relationships are like dancing

“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.” ― Harriet Lerner

A relationship is like a dance, isn’t it? You take one step, your partner takes another, and soon you are in full swing.

It’s important to note, each step influences the next but does not dictate it. At any point, either of you can stop, start, or change the dance. You and your partner co-create this dance. A big part of this dance is communication.

This analogy is particularly powerful when you have a disagreement with your partner. When something goes wrong, your dance can quickly shift into the “Whodunnit?” tarantella. Figuring out who’s at fault becomes the most important question to answer during an argument. We need to know who to blame.

Why is this need to blame so urgent? Dr. Brené Brown is a scholar and researcher who sums up this phenomenon in this humorous animated clip. It’s worth the 3:25:

I like to share this video with clients because we usually share a laugh, and they find it easier to recognize their own parts in the blame dance.

The trouble with rushing to blame is that it hurts communication with your partner and over time, your relationship.

10 Steps to Dancing Beyond Blame

It’s one thing to see how you co-create the blame dance, and another entirely to not engaging in blame. What should you do instead?

Lessons can be helpful when you’re learning a new dance! Here are some steps to get you started. The next time you find yourself disagreeing with your partner, try this:

  1. Notice the “here we go again” feeling about being in the same old way of disagreeing.
  2. Stop whatever you are doing, move away, and reflect.
  3. Write down the pattern as you see it after having just experienced it. You’ll probably start with what you literally see: what your partner is doing that bothers you. That’s okay. Write it down.
  4. Now include yourself. Ask yourself, what was I doing just before that?
  5. And ask yourself, what did I do right after my partner did what they did?
  6. Draw it in a circle pattern.
  7. See if you can name your emotional parts that are showing up. And really want to say something loudly.
  8. Write from your emotions and see what they say. What do they want to happen for you?
  9. Go back to your relationship with this information and decide to make one change to your dance step and see what happens as you consistently apply this over time.
  10. Oh yeah…and don’t forget to watch the Blame video! It’s very funny.

The Next Steps for Changing the Relationship Dance

These next steps are just for you, because you will feel strong emotions as a result of this outward change.

  • Write down these emotions.
  • Ask them, if I were to speak for you, what would you want me to say?
  • Take good care of yourself in this change you are making. Change doesn’t always come easily.

This new perspective on your typical patterns of disconnecting and fighting will begin to bring about a positive change. Remember, this is a beginning and you are starting by making a change in your part that will affect all the other parts of the system and bring you back into connection with your partner.

This podcast and blog were inspired by Harriet Lerner’s book Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships. It’s one of my favorites. Give it a read and let me know what you think.


Image Credit

Dancing in the street 4” by Flickr user Petr Dosek is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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