“He’s always pursuing me,” Jennifer complained. “I feel cornered and run for the hills.”
Darrel, her husband of fifteen years, squirmed anxiously. Her words had hit a raw nerve.
“I just want her to stay on one topic at a time,” he said, running his hand through his thick, silver hair. “She starts one topic and then jumps to another. Drives me crazy.”
Jennifer, a bright, energetic woman who appeared younger than her forty years, smiled broadly, oblivious to her husband’s frustration.
“My girlfriends talk about all kinds of things, jumping from topic to topic. Nobody seems to mind. I have to change the way I talk when I’m with my husband.”
“That just might be true,” I said. “I’d like to hear more about the dance between you two.”
“It’s the Buffalo and Butterfly Dance,” she said. “I dance around from topic to topic while he wants to zero in on one issue. He can be pretty intense.”
I had never heard of the Buffalo and Butterfly Dance.
“Can you share a bit more?” I asked.
“He wants to talk about one thing at a time. We have to talk about one thing, stick to that topic, and finish it before moving on. He doesn’t want me to get distracted. I like to bounce around. I’m always multi-tasking. I get back to the topic at some point.”
Darrel again rolled his eyes.
“Am I wrong to want to talk about one issue until we get a matter resolved? Is that so crazy? None of my guy friends bounce around the way my wife does.”
“We’re butterflies,” Jennifer beamed.
As I listened to Jennifer share how she and her friends talked, it was hard to be critical. Her style worked for her and her girlfriends. Likewise, listening to Darrel I could easily relate, as I like to stick to one topic at a time, bringing it to a conclusion before moving on. Was this a guy thing as opposed to a gal thing? I was unsure. What was true, clearly, was that Jennifer and Darrel would need to adjust their styles to meet each other’s need. They had to learn about each other’s preferred style if they were going to engage in meaningful conversation. We came up with the following ideas:
First, one style is not preferable to the other. Darrel and Jennifer had to initially get beyond feeling indignant about the other’s preferred way of relating and shaming the other for their style. Both were initially startled when I pointed out their tendency to blame and shame the other for their preferred way of relating.
Second, they had to appreciate the other’s way of relating. Not only was it critical not to shame the other, but it was important that they appreciate each other and note the strengths inherent in their way of relating. Appreciating each other created a degree of warmth and respect for each other.
Third, they had to find a way of interacting that took each particular style into consideration. It was unlikely that one style was going to “win” over the other, but rather they would need to discover a way of “dancing” that took each style into consideration. Jennifer offered a compromise to Darrel:
“How about if I work at sticking to the topic on matters that are really important to you?” she offered. “If I get off topic, just gently bring me back.”
“I can do that,” Darrel shared happily. “And on matters that aren’t critical, I can do the Butterfly Dance with you.”
Finally, both had to practice this new way of relating. Both agreed that appreciating their differences was far preferable to the bickering and shaming they had been doing, and even laughed about their differences. Darrel agreed to allow his wife to be a “butterfly” while she acknowledged and appreciated her husband’s tendency to be a “buffalo” at times.
“God made us all very different,” I shared. “We’re never going to completely change our mate, nor should we try. Besides, how boring would it be to have a clone of ourselves? Marriage, and any relationship, is about appreciating differences.”
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