" I can see a couple's entire relationship on the dance floor" said my dance teacher. If someone steps on the partner's toes, some people blame the others, while some apologize and let it go. Others give up the lessons before being good at dancing, while some keep learning and adjust their steps.
Every Relationship is a Dance
In the beginning, it can be easy to move to the music with your partner. But over time, things change. Maybe it's a simple misunderstanding, and one of you feels hurt. Perhaps the change comes from something that you've been hoping for -- a child, or a promotion. Or it could come from a major challenge, like an illness or a job loss. Wherever it comes from, something happens, and the music changes. You and your partner step on each others toes. Changes, enjoyable and difficult, are a part of life and of every couple's relationship. But how you handle them makes the difference between a relationship that comes apart...or grows stronger.
Sue Johnson, in her book "Hold Me Tight," says that humans are wired to need emotional connection. Love, she argues, is "the continual search for a basic, secure connection with someone else." Soldiers, she points out, are sent into war with a buddy. Research also shows that cancer patients who join a support group have better survival rates. People in happy marriages are more resistant to illness and are overall more healthy than people in distressed relationships.
Fight or Flight in Relationships
Humans seem to be wired for connection, and we react quickly and deeply to the threat of its loss. Loss of connection with someone we love sends an alarm straight to the amygdala, the so called "fear center" of our brain. Our "fight or flight" response kicks into gear before we are aware of what really happened. Johnson explains that arguments are really protests against this loss, whether it is real or perceived. Whether we get angry (fight) or shut down (flight), she argues, underneath we are really scared.
When things aren't going so well, it helps to take a few minutes to understand what's going on. When you feel angry, are you also sad, lonely, or scared? When you feel like leaving the room, is it the only way you can find to calm things down?
Dance Steps that Build Connection
Here are some steps - some rituals of connection -- that will help you get through those difficult moments:
As I work with couples in my practice, I still think about what my dance teacher said, years ago, about relationships. Those lessons from the dance floor have helped me understand how relationships work.