Once several of my buttons were pushed, then I reacted. I threatened Greg ("You're in big trouble"), although I didn't say it, I blamed him ("My feelings of being controlled and humiliated are your fault"), I demanded things from him ("Just admit that you made a mistake"), I belittled him ("You do stupid things like this all the time"), I criticized him ("You've wrecked their fun as well"), and finally, I shut down and withdrew from Greg. The interesting part of the Fear Dance is that the reactions are really designed to get the other person to change so that we feel better. I wanted Greg to take responsibility, to admit to has mistake, to feel bad for me, or whatever, so that I wouldn't feel controlled and humiliated—so that I would feel better. But it's not Greg's responsibility to make me feel better. That is my job—my feelings, my responsibility. We'll talk more about breaking the dance shortly. But first, let's look at Greg's side of the dance.

Greg's main button is failure. Any time that he feels like he is failing or that someone thinks that he failed or did something wrong, he hates that. So when I whispered that he was in big trouble, it pushed his button—he instantly thought that he had failed in some way. So he reacted by minimizing my feelings ("Lighten up…It was just a joke"), defending himself ("How was I to know that you can't take a joke"), going into a fix-it mode ("Why are you making such a big deal, I fixed the problem"), and sarcasm ("If anyone should admit anything it should be you for not being able to take a joke"). Looking back, Greg also had his humiliated button pushed when I started to attack him in front of the missionary family.

Isn't it amazing how the dance works, and how quickly things can get out of control? My button gets pushed, I react in some way and push Greg's button. He then reacts and my button gets pushed once more, but perhaps even harder this time. Or a new one gets pushed. And so we begin a hurtful dance, an endless cycle that goes 'round and 'round.

The Fear Dance keeps people stuck. Every relationship team, to whatever degree, has some kind of dance. Sometimes it hasn't reached poisonous levels, but unaddressed, it can send even the happiest relationship into helplessness.

The ultimate problem with such a diseased cycle is that it breeds total dependency. The Fear Dance causes me to believe (wrongly) that my son is both the problem and solution. If he just didn't attack me, I think, I wouldn't need to defend myself. If he would just calmly sit down, if he would only remind me of all the things that I do right, I wouldn't get so upset. When I see Greg as both the problem and the solution, I become totally dependent upon him. And the same thing happens to him with me.

© Copyright 2006 Smalley Relationship Center