Have you ever marveled at how a couple dancing can flow with grace and energy and then your eyes shift from seeing them as singular entity and you distinguish the distinct movements of each person? While as a couple the dancers display harmony, each dancer also expresses his or her character and gestures that are their own. Each person has their own essential way of moving, yet the two dancers move in union, their steps inform one another and there’s creativity and play in their interactions. Good dancing is not unlike a good relationship.
When you engage in the dance of relationship with another person, there is also a third energy present – the relationship. Your relationship is akin to the music to which you are dancing. As you and your partner dance, you move with the relationship and not just with one another. In West Africa, the word for dancer and the word for music is the same. I find this a wonderful insight as the dancers and the music inform and inspire each other. This view is co-creative as they are not playing off of each other, but playing together.
If the motions of the dancers create the music, then the dancers also respond to the music. In this way, the relationship is like a really good live band that is able to sense the energy of the dancers and knows when to raise the energy level and also senses when people need to slow their pace. When the people are open wide to the dance and freely moving, the band only needs to continue to carry the rhythm, but when the people are standing awkwardly on the edges of the dance floor, the band engages the dancers by playing a familiar and fun song to inspire movement.
At their best, the dancers are involved in a desirous and playful activity, and both people are engaged with one another while still being rooted in their own bodies. This is like the dancing of children. When children dance, there’s no mistaking that dancing is happening, but there’s also no telling what the steps are. There’s a playfulness that the youth encourage in each other. One person could be waltzing and another tangoing, but the dancers are having fun – it’s a delicious experiment of motion.
The musical energy of relationships changes over time, and for some it devolves from a passionate tango, full of expression, longing and desire into something more formal and staid, like a one-two-three waltz. For others, the music deepens and sweetens, becoming the steady rhythm of a life-long partnership. For some, the relationship becomes no longer a dance at all, but instead something pedestrian, causing the dancers to either seek out new partners or to feel stuck with empty gestures.
So how does the dance in relationship stagnate? What causes a couple’s relationship to transform from a lively, funny, giddy and spontaneous dance that is warmly remembered early in a relationship into a chore that feels as if the steps are forced and rote where silence is louder than the relationship’s music? Where do you put yourself in your relationships to prevent such an insipid dance? How does a couple avoid such pitfalls on the dance floor? And how do you keep the music alive?
One of the major relationship pitfalls is when the individuals stop listening for the music and instead try to control the music or the movement of their partners. They start planning out what the music should be like in the future, filling the space with expectations and assert their will in place of the grace of the dance. This doesn’t mean that the future of the relationship can’t be planned, but that the emotional energy that is present is equally important. This isn’t just about what you’re doing with each other but how you’re being with each other. What energies do you wish to cultivate? Focus less on what you want to do but rather focus on the energy of how you want to be with each other.
For example, Amanda and Kevin were planning a vacation. Amanda wanted to go to her cousin’s wedding in New York. Initially Kevin expressed that he didn’t want to go to the wedding in New York because he wanted to go to the beach. When asked to pause and listen in to the current energy in the relationship, Kevin shared that they’ve both been working hard so their time together has been simultaneously exhausted and frenetic, “like a bad modern opera.” Kevin realized it was important to him that he and Amanda have time to relax, unwind and connect with one another this summer. He was able to express to Amanda, that “spending a week in New York does not feel like a good fit for that. Let’s take a long weekend for your cousin’s wedding but plan a longer trip to a place where we can unwind together. I would love to do that at the beach. What do you think?” Amanda realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t care about her cousin’s wedding. On the contrary, Kevin cared about their relationship and wanted to create music that supported their connection. Kevin was able to pay attention to the music and the energy in the relationship, and was engaged in creating the music, rather than controlling the steps.
Relationships are systems that are always looking to maintain a balance. People in relationships will take different roles and have different energies. So as partners, the dancers must seek to keep that balance. Finding the balance points is a critical element between them. As they dance, one partner may lead for a time, but part of leading well is being aware of the momentum and center of gravity of their partner. Leading actually requires greater sensitivity than following. So when you perceive you are leading, ask yourself: What is your energetic awareness of your partner? How do you sense each other in a way that feels good, natural, and easy?
It would be hard and tiring if one person always does the leading. So at times your partner will lead and you follow. At other times, you and your partner might not even be doing the same dance and one is not following the other. That can be a lot of fun and create new energy for the relationship, so long as there’s space and awareness in your relationship so that you’re not bumping up against each other as you dance, unless you’re having fun slam dancing.
