In every marriage (and even lots of close relationships) the couple gets in a pattern or cycle. One person behaves in a certain way (often flowing from a thought pattern, insecurity, or past wound) and the other person then reacts to that behavior (again often from their own dysfunctions, insecurities, or past wounds). Oftentimes it seems this pattern or cycle seems customized for the couple. What I mean is the behavior of one seems perfectly (negatively) designed to evoke a response in the other person that feeds the first person’s insecurity and bad behavior. While not original with me, I call this the couple’s “dance”. Each person does their dance moves and the other reciprocates with their dance steps and the couple dances along.
The problem is these dances are typically not healthy and do not lead to positive experiences. And the bigger problem is they become so natural and even comfortable that the thought of not dancing this way seems crazy and impossible. And the even bigger problem is that often these “dances” are invisible, we become blind to them. What happens is some super stressful situation enters into the marriage or one person all of sudden has this sense that, “I can’t live this way anymore!” They may not be aware of the dance but they just know it’s not working and they don’t want to go forward. Or the dance was fine in our normal experiences (it was tolerable but far from ideal) but once this new stress entered in, the old pattern wasn’t sufficient for the new challenges.
Obviously there is a lot that goes into this whole thing, but for the purposes of this blog, we will introduce the subject. We give some examples of some “dances”. And we will hopefully bring the cycle to the forefront so that it can be dealt with. In actuality, the solution is typically new dance steps that must be learned, which goes beyond the confines of this blog post. The good news however is even if just one person decides to no longer “dance their dance” it will promote conversation and movement. This means that even if both people are not aware of the dance, one person has the power to begin to move the couple to a new dance simply by refusing to dance their steps. I highly recommend however that you do this with a professional biblical counselor who can help you learn new ways to connect and communicate.
One of the most common dances is “blame – defend”. In this dance one person tends to blame things on the other. They blame for a number of reasons, but one of the most common is to not take personal responsibility and make the other person take care of them. If you ever found yourself or heard someone else say, “you make me so angry!” The reality is we can’t “make” anyone feel anything. We can do things that may trigger or tempt the other person to feel something, but they still choose how they interpret the event and how they will respond. The other dancer tends to then defend what they meant, how much their doing, or blames their behavior back on the other person. When this dance begins, true communication shuts down and no one is “hearing” the other person and no one is connecting emotionally with the other person.
In my marriage, I have had some seasons of insecurity and feeling worthless. This tends to make me move towards Lisa with “needy” energy, asking her to affirm me and make me feel worth something. Often when I come at Lisa with this energy, she tends to react by pulling away, protecting herself, and becoming independent realizing I can’t care for her. Well, you can imagine what that response does to someone who is feeling worthless and needy? Exactly, it strengthens my bad behavior and I increase my neediness. This dance can be called “Pursue – Flee”. The more the pursuer pursues, the more the fleer flees and it gets to a dark place quite quickly.
Another popular dance is called “Parent-Child” and in this dance one person tends to play the role of a parent. They try to control the other person and will use nagging and manipulation if necessary. The other regresses to a childlike state and shirks responsibility, does the bare minimum, or shuts down completely like an adolescent. This obviously makes the “parent” dancer more controlling, nagging, and parental. As you can imagine this cycle as well begins to get dark real quick.
There are other dances or variations such as “Problem – Fixer”; “Assume – React” and “Attack – Withdraw” and dozens more. By learning to name what is happening you’ll be able to respond appropriately. As I mentioned above, most couples are blind to their dance and therefore unable to change it. Others are too comfortable in their dance and not willing to do the hard work to learn new steps. The Bible warns us of the power of things that remain in the dark. But when brought into the light there is some great opportunity for God’s grace and movement.
For now, let’s focus on identifying your dance. Maybe you have some variation of one of the dances mentioned above? Think back to your last frustrating encounter and ask yourself what was going on? See if you notice a pattern that’s been ongoing (even if the scenario is different). Then try to identify what each person’s dance steps are. What if you stopped doing your steps? What might the opposite steps be? What if you sat down with your spouse (when you weren’t dancing) and shared your observations and how it makes you feel when you’re dancing? What if together you could talk about a new dance?
Invite Jesus to not only reveal what’s happening but help you to change for His glory. He loves it when marriages are working right. He’s very concerned that you’re experiencing His intentions for your marriage. So you can know when you pray these prayers, you are in His will. We’ll talk more about this in the future!