After years of counseling couples and hearing multitudes of stories, I’ve come to believe three revealing requirements to save your relationship. These requirements not only save your relationship, they nurture it throughout the seasons of life. The story begins with my learning to dance.
Relationship Patterns Are Like Dance Movements
Having grown up in a faith tradition that doesn’t believe in playing cards, smoking, drinking, and engaging in pre-marital dancing, I began to explore a part of me I hadn’t previously developed. It wasn’t the smoking and drinking I was drawn to. Instead, I began to integrate freedom, movement, creativity, music, and emotionally safe partnership through taking ballroom dance lessons. I quickly discovered dancing was like sparks of light into deeper places of my soul.
The light-hearted atmosphere of learning to dance helped me take myself less seriously. And it was a contrast from the crisis counseling work I was doing at the time. I was energized. It provided joy and the lighter side of life.
After a few group and private lessons, I became more aware of how the same dance moves felt different with the style and frame of various partners. As we switched partners often during group lessons, each dancer carried their own unique energy, rhythm and frame.
We relate to our spouses or significant others through relationship patterns similar to dancing. We all have learned behaviors and styles from childhood that carry over into our adult relationships. When chronic conflict begins to take over in a relationship, it’s time to re-evaluate those dance steps.
Reason # 1 – Your Relationship Requires Reciprocity
During the romantic phase when we feel the connection, both partners make time to be together and have fun. When the chemistry wears off, our default patterns take over. The ease of the relationship dance works for a while until normal life stressors enter. Child-rearing differences, financial habits, careers, moves, in-laws, attitudes, and resentment wears off those early romantic feelings. What began as exciting and bigger than life becomes boring and irritating.
It’s time to consider the relationship dances and change those steps and styles. It takes two to make that happen.
Reason # 2 – Your Relationship Requires Change
Every stage of life is an invitation to knowing parts of your relationship that were previously hidden. For example, the transition from couplehood to parenthood opens up new and different roles. Research indicates a 70% drop in marital satisfaction within a baby’s first year of life. The husband/wife roles change to dad and mom. One parent may become jealous of time and attention a young child requires. Or new anxieties arise from the magnitude of being solely responsible for the development of another human being.
Added financial pressure, household chores, and caring for a baby requires a shift in perspectives. Expectant parents should consider couples’ counseling to be pro-active as they anticipate necessary changes.
Not only in the child-bearing years, but the dance of a marriage changes with each season of life. What may have worked early on in your relationship may not be relevant now.
Reason # 3 – Your Relationship Requires Fun
Negativity, limited beliefs, and ruminating on the past takes away the fun-loving energy we all need in our partnerships. In Dr. John Gottman’s longitudinal studies of couples, those who don’t recover quickly from conflicts are likely to divorce. It’s not a matter of having less conflict than the average couple. Happily married couples still experience 67% of unresolved conflict. But they’ve learned to shake it off quicker than troubled couples.
Just as the mind absorbs negativity on the neurons, we need to be intentional about light-hearted laughter and fun activities.
What’s Your Next Move?
My husband and I met through our ballroom dance community and we had a great couples dance teacher. As we move to the rhythm of our lives together, we’re still learning to change what comes natural from the patterns we know so well.
To find out what your relationship needs now, ask about taking the Gottman Relationship Checkup.
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