Below, we have listed ten of our favorite tools for working on relationships.
Some of these tools you could use right away in your relationship. Others you would need to learn, study or practice first. Some of these tools you can learn from other people, and some of them you could only learn from us. While we would love to have you sign up for couples coaching with us so that we can help you incorporate these tools into your relationship, there will be plenty for you in this essay if you can’t afford the time or money for some coaching right now.
1. LEARNING TO SEE THE FOUR ARCHETYPES IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
There are many definitions of Sovereign, Lover, Warrior and Magician that can be seen in relationships. Here, we will present just one idea that helps to balance a relationship.
Loving relationship creates some tension between our joy of merging with another and the need to maintain our individuality. We want to feel connected with our lover, but we do not want to surrender our freedom and sense of self. Loving relationship becomes a balancing act, between synergy and singularity. If we are too connected, we feel smothered. If we are too disconnected, we feel lonely.
We each have two basic ways of connecting ourselves to other people, and two ways of disconnecting ourselves. We could say that when we connect with others, we reach out with either our right hand or our left hand. And when we must push away from others, we push off with either our right foot or our left foot.
USING ALL YOUR LIMBS
Obviously, it is most useful to have the full use of all your limbs, so that you can reach out in different ways and push off in different ways. If you have a choice between two ways of connecting and two ways of disconnecting, you can be flexible, meeting each situation with an appropriate response. But most of us have been wounded on one side or the other. So we become right-handed or left-handed. We also become right-footed or left-footed.
It may be that we instinctively reached out for our parents in a left-handed way, but they were strictly right-handed, and so they slapped our left hand every time we extended it. Soon, we learned to only reach out with our right hand, in order to fit into the family.
Or possibly we had an older brother or sister or other loved one who taught us that we could only push off with our right-foot, because they were hurt when we used our left foot. Pretty soon, we came to lead with our right foot only.
Being strictly right-handed or right-footed is a handicap when it comes to love. Because our options are limited, we are often lacking the appropriate way to connect, so we feel lonely, rejected or unattractive. Or, we are lacking the appropriate way to push off, or separate, so we get smothered, entangled or enmeshed.
We think that, by learning to become ambidextrous with both our hands and feet, we can connect without being smothered, and maintain our autonomy without becoming lonely.
THOSE CONNECTING ARMS
Our first relationships are with our parents. And it is here that we begin to learn the two arms of connecting. In the child-parent relationship the parent is the “big guy” while the child is the “little guy.” The parent takes care of the child, teaches the child and supports the child. The child is vulnerable, open, willing and attentive. The parent gives and the child takes.
Giving is one arm of connecting and receiving is the other. Most of us are better at one than the other. We are right-handed or left-handed when it comes to connecting. That’s probably due to the ways we got wounded in our families of origin.
Of course, any relationship between two people is a kaleidoscope of interactions. In some you are probably the giver while you play the role of the receiver in others. If you are pretty ambidextrous already, you may have a good balance between the giving and taking in your relationships. But still, you are probably more at home with one than the other.
- Think about your sexuality for a moment. Do you more often make the advances, or do you more often receive them
- What about economics? Are you the more giving partner when it comes to bringing home the bacon?
- Who is the more giving when it comes to listening and understanding and advising?
- Is it easier for you to offer help to another, or to ask for help for yourself?
You may well be right-handed in some of these situations and left-handed in others. It’s probably easier for you to give more in some situations and receive more in others.
SOVEREIGN AND LOVER
We call the giving way the Sovereign way. This name reminds us of the King and Queen, who play the role of the parents in the kingdom. If someone is good at visioning, leading, initiating, motivating and nurturing their partner, we say that they have good Sovereign energy.
On the other hand, we call the receiving way the Lover way . This role is much more vulnerable and exposed. It is more humble and open. The Sovereign is more like the parent while the Lover is more like the child.
Sovereign energy is very motivated to create positive change in the relationship. Lover energy is more interested in enjoying the relationship as it is. Sovereign energy looks for inspiration, motivation and opportunities to help the partner and improve things. Lover energy wants to play. It wants to go with the flow, and feel the feelings, and depend on someone else.
Sovereign energy follows a star. Lover energy follows the body.
Sovereign energy accesses spiritual power by aspiring to fly upwards towards the sun, in order to bring something of value back to the earth. Lover energy accesses spiritual power by diving in towards the center of the earth, drilling into whatever is at hand, in order to bring something of value from the depth into the sunlight.
