Photo Cred: Thomas Kelley
Black-and-white portrait of a beautiful young couple dancing tango with passion. Professional dancers. Latino dancers.

May I not have this dance?

3 Dances that can (and will) ruin your relationship.

Everybody talks about in order to have a good, strong relationship with your partner, you need to have a “solid foundation.” Blah, Blah, Blah. It’s everywhere-blog posts, books, journals, even coming out of your therapist’s mouth during couples session number #15.

Instead of talking about what to do in order to achieve “solid foundation” status, let’s talk more along the lines of what NOT to do in your relationship.  ALL couples engage in what we call “dances.” And they’re not the kind of dances that promote a little skin to skin and a good time. These are the kinds of dances that will quickly demolish any good thing you have going –FAST.

By dances, we are referring to the back and forth steps that all couples use with their significant other when they are either stressed out or feeling disconnected from each other. These are the fights that you have over and over, the way you talk (or not talk) about the issues that are never resolved, or the ways that you and your partner react and respond that are so predictable…and hurtful. And when these dances start to happen too frequently and too intensely, this is when we enter the danger zone. So, if you can learn to recognize these movements in your relationship, you can absolutely change the dance and make your relationship so much better (and maybe even achieve “solid foundation” status!)

The 3 dances are:  

  1. Mutual Dictator
  2. Dictator vs. Frozen
  3. Numb and Number

The Mutual Dictator can be described as arguing and fighting. I demand you ____ and then you demand that I _____.  

Repeat.  

Both people want to be heard, but it’s often at the expense of the other. They’re trying to tell the other person what they are doing wrong and expect change (hence, dictator). And, it’s not that what they’re saying is wrong, they probably have a good point!  It’s not necessarily the words here that are the problem, it’s more the nature of the interaction. It’s the dance. It’s circular and predictable. The more I tell you to _______, the more you tell me to _______. And so it goes. Neither person feels like they are being heard, just blamed. And it feels bad.  

The Dictator vs. Frozen interaction can be described as when one person demands something of the other while the other person in return withdraws or ignores the demand (and the person).  

It can also happen the other way– one person is withdrawing and the other person becomes demanding as a result. It’s not clear which one happened first or why, but they both rely on the other to exist. This dance is circular and reinforcing and this is the key point. The more that you demand (or withdraw), the more your partner then withdraws (or demands) in response.  

You’re actually helping to create the opposite of what you really want.  

Again, the request may be totally on point. It’s not the specifics of the problem. It’s the circular and reinforcing pattern. Most of us think it’s the conflict or our partner that’s the problem. And while the details are important, they are not the REAL problem. The problem is that the dance takes over and chips away at all the good stuff in your relationship. 

The real enemy here is the dance. And the dance feels bad.  

The third dance we like to call Numb and Number. The first two dances have conflict in them and demands by a least one person. But in Numb and Number, it feels like nothing is really at stake. Here, you’re more like roommates than lovers– the attachment isn’t as strong and neither is the interaction. There’s not a lot of fighting, and because of that, not a lot of emotional connecting. This interacting, like the others, is reinforcing and circular. The more one person withdraws, the more the other withdraws and the bond begins to crumble.  

Are any of these dances familiar to you? These dances are so common, that they affect even the happiest couples. Dr. John Gottman, revolutionary couples expert and professor, states that “as long as the ratio of positive to negative interactions remains at least five to one, the relationship is sturdy.” He continues to report that when the ratio dips below that, he can predict with 94% accuracy that a couple will divorce or end their relationship (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/19/health/psychology/married-with-problems-therapy-may-not-help.html).

Most people do these dances without even knowing it. Having a name, makes it a little easier to recognize. And recognizing the dance is the first step to getting the love you really want.  So lets slow the beat down, change the track, and find a rhythm that works for the both of you.

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Posted by Kristel Mabie LPC NCC and Cindy Badamo MSW LCSW

We consider ourselves professional Relationship Hackers. For us, hacking is breaking into the heart of what’s happening and helping you to create the security you want and need. As licensed therapists, we have decades of experience doing just that. We work with couples, individuals and families. We see first-hand the relationship problems people face and the transformation that can occur, with the right help. You deserve security in all your relationships. We can show you how to get it and deliver it directly to your inbox.

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