This week, i will be posting the first of a series of three articles my wife, Carolyn Schwartz, a clinical psychologist, and myself wrote about ballroom dancing and relationships. Although the focus is social dancing, i am sure you will be able to see how these articles are applicable to all activities in which couples have to cooperate.
IT TAKES TWO TO BOTH TANGO AND TANGLE
by Carolyn Schwartz, Ph.D. & Victor J. Goldman, C.S.W.
To state the obvious: the best way to deal with a dance fight is to not have one. However, as anyone who has taken ballroom dance lessons or gone out social dancing knows; this is easier said than done. In this article, we will present a number of techniques for the prevention of arguments on and off the dance floor. While some of our suggestions are geared to both partners, others can be accomplished by one member of the couple. Remember, it takes two to both tango and tangle.
We believe that the most valuable preventative technique a couple can practice, takes place before they arrive at the studio or the dance. This approach involves the clarification of expectations. Many disagreements erupt because the partners have different agendas - one wants to focus on the steps from a recent lesson; the other wants to relax and enjoy an evening of social dancing with patterns previously mastered. A dance lesson can become tense because one partner wants to concentrate on style while the other wants to learn a new routine.
Before either a lesson or a dance, we take the time to ask each other: "What do you need in order to have a good time or to have a productive lesson?" Most of the time, we find that our needs are similar:
1) Make eye contact - this helps us to not get lost in our own thoughts or what's happening around us.
2) Offer encouragement and support rather than criticism. Everyone knows that people respond with openness and trust when they feel safe and become defensive when they feel attacked. We agree that once out on the dance floor, any comments, requests or suggestions about one another's dancing wait until we are off the floor and able to talk in private.
3) Sensitivity and gentle touch - we remind one another that we have different levels of sensitivity to touch and the manner in which we like to be held.
4) Occasionally, one of us will need something for a particular mood or the situation we are in - ie: starting with some slow dances if one of us is not feeling energetic or taking more time to socialize with friends we may not have seen for a while and thus, sitting out some dances.
We recommend that this process can be a aided by agreeing to several minutes of active listening (each person has a turn to speak without interruption or comment) or by writing a list of each's needs and goals and sharing it before dancing or a combination of both.
We also a believe that the following attitudes when practiced by one or both partners can prevent conflicts from arising because one person's positive energy can have a calming effect on their partner who may be getting angry or become controlling when frustrated by the dance experience.
Most important, Remember the relationship. Dancing is for fun, connectedness and the sheer pleasure of movement. It is very easy to become obsessed with doing the steps perfectly, trying to look good for others or looking at yourself in the mirrors that are in most dance studios. Don’t forget your goal of dancing as a couple.
Expect to go through some difficult periods. As in all aspects of a relationship, one partner is likely to learn more quickly than the other and will begin to feel impatient and judgmental. If your priority is to continue dancing together, tolerance and support are needed for the slower learning partner who may be feeling poorly about him/herself.
Practice focusing on what you can do to improve the couple's dancing rather than criticizing your partner’s efforts. When one person changes his movement or frame, it creates a need for adjustment on the part of the other. Instead of trying to control your partner, work on your self and change will come about naturally.
Letting go of being right. As good as it feels to be right, this means that your partner has to feel wrong and this can only create tension. When there is a question about a step or movement, ask your teacher. You may be right, but it’s not much fun dancing alone.
Accepting and respecting differences. People are different. Men and women are different. Each of us will hear the music a little faster or a little slower. What is experienced as a firm hand hold by one can be felt as a vice-like grip by another. Again, as in all elements of our relationship, we must take time to negotiate our differences and respect our partner’s perspective, even if we have difficulty fitting it into our own world view.
Despite all of the obstacles, the challenge of moving as one around the dance floor with each person taking responsibility for his/her own part is an opportunity for couples to experience a sense of exhilaration and connectedness that can heal the deepest wounds at the same time that it enhances love and intimacy