We will call the Sovereign energy the right-hand, because in our opinion, more people in our culture are right-handed in this way. Lover energy has been more repressed in our culture, so we will describe it as the left-handed way to connect. But really you could put either one on either hand. We’re just making an example.
We will also say that if you are right-handed, then you are likely to have your left hand in shadow, and visa versa. This means that you like to put your best hand forward into the light, and you tend to hide the other hand in your shadow. We believe there is always very good reason why you have a stronger right or left hand.
In most interactions between people, it is possible to identify how the right hand from one person is taking the left hand of the other person. This is the most basic form of conjunction between people. It started with your mother, father, or other caregivers, who played the Sovereign role for you. They extended their right hand to you because you were born completely left-handed.
In mature relationships, we hope that this hand-holding balances out, so “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” First the right hand of one partner gives something, and the left hand of the other receives. Then the situation is turned around, and the other partner repays the kindness.
Most of the difficulties connecting in relationships can be helped using this model. When connection is not working it is either because someone is not giving or someone is not receiving, or both.
When you can identify which is your preferred arm you can choose to bring your shadowed arm out from behind your back, and learn to use it more effectively. There are most likely areas where you could strengthen that arm and have more choices about how to use it in the ways you connect.
PUSHING OFF WITH THOSE FEET
When you get mad at some do you get right in their face? Do you itch to confront them directly? Or do you withdraw into yourself and strategize, looking for a way to deal with your anger? Maybe you plan your revenge. Or maybe you process your anger inside, so that you don’t have to confront anyone. Or maybe you try figure it all out, so you can take the perfect action that will settle the issue without harm or waste.
These two approaches: the direct confrontation and the indirect manipulation or negotiation, are like our two feet. Most of us push off from others with our right foot, or our left.
The direct confrontation method we call Warrior energy. We contend that everyone has an instinct to create clear and definite boundaries around themselves. All children express their anger at some time, when their territory is threatened. When Tommy’s little sister tries to take his truck, he hits her without a thought. That is his instinct. When he tries to crawl into her secret hiding place, she pokes him in the eye.
DOGS AND CATS
The direct, Warrior way can be likened to dogs. If they have a problem with you, they run up and bite you right away. They bark at the slightest provocation. They are not deep thinkers, they just act everything out.
Warrior energy is not for connecting people, although it is possible to bond through Warrior energy as a by-product. Warrior energy is for establishing our perimeter and defending that perimeter against any invaders. The skin does this for the body. Many of our reflexes are hard-wired defensive actions, like pulling your hand away from a flame, before you even know you are getting burned.
Warrior energy is for keeping us independent from others. It keeps us from merging with others. Warrior energy is very connected with our ego. It wants to establish us as an independent agent, and then defend our rights. It may wish to expand our sense of self to encompass more and more territory.
We are going to say that the Warrior way of disconnecting is the right foot.
The left foot is what we would call Magician energy. Instead of a direct, external confrontation, our Magician energy counsels us to “think it over,” to “see if there’s another way.”
Magician energy can be likened to cats. If they are upset with you, they are more likely to wait until later to bite you, when you are least expecting it.
The Magician lives in our head. And our Magician energy is responsible for seeing the lay of the land. If the foot-soldier must possess Warrior energy, then the generals must posses Magician energy. They must fool their opponents. They must scheme and plan and collect intelligence. They must devise the overall plan for the battle. Sometimes the generals can win by merely fooling their opponents into a costly mistake.
If you have been wounded by Warrior energy, usually by the forceful expression of anger against you, you may have reacted by learning to use your Magician energy. If you were wounded by the use of Magician energy (if you were manipulated in lots of dark ways) then you may have become better with your Warrior energy.
Whether you learned kicking with your right foot, or dodging with your left, you have these two ways of creating boundaries. Both ways create distance between you and others. Both ways protect you and your ego boundaries.
Over the centuries it has been easier, in general, for men to push off with Warrior energy and women to push off with Magician energy. Because men have stronger, bigger and faster bodies, they could often use the dog approach to good effect. Women had to develop their brains and their ability to perceive the man’s mood, so the cat approach often worked better for them.
So while this analogy often breaks down in today’s culture, where physical strength and speed aren’t so important, it’s worth noticing that couples still fight like dogs and a cats.
