Cherish the honeymoon phase in your marriage, forever, by matching footsteps with your partner.. because marriage is a dance.
“Love is a constant process of tuning in, connecting, missing and misreading cues, disconnecting, repairing, and finding a deeper connection. It is a dance of meeting and partying and finding each other again. Minute to minute and day to day.”
– Dr. Sue Johnson
My first exposure to “couples dancing” was through a semester-long ballroom dance class in college. My now husband and I eagerly absorbed the sampler of foxtrot, waltz, tango, swing, and salsa, and we aced our final recital with flying colors.
We learned some basic rhythms and a few fancy moves. It was just enough to impress a few friends and keep us on the dance floor till the very end of the night at weddings (including our own), parties, and “swing nights” at the dude ranch where we worked for a summer.
However, as much as we loved our college dance teacher, and as relentless as we were on the dance floor, we were by no means “experts.” As obvious as that might seem, I somehow believed that with a class or two and some additional practice, my partner and I would look just like those couples on “Dancing with the Stars.” Subconsciously, I bought this same expectation into my marriage.
My husband and I were the first of our friends to get married at the wise old ages of 22 and 23. We set out as a team to love and serve one another, and to show the world the beauty of a committed marriage.
We had managed to work through all of our conflicts, met twice with another couple to discuss premarital topics, and to top it off, I was in the middle of graduate school to become a Marriage and Family Therapist. We had learned all of the valuable lessons of what it takes to make a relationship great, so marriage would be a breeze.
You probably know where I am going with this. Although marriage was easily the best decision I have ever made, marriage itself is not inherently easy.
Like dance, marriage is a humbling experience. While a beautiful, harmonious marriage is certainly possible, we have been learning that it takes continual concerted effort, intention, and commitment over time.
To that extent, my husband and I have had a unique and powerful opportunity to strengthen our relationship through the art of dance.
The art of dance
He spoke of the parallels between his work with couples on the dance floor and the Gottman’s work with couples through workshops, books, articles, and therapy, and inquired whether TGI would be interested in collaborating with him to explore the interrelated nature of our fields.
As an eagerly aspiring dancer and an enthusiast for metaphors, I took him up on his offer for my husband and me to take private and group lessons at Flow Studios for a month.
While I already had a sense that couples dancing could be beneficial for your relationship, I did not realize just how many parallels we would draw and how many lessons we would learn along the way.
Take Turns as Leader and Follower
If you have ever taken a couples dance class, you are probably aware that there is a “lead” and a “follow.”
In nearly every tradition of couples dance, it is typically expected that a male step into the role of the lead, and that the woman acts in the role of the following.
The feminist in me rejoiced when Michael swiftly broke down this traditional paradigm during our first lesson. My husband and I each took turns exploring the roles of leader and follower.
Michael explained the necessity of understanding and practicing both roles, in order to communicate and flow with one another in a harmonious manner.
He described how it is “difficult for the lead to effectively direct his/her partner, unless (s)he really understands what it is like to be in his/her partner’s shoes.”
Seek First to Understand
As I led my husband across the dance floor, I quickly learned that this role is far more difficult than it appears, and was struck with a conviction.
Despite my best intentions, I recognized how easily I become impatient and frustrated when I feel that my partner isn’t leading us as smoothly as I would like him to.
This led to the insight that perhaps, just possibly, I might still have some work to do in the realm of extending patience, grace, and space for my partner to lead. We are not going to look like “Dancing with the Stars” by the end of the lesson, and that’s okay.
While my husband immersed himself in the experience of the follower, he swiftly realized how difficult it is to follow a leader who is not clearly and directly communicating the dance.
He provided me with gentle feedback that I could be a bit more direct and communicative with my body language and simultaneously internalized that perhaps he needs to do the same when he is leading.
All within this 50-minute lesson, intrinsic patterns, behaviors, and dynamics in our relationship surfaced as we danced to various compositions of blues, rock, swing, and folk.
We not only gain insights into ourselves and one another’s experiences but also had the chance to practice changing and developing preferred patterns of interaction.
I realized that while I have a more direct, extroverted, need-to-be-in control kind of personality than my husband, I need to purposefully create space and extend extra patience to him in order for him to lead effectively.
Likewise, my husband was able to recognize how much I need him to be open, direct, and communicative with me, in order for us to move harmoniously, whether on the dance floor or in everyday life.