Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
While not an avid television watcher, I couldn’t help but take notice when episodes of Dancing With The Stars had fan-favorites like Jennifer Grey, Donnie Osmond and Hines Ward going the competitive distance.
“How in the world can they do that?” I’d say to my wife, Christie, admiringly. “They are so fluid, so graceful. I can’t imagine making my body do that.”
“Lots of practice and innate talent,” she replied.
“I just don’t think I could do it, even with practice. And a football player?” I complained.
“You’ve got to remember that these people have dedicated their lives to graceful movement.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” I said.
In a recent Marriage Intensive where I worked with a young professional couple for numerous three-hour sessions, I couldn’t help but reflect on the popular television show as I watched Jack make one sarcastic remark after another at his wife, Debra. She fired volleys back with seeming little awareness of the injuries they perpetrated on each other—not to mention the derailing of any intimacy they were attempting to build with one another.
Jack and Debra had achieved significant professional success and were raising a family of three young children, yet they were separated and trying marriage counseling as a “last ditch effort.” Sadly, while this couple attended church regularly, had built a beautiful home, started a family and the beginnings of a retirement account, they simply had been unable to emotionally dance together.
“Folks,” I said during one of the sessions. “Are you aware of the resentful jabs you take at each other, how hurtful they are and how they halt any kind of emotional dancing you are able to do?”
Both looked at me perplexed.
“What I’m saying is that relating is like dancing. We must be completely tuned into our partner. We must watch their moves, anticipate their actions, meet their needs and bring grace and kindness to the interaction. Every time you fire a volley at your mate—no doubt coming from your own hurt and wounds—you interrupt any possibility of true connection. The emotional dance between you stops—like stepping on the other’s toes in a dance.”
I let my words sink in, noting the sadness in their eyes. They wanted to dance close. We were created for close emotional dancing. Yet, when wounded we want to strike out. Yet this only further alienates us from the one we desperately want to be close to.
“Consider with me the art of dancing,” I said to Jack and Debra. “While I’m no expert on dancing, I know a few things. I know that God created marriage and celebration, and expects us to give ourselves sacrificially to our mate.”
I went on to share these ideas. Dancing requires:
*Trusting your mate.
*Letting go of resentments.
*Anticipating each other’s movements.
While I’m not suggesting that emotional dancing is exactly the same as physical dancing, there are similarities and things we can learn from this analogy.
First, trust in your mate. Specifically, I want you to trust in the good intentions of your mate. Remind each other that you have their back. You want nothing but the best for them. Believe they have nothing but the best in mind for you.
Second, let go of resentments. If you have anger and hostile feelings for your mate, those feelings will seep out into the relationship by way of sarcastic comments, withdrawal or hurtful comments. Take care of business with them, dealing with anger directly and honestly. You cannot emotionally dance while harboring bitterness.
Third, anticipate your partner’s needs and movements. Emotional dancing requires us to be keen observers of our mate. We must know them, what makes them tick and why they do what they do. We must let them know we appreciate their unique personality and the gift of their friendship.
Fourth, be flexible. Things will not always go as you like them to. You won’t always get exactly what you need. But, you can get much of what you need, and more so if you cultivate an atmosphere of respect and genuine affection. Stay loose!
Finally, be graceful. Grace—that fine art of civility where you act kindly, compliment liberally, smile generously and make things just a little easier on everyone—will go a long ways toward emotional dancing with flare.
So here’s to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (yes, I’m dating myself!) and all your favorite stars who practice, practice and practice some more. Take a fresh look into your mate’s eyes and invite him/ her onto the dance floor. Bring your best self to the floor, create your own music and enjoy the connection.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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