when you felt the deepest, most moving sense of love or grace. Wasn't there some problem there also? Wasn't there some loss, some suffering or at least some threat?

In our experience of working with many people in Shadow Work®, we always find that the deepest positive feelings and the deepest negative feelings somehow appear together. When someone looses a loved-one, they often feel their presence magically with them. When someone has been hurt, there is always some healing or protection to balance the wound. Whenever there is terrible fear, there is also some magical faith.

And the same is true when we look into the issues that are confronted by men and women. Wherever they have plunged deeply into an issue, they have discovered both the pain and the pleasure. And where they have gone deep, they can accept more of the pain because they have known the pleasure that can come as a result of the pain.

Take a simple, physical example. When someone is making love to you, your perception of pain changes. You might actually enjoy a little pain when you are really turned on. That's because your experience of pleasure is way up, so you can tolerate more pain.

Well, this is true of things besides making love. Wherever someone has experienced real depth, they can tolerate more of the negative forces because they also know the positive forces in that place. Take, for example, people who work with the handicapped, the homeless, the sick or the dying. They can tolerate being around much more of their suffering than the average person. Or take people who get cut or bruised as a part of their regular jobs. Or take people who must clean up life's messes. They can tolerate much more than you could, unless you had time to find the balance of the good and the bad in that area.

We are explaining this because men and women have usually delved into different depths in life, so they have different thresholds of tolerance for things.

Women who have cared for children, or family members, can usually tolerate the presence of much more emotional pain than men who have not been exposed to the pain (and the love) that's present in emotional suffering. So men often react when women want to discuss painful emotional dynamics in the family.

Men who have competed in the world can usually tolerate more conflict and physical bruising than women who have not been exposed to the roughness (and the exhilaration) of physical competition. So women often react when men want to compete or roughhouse in some way.

And here's another important way that men and women have usually gone deep in different areas. Men have been exposed to their sexual desires almost continually for many, many years. They have felt themselves lusting for all kinds of different sexual experiences, and they have probably been sexual from many different perspectives in their heads and with their bodies.

This is because men carry the survival instinct of lusting after variety. The male of the species is endowed with a lust for variety because that ensures enough genetic variation for the survival of the species. So most men have been steeped to great depths in their desire for different kinds of sexual experiences with different partners.

And as a consequence, men are likely to tolerate being much more messy and pushy in any sexual encounter, because men can sense the gold that's present there. They can sense that there's gold in those shadows. And while women are more likely to react to any messiness or pushiness, that is partly due to women's lower level of experience with lust. So women can learn from men that there's often gold within a sexual experience that contains some of those shadows, too.

Women, on the other hand, are endowed with the survival instinct of safety. The female of the species is less interested in surviving through variety than by providing for and protecting her offspring and her family. Women have been exposed to their desire for love and committed relationship almost continually for many, many years. They have felt themselves craving the closeness and security of a family, and they have probably thought about and tried out more approaches to relationship and family than men.

And as a consequence most women can tolerate much more relational difficulty or trauma, because they sense the gold that's present there. They can sense that there's gold in those shadows. So while men are more likely to react to any emotional trauma in a relationship, that is partly due to their lower level of experience with committed relationship. And men can learn from women that there's often gold within a relational experience that contains some shadows, too.

This difference between men and women can provide fertile ground for couples to trade. If she's willing to let the man show her how to find the gold within some sexual shadows, he can let the woman show him how to find the gold within some relational shadows. And both sexes are enriched. And they build more trust. And their capacity to hold each other increases.

It seems that men and women can polarize around anything where one partner has had more experience, and consequently has known more depth than the other. The whole idea of looking for parallelisms is to find the matching dynamic so that the partners can trade experiences instead of playing either the victim or the offender.


We have recently discovered a way for partners to have a profound experience of being the other partner. We call this the "Point of You" process, because it can take you into someone else's point of view in a very dramatic way. We first began experimenting with this process last June in some meetings in Fairfield Iowa, with a group of Shadow Work® coaches who were searching for ways to work with relationships.

We had an idea, and we tested it on ourselves, and were amazed at the power of this process.

We have since experimented further with this process, and found that it's appropriate for people who want to experience the growth that can come from connecting with your partner's point of view on life in a dramatic way.

And here is why we think the process works.

Although you take it for granted, your sense of self is actually quite a mysterious thing. As an adult you are usually just having the experience that "I am me." But when you were born, you didn't know that you were you. As an infant you didn't know that you existed apart from your surroundings. You didn't know that you were not your mom, or your dad, or your crib. You didn't know that you were not the noises around you. You didn't know that you were not the light in the room. You didn't know that you were not your clothes.

As you developed your learned to see yourself as separate from your surroundings, but this only happened in stages. Most of the models for child development are models which describe how infants progress through stages to become a self separate from others. That process is called differentiation.

And here's the mysterious part. Without knowing it, you are still building your sense of self. You have learned to automatically maintain your ego by the beliefs you hold and the things you do every day. This is one reason why we are all so busy all of the time. It takes a certain amount of doing to keep your self together.

If you were locked in solitary confinement for long periods of time, where there was nothing you could do, and no way for you to communicate with others, your sense of self would gradually come apart. That's what happens to people who are in solitary confinement for long periods. They lose themselves.

So, if we wanted to give you a dramatic experience of being someone else, we would need to know something about how the self is built and maintained. And we know from our work with people that your sense of self is actually composed of several different selves within you.

You know those voices that you sometimes hear in your head? Well they are parts of you that are like little sub-selves.

Have you ever argued with yourself about something? Well, those were different sub-selves inside you arguing with one another.

And so your overall sense of self is somehow mysteriously maintained by the existence of all your sub-selves, even though you aren't aware of the fact.

And so we have found a way to have you play some of the sub-selves of your partner in this new Shadow Work® coaching process. We have you pretend that you are your partner, and then we develop several sub-selves as you imagine they might exist in your partner. We have you play those sub-selves as you imagine that your partner would play them.

And then we put them all together as you step back into your partner's overall sense of self. And you end up having a powerful experience of being your partner.

Now, you might think that since you were just pretending to be your partner, your experience might not be accurate. But we have spent a great deal of time checking out our own experiences of being our partners, and so far they have checked out very well. In fact, some of us have wept because our partners were able to describe our point of view on life so accurately, that it seemed they had truly been inside us.

This experience isn't for the feign of heart, however. We've been embarrassed that someone else could get into the "house of our psyche" like that. We have also found some difficulties with the idea that our partner could actually "get in our basement and look around with a flashlight like that!"

"Hey, don't go looking over there!"

"Hey, I only want you to look where I tell you to look!"

"Hey, let's slow this down, okay?"

But it was exhilarating to make contact like that. And we are planning to go back again.

Right now this process is only available to couples who are committed to whatever it would take to deal with any unforeseen side-effects. So we are only offering this to relationships that already know how to ride through some turbulence. But if you think you might be interested, you can contact us at

Whether you contact us or not, we hope these tools can help you look at some of your relationship dynamics in a new way.

Cliff Barry and Vicki Woodard


Cliff Barry is a Shadow Work® Founder, Certified Coach, Facilitator, Trainer and Mentor. Vicki Woodard is a Certified Shadow Work® Coach, Facilitator, Trainer and Mentor. Cliff and Vicki are married and live in Boulder, Colorado. Read more about Cliff and Vicki.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in 2010. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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