Once again, it is easier to create boundaries if you can use both feet, depending upon which one is most appropriate to the situation at hand.
For a more detailed descriptions of the four archetypes, you can watch The Shadow Works® Basics Video.
2. LEARNING TO USE CLEAN TALK IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Once you have some idea about the four archetypes, you could learn how to use Clean Talk in your relationship, especially when discussing difficult topics.
WHAT IS CLEAN TALK?
Clean Talk is the four-way model we use in Shadow Work when we want to say things cleanly and clearly, and particularly when there is conflict happening or there are strong emotions involved in the conversation. We call it Clean Talk because it means speaking cleanly: taking full responsibility for your part of whatever’s happening instead of placing the responsibility on the other person. We think that’s a clean way to communicate. And we think that when you fully take responsibility for your part of what’s happening, you’re less likely to find that the other person is reacting in a defensive sort of way.
In Clean Talk, we divide all conversation into four buckets, which are named after the Four Archetypes. You can use this model to communicate clearly, so that the way you say something doesn’t cause your partner to react defensively. Clean Talk is a good way to be heard much better when the pressure is on.
You can listen to audio recordings on Clean Talk.
3. LEARNING TO RECOGNIZE AND HONOR THE RISK MANAGER TO MAKE THE SCARY THINGS SAFER IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
WHAT IS THE RISK MANAGER?
“Risk Manager” is Shadow Work jargon for the part of ourselves which acts as a protector or defender. This part scans incoming communications and observes events, censoring out the potentially threatening or damaging ones. We often describe this part as an internal radar operator, scanning everything with powerful radar, and looking for threatening “blips” on the screen. When something frightening shows up, the Risk Manager sounds the alarm, and activates our defensive mechanisms, so we can keep ourselves from getting hurt.
Learning to recognize your own Risk Manager, and learning to recognize your partner’s Risk Manager, can lead to a much safer relationship. You probably already know what will alarm your partner’s defenses in certain situations. Maybe it’s a certain conversation that triggers the most fear, maybe it’s some kind of sexual request that sets off the alarms.
In Shadow Work you can meet your Risk Manager. We can set it out where you can see it clearly. And you can learn how to make things much safer for your Risk Manager. You can meet your partner’s Risk Manager, too. And you can learn to make things much safer for your partner’s Risk Manager.
Safety is an important ingredient if you want to face the really scary parts of yourself in relationship. The more safety you have, the more you can risk, the more you can reveal, the more you can heal.
We sometimes say that Shadow Work is safe the way a parachute school is safe. Tremendous effort is put into safety so that you can dare to do something very risky.
RISK AND LOVE
We like to say, “Love is risky business.” We also like to say that you can have all the love you want, as long as you are willing to take only one big risk. That one big risk is the risk that you will get hurt again in exactly the way you got hurt before, only worse. Go figure.
We do not see love as simply a matter of security, although we sometimes wish it could be. Love can certainly be very safe for long periods of time. But it doesn’t seem to last unless there is an element of personal risk accepted as part of the game. Love seems to want us to grow, so it brings us issues that require us to face our demons. And demons are risky.
New relationships usually feel intensely loving – because the relationship is still at risk in the early stages, and that makes both parties more vulnerable, and hence more open to the experience of the excitement of love. And as long as the risks can be safely held, the new romance will blossom with great vitality. But as a relationship ages, and as we inevitably try to insure ourselves a steady supply of love, we often lose the right relationship to risk, and something goes out of the whole equation. Maybe it’s too risky. Maybe it’s not risky enough.
You can improve your relationship by learning to better hold the dynamic of risk for yourself and your partner. There is always something more you could ask for. There is always something more you could share or give. But the risks get in the way.
In Shadow Work we can teach you how to hold Risk Managers better. This requires some Shadow Work Coaching, which you can explore at the Coaching page.
But you can learn more about holding the dynamic of risk from Voice Dialogue as well. Hal and Sidra Stone have several wonderful books about relationship, where they teach about what they call the “primary selves” within each of us. These are akin to what we call the Risk Manager in Shadow Work. Hal and Sidra have wonderful CDs and videos about the various parts of ourselves, including these “primary selves” that try to keep us safe. We have learned much from Hal and Sidra, and recommend their books on relationship to everyone. Their materials are very affordable, and can teach you much about relating to all of the different parts of which both you and your partner are constructed.