A way to explore the balance points in your relationship is to think about the different roles you and your partner take. While there are many roles, here are a couple of examples: comforter/comforted, protector/protected, giver/receiver, and pursuer/pursued. For one person to take on the role of pursuer, the other must take on the role of pursued. The more one person pursues, the more the other must retract, in order to maintain a balance of this energy in the relationship system. This can be extreme, or it can be fairly balanced, such as both people taking turns calling the other for dates. If you are aware of the different roles in your relationship you and your partner can dance consciously with them. Within this awareness is the realization that it’s okay when things shift and change. It’s a good thing, because there’s life in relationship and an energetic exchange. The shift back and forth between who’s leading can synergize so leader and follower are informing each other’s motions so fluidly that an observer might not even be able to tell the difference.
Here’s one example, Andrea and Steve got married when they were both between college and grad school. Andrea planned to get an advanced degree in a field where there are limited schools offering study. Steve wanted to study literature, something that he could do anywhere and he was eager to get started. Yet Andrea kept stalling. Steve felt that his life was on hold waiting for Andrea to move forward and he grew very frustrated with her. The positive energy or music in the relationship evaporated and the music became very tense. Steve found himself trying to control small things like where they’d eat dinner and what they did for recreation. Andrea felt stifled and pressured, which didn’t inspire her to get her grad school applications together. Steve considered leaving the relationship in order to pursue his degree, but through exploring what really mattered to him, realized that what he really wanted was simply to feel that he was moving forward in his life. Steve realized that his focus on needing to go to school was actually preventing him from creating his life in the present moment with what is available to him at the present time. He decided to start laying down roots in the community where he and Andrea lived, making meaningful friendships, and even found a job that he liked. As Steve found meaning and enjoyment in his current life, he stopped pressuring Andrea and, as a byproduct, he modeled his new awareness to Andrea. As the pressure on Andrea dissipated, her resistance melted, and they both started to enjoy the dance of their relationship once more. Andrea was able to look at her resistance to going to grad school and recognized that more schooling wasn’t authentically what she wanted. She wanted to be a mom and felt that it would be a bad choice for them to spend their savings on her education. Instead, they used their savings as the down payment on a house together in the small town where they were living and plan to start a family in the near future.
When a couple dances together, they learn to trust each other more and the dance allows each individual to express his or herself more fully. To cultivate this trust, in Steve and Andrea’s case, both had to understand their unique inner motions. Steve had to reconnect with rhythms that allowed him to groove with his own life in the current moment. Andrea had to become clear about where her true momentum was leading her. People who are connected to their life and values are able to bring themselves more fully to the dance with their partner. So to stay connected, let the dance be an expression of your own being and dance like nobody’s watching.
Paying attention to your self and your life force allows you to honestly express yourself with your partner. Your willingness to be authentic, to fully express as best as you can, your own self and what you need in the dance of relationship. This is expressed as true intimacy – your capacity to be fully present in the dance of relationship with your partner, while also fully present within your self. This intimacy deepens the trust that leading to a marvelous dance with dips and twirls and a lot of fun.
At times, it is also necessary to leave your partner’s arms and dance free of each other. This will allow you to take time alone, to reconnect with your individuality, the friends you have and the activities that are uniquely you. If you notice that your dance is feeling mechanical or tired, it may help to gain that separation for a song or two. You and your partner are still dancing, just you have the freedom to swing energetically, to launch into that forward flip that can only be done solo. Or, you might slow way down and become absorbed in a mellow trance as you relish the gentle sensuous melody being absorbed through your skin. In either case, you and your partner are still on the floor, but just in your own spaces and move while allowing each to recharge so you can reengage authentically with the rhythm of the dance together. Begin to pay attention to the signs that you need time and space so you can sens when this is true for you. Likewise, respect your partner’s need for space.
Ultimately you and your partner get to create the motions you want to dance with in your relationship. You don’t have to dance according to the rules of others. Through conscious exploration, you and your partner can create your own parameters and guidelines. Simply be alive to the variations and subtleties of melody, harmony and rhythm that are present in your relationship, and be open to how these influence you and how you influence them. You and your partner can create an infinite play list to enjoy, with new music each day.
Jennifer Zurick-Witte is an author and certified life coach who has transformed her experiences rock climbing to empowering people to skillfully navigate the transitions in their lives to a more fulfilling future. Her most recent books, Simply Sacred: Everyday Relationship Magic and The Alphabet of Inner Demons and How to Tame Them, have drawn praise from a number of critics and friends alike. She's the caregiver for a cat who thinks he's a dog and a dog who thinks he's a cat, and also the mother to a baby girl who has a smile like pure sunshine. To learn more about Jennifer and how she can help you craft creative solutions for your unique challenges and opportunities, check out her website movebeyondit.com