As a partner in a relationship, every one of us is involved in a dance. And when we’re on different pages from each other, we might mistakenly feel the need to ‘coach’ our partner on how to be, what to think, or how to improve themselves. In fact we need to do the exact opposite! We need to improve our own dancing first.
In this guest blog Ellyn Bader & Peter Pearson, two of my trainers in couples therapy who generously allowed me to re-post their words, explain why trying to change our partner instead of first changing ourselves, is a losing proposition. You can see their original post on their site .
“I learned a lot from a discussion I had with a two-time world champion ballroom dancer who has also mentored other dancers to become world champions. This man truly knows dancing and coaching. He told me the way to help your partner to become a better dancer is to become a better dancer yourself.
“Wait a minute – hold on here,” I said. “That rule can’t possibly apply to you. You enter Pro-am dance contests where by definition you are more skilled than your amateur partners. Surely it’s OK to tell your partners what they’re doing wrong and what they should do better. You are the proven, credentialed expert. They are rank amateurs. You have earned the right to tell them how to improve.”
His serious response was, “Not really. The best way to help them improve is by improving myself.”
Stunned, I said, “I totally believe that principle is true for relationships. The best way to improve your relationship is to improve yourself, especially in how you manage and react to stressful disagreements. But I thought dancing would be completely different.” Again he affirmed his belief.
So I asked why he couldn’t simply coach a less skilled partner.
He answered, “Dancing is a very interdependent endeavor. You must depend on each other to bring out the best. You cannot depend on someone while teaching them at the same time. If you try teaching them you lose a vital spark in your ability to flow together. The best way to improve my partner is to concentrate on getting better myself.”
I savored what he told me and knew it applied to couples’ relationships for sure.
But it forced me to look yet again at something I struggle to accept. When Ellyn and I get into a vital disagreement, I am convinced that I know the correct perspective and the real solution. If only I could make her “a better dancer,” all would be right in my world.
I want to remember in that moment that intimate relationships are, like dancing, “a very interdependent endeavor…the best way to improve my partner is to concentrate on getting better myself.”
It is a lesson that needs to be learned over and over again. The lesson is simple for me: keep practicing the principles that I teach other couples.
Do you find this to be true in your relationship? What do you want to focus on improving?
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