You can find Hal and Sidra’s books and CDs on their web site, Delos-Inc.com.
4. LEARNING TO SEE “PARALLELISM” IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Here is an idea that you can use right away – no charge.
WHAT IS PARALLELISM?
Parallelism is a word we use in Shadow Work to describe a way of seeing dynamics in your relationship. It’s based on a very deep truth, we believe, although it’s a truth that we aren’t always willing to see and accept.
Parallelism is based on the idea that love is fair. It means that if your partner is hurting you in some way, then you could look for a parallel way in which you are hurting your partner.
The parallel ways that partners hurt each other, and help each other, are not always found to exist in the same issue, though. So finding a parallelism often requires some searching.
Let’s take an example. We are going to talk about Mission and “Wission.” This will require us to tread the treacherous ground of different gender roles in our society.
We recognize that in today’s society, men and women can afford to exchange roles that would have threatened their survival in the past. So we don’t mean to offend anyone by describing some roles as more masculine and some roles as more feminine. But with that said, it looks to us like men and women go for somewhat different things when we talk about Mission.
WHAT IS WISSION?
“Wission” is more Shadow Work jargon. It refers to the feminine form of Mission.
It looks to us like masculine energy prefers to adopt a Mission of service in the world. You could say that Mission is much about finding some way of trying to save the world. And so, for a vast majority of men, it’s important to find some Mission whereby they can see that they have made a difference in the world.
But it seems to us that feminine energy prefers to adopt a Wission of service in the family. You could say the Wission is much about finding some way of trying to save the family. And so, for a vast majority of women, it’s important to find some Wission whereby they can make a difference in the lives of their family members.
If you study grandfathers and grandmothers you will notice that Grandma is usually deeply involved in the lives of her children and grandchildren, whereas Grandpa is likely to follow along on her coattails when dealing with the family.
And you can also notice that Grandpa probably had a stronger sense of legacy about his work in the world than Grandma, who was likely to have followed along on his coattails in that regard.
So this dynamic is one way of getting to understand a parallelism.
If a woman is infuriated with her partner because he does not help out more at home, it can be useful for her to go looking for the parallelism in regard to this issue. And she probably won’t find equality when it comes to caring for the family.
But if she is willing to look into the arena of her partner’s Mission, she may find that he is infuriated with the way she does not help him more with his career, or his Mission outside of the family.
Obviously, either partner could have started by saying, “You aren’t really there for me. You don’t really care about what I care about!” And so long as they look for fairness only within their own realm of Mission or Wission they will be able to maintain that they are a victim, and things are unfair.
But if they will look further, they can often find the matching dynamic in another arena of their lives. And once they have found the parallelism, they will be astonished that they would both formulate the exact same sentences to say to each other. They have perfectly paired gripes, but in completely different realms.
They both feel angry that they are not better supported. They are both sad that connection is lost because of the inequity or imbalance of the situation. They are both afraid this means doom for the relationship. They both want to find a way out.
And when they find the parallelism, there is a way out. They can trade. They can exchange gifts, but in different places. They can devote themselves to change in one arena, because they hope their partner will work to change in another arena.
A vast majority of men would like there to be greater safety with their partners for their sexual fantasies to be understood and honored, even if they arise in a shadowy way. And a vast majority of women would like there to be greater safety with their partners for their relational darkness to be understood and honored, even if it arises in a shadowy way.
We could describe this dynamic in another way by saying that what men long to hear from women sounds something like this: “I am a woman who can hold you, even in your darkest sexual fantasies. I can help you to experience yourself in those places in such a safe way, that we will both discover your deepest love hiding there.”
And the parallelism for this would be that women long to hear from men something like this: “I am a man who can hold you, even in your darkest moods and manipulations in our relationship. I can help you to experience yourself in those dark places in such a safe way, that we will both discover your deepest love hiding there.”
Now this is a tall order for any couple. But many of the fights that arise within relationship would benefit from knowing that this parallelism is possible. Men are more than willing to learn about relating if it means increased safety to be themselves sexually. And women are more than willing to learn about sexuality, if it means increased safety to be themselves in the relationship.
So if you have a beef with your partner, it might help you to consider these two ways of searching for the parallelism. We hope you will excuse us if our generalizations are somewhat crude and inaccurate in your exact situation.
