My husband took some friends and me dancing for my 40th birthday a while back. Any 80’s Material Girl will tell you that a party begins with the Pre-Party in the bathroom. Loud music, hot irons, nail polish, and 10 already-tried-on fashion fails littering the floor. Everything must be. Just. Right. Once I picked the dress, I called for backup from the baby sitter and my pre-teen daughters. Does this go together? Is this dress too tight? I swear it fit last year. Is it ok to wear these orthotics? No? Ok. Do I look, you know, old? Are panty hose in or out? I never know! What about my eye makeup? I’m going for smoky, does it look smoky? Or does it look like my crows feet are just choking? Hey, watch me do the Roger Rabbit- look! I still got it! Groan. Mom, go- you’re gonna be late! That night, we danced till my knees hurt, and then we danced some more.
Relationships are like that dance. We anticipate, we prepare, we get advice and then we dance. We pick our partner with hopes of reeling and laughing and closeness and love, and for a while, the dance is great. But as time goes on, and life’s demand’s increase, the dance gets harder. The steps become more complicated. More skill is required to maneuver the required steps. We end up stepping all over each other’s toes with territorial ego and unchecked insecurities. We spin to the music, afraid our partner won’t actually catch us. We discover that other dance partners look better, stronger, safer. We compete and blame, and act a tough game. The dance floor becomes a boxing ring while each of us throw jabs and then hustle back to our corners. If the dance becomes too much of a struggle, we may leave the dance floor all together. Some of us think, “maybe I was never meant for dancing in the first place,” or “if I were a better dancer, my partner would love me,” or “If he were a better dancer, this would work.”
When we were children, our families were our first dance partners and our home was the dance floor. They showed us a certain way to dance, and that way became familiar to us. It may not have been loving, enjoyable, skilled or functional, but it was what we knew. Because we have imperfect families with imperfect parents, the dance got messy. Some of us even swore as youth, “I’ll never be like them when I grow up!”
As adults, however, we unwittingly attract the same kind of dance partners to our adult dance floor. They may not look the same or act the same, but they dance the same. They feel the same. We put ourselves in the same position we were always in, and we repeat the same messy dance that our parents taught us. Sometimes we turn into the very person we swore we never would. Sometimes we marry the type of person who most hurt us as children.
If you have been deeply wounded by the dance, I get it. Maybe your childhood family system set you up for what looked like a mosh pit, not a dance floor. Maybe your family of origin looked like a middle school dance in the gym where the boys lined one side and the girls lined the other, and the “bad kids” were making out in the back. Maybe in your family, there was something wrong and weak about wanting closeness, so you had to get it in ways that seemed taboo. Or maybe your childhood family system was touch and go, hot and cold, unpredictable and chaotic. Families with addictions and mental illness can feel intensely bi-polar where love and war exist in the same breath. Whatever type of dance floor you learned your first steps, you can re-learn what you need to know for healthy, loving relationships today.
Start Dancing Well by answering these questions
Recognize Your Dance Patterns: How did your family handle conflict, affection and communication? What negative habits have you brought from your family of origin to your current relationship? Do you avoid conflict or do you rush in with arguments? Are you afraid of intimacy or do you smother your partner? Recognize what you are doing to attract the wrong partner or to push good partners away.
Recognize Your Partner’s Dance Patterns: If you have a partner, what family dance patterns did he/she learn growing up? What was his/her role in conflict? Rescuer, scapegoat, rebel, victim, abuser? How is your partner reacting to you in the dance?
Own Your Broken Moves: You may have the moves like Jagger, but if the dance is broken, so are your moves. Look closely at your own contribution to the conflict in your relationship. Be careful and humble to own your broken part of the dance. Are you pushy, enabling, avoidant, passive, or checked out? Identify your part and seek real change
Learn New Moves: You have the power to change yourself and start a new dance. You have the power to change the dynamics in your relationship for the better, even if you are the only one working on it. You are a learner and a doer, so give some attention to replacing ineffective dance moves with ones that really swing!
Ask Your Partner to Dance Again: Once you have done the first four steps by making yourself emotionally healthy, it is time to offer a hand to your partner. Invite him/her to experience the safety, intimacy and joy of dancing with a healthy partner. Even though it’s hard to start again, take the first step by offering forgiveness, grace and friendship. You got this. Maybe you find that the dance is over, and you find yourself dancing alone with no partner in sight. Don’t worry, there are many others doing the same thing. It’s called Line Dancing, and it’s very fun!
You are a treasure and a delight, and you were made to dance. As far as it’s up to you, be the best dancer you can be. Be proud of the hard work you’ve accomplished to change negative patterns. Congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished so far in your emotional and spiritual growth. And Dance.