In another life before I was a dance teacher, I was part of a counseling collective. My specialty was couples counseling and mediations. I was good at it, but it was not a good fit for me because I couldn’t shut the door of my mind and forget about my clients in between sessions. I worried about them and felt responsible for their healing process. Anyone who does this for a living knows this is not a sustainable flaw for anyone in the therapy business.
Now I use that skill to teach my students how to dance without getting on each other’s nerves. But those neural pathways are permanently embedded in my psyche, and I’m constantly aware of the dynamics I see in the couples with whom I work. Learning to practice is just like learning to relate in any other way. It’s all about communication. You can translate what you learn about yourselves and each other as you learn together, to whatever other dynamics come up in your relationship.
In your dance lesson, it looks like this: Sometimes you don’t know what you are doing wrong, or in fact that you are doing anything wrong. You need feedback, or you’ll just keep happily practicing the same mistakes, especially if your partner enables you by guessing what you meant and doing what she knows you wanted rather than what you actually lead. Sometimes you do know what you’re doing wrong and you just need to practice. What happens when your partner keeps pointing out what you’re doing wrong when you just need to practice? Right. How long will this marriage last? So how do you avoid getting on each other’s nerves while practicing this challenging dance you’ve chosen to learn with another beginner? Somehow the answer is not as clear when you are in the emotion as it is when you are presented with the question here. Communication comes down to two basic components. Tell your partner when you need feedback and when you don’t. Ask your partner if they want feedback if you’re not sure. OK, three components. If it’s not working and you can’t figure it out, stop practicing and wait until you can ask your teacher. If this comes up in other aspects of your life, make an appointment with a couples counselor. Do it early, when you still feel open and want more for each other than for yourselves. Don’t wait until you’ve lost trust in each other.
About that business of enabling your partner. In my essay about following, I comment that in our society women are hardwired to expect men to screw up, and to consider it our jobs to fix it before they notice. It’s a hard habit to break because we do it unconsciously but it’s important to pay attention to. Whether you guess wrong or right, it doesn’t help him learn to lead and it make a lousy follower out of you. Since I’ve never known a student who appreciated being second guessed by his partner even if she’s right, I can pretty much assure you that it doesn’t work in the rest of your relationship either.
I have students who say they use their dance lessons instead of marriage therapy. This can work if your relationship is working. It’s a good test for healthy dynamics and of course you are learning the most romantic skill you do together. If you’re really not hearing each other (you know this because neither of you feels heard by the other) then go see someone whose job it is to teach you how to communicate with each other when you’re NOT dancing.
By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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