If you are willing to look across the divide of Mission and Wission, or the divide between sexual longing and relational longing, you may find an exact match for the beef you have with your partner. And once you find the match, you can begin to negotiate some kind of trade.
5. LEARNING WHAT PERSONALITY TYPE YOU HAVE, AND HOW IT RELATES TO YOUR PARTNER’S TYPE
We love the Enneagram system for typing personalities, although there are several different kinds of personality-typing systems out there. Any personality typing system will help you to understand how differently other people approach problems from the way that you are accustomed to approaching problems.
Personality typing gives you a systematic way of approaching your partner’s differences with you, instead of relying on your own good instincts alone. After all, your own good instincts don’t always turn out so well.
In Shadow Work, we have developed our own way of typing individuals. We work with 12 “Shadow Types.”
For each Shadow Type, we can name one of the four archetypes as the most-in-shadow. We call this archetype your “kryptonite,” from the Superman myth. We can also delineate which of the four archetypes is your most familiar. We call this your “home base.” And we can identify how your might move from your home base through the other two archetypes, to reach and integrate your kryptonite. This means that we can prescribe a Healing Pathway through the four archetypes for each of the 12 Shadow Types.
We like our system of typing because it lends itself easily to typing more than just people. We have learned to types issues, and relationships, and even whole businesses. And in each case we can then see a pathway through the archetypes to most easily reach and harness the shadowed archetype.
At this time, you can only learn the 12 Shadow Types from us. We are working on a book, but it’s not ready yet. Information on our coaching can be found at Our Coaches page.
YOUR ENNEAGRAM TYPE
But other personality systems also prescribe pathways for healing. The Enneagram describes your “arrows,” for example, which indicate where your type might go to be more integrated.
You can discover your Enneagram Type for free online at the Enneagram Institute site. There’s also a $10 full test on the same web page if you want a more accurate reading.
Or, if you want to read about the Enneagram and type yourself from a book, you could check out these books:
- Discovering Your Personality Type by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
- The Enneagram Made Easy by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele
6. LEARNING TO CONNECT VERY DEEPLY WITH YOUR PARTNER’S POINT OF VIEW ON LIFE
We have been experimenting with a way for you to actually step into your partner’s shoes in a way that has surprised us and even awed us at times.
7. LEARNING A MODEL FOR HOW THE DIFFERENT STAGES IN A RELATIONSHIP UNFOLD SO YOU CAN PREDICT WHAT MIGHT BE COMING NEXT IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
We have arranged the archetypes into a kind of “batting order.” We believe that relationships bat through this order relative to issues both big and small.
Most people who work with couples subscribe to some model about how relationships unfold through different stages of development. You can learn about these by reading almost any book on relationship. In Shadow Work we have our own distinctive take on how things develop through the life of a relationship, and how each issue is a little mirror of that bigger model.
8. LEARNING TO SEE YOUR RELATIONSHIP AS AN ENTITY THAT’S DISTINCT FROM EITHER PARTNER, SO YOU CAN ADDRESS RELATIONSHIP ISSUES AS IF THEY WERE HELD BY A THIRD PARTY
This is an adaptation of the concept of “systems thinking” to relationship. Sometimes it can really help to view you issues as belonging to the “system” of your relationship, rather than seeing them as your personal issues, or the personal issues of your partner exclusively.
9. LEARNING TO TYPE THE ISSUES IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Just as each person has a “type,” so each issue has a “type.” And therefore each issue that can arise in a relationship has its “kryptonite” and its healing pathway to get from the familiar energies to the unfamiliar.
After we learned to type people, we began to realize that each issue has its own type, no matter what type you are as a whole.
This made processing much easier, because we could pick from all the tools instead of always seeing our problems in the same way.
10. LEARNING TO PROCESS YOUR ISSUES THROUGH THE HEALING PATHWAYS
Shadow Work has its own processes for healing each issue, whether that’s in an individual or in a relationship. In our system, people learn to use these advanced tools by taking our Facilitator Trainings. We have found that as people learn to facilitate others, they also incorporate the ability to facilitate themselves.
If you’re interested in doing some work with us about relationship, please contact us at this page.
Cliff Barry and Vicki Woodard
See also the follow-up article, More Tools for Relationships.
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.
This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in February 2010. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.
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