What makes a marriage feel like a dance? Part 2

bigstock-Street-dancers-performing-tang-28915865“I’ve been super supportive during your deal,” Sarah, a tax accountant, told her husband, John, an attorney who was calling from his office at midnight.  “I want you to admit that last year during my busy season you didn’t step up to the plate.”  Not surprisingly, John refused to “admit” anything and they hung up angry.

Sarah had gone the Fast Marriage route:  No attention to whether her hasty late-night phone demand was likely to elicit a meaningful response.  No focus on results.  By comparing John’s behavior unfavorably to her own, she’d resorted to taking the moral high ground — never a promising way to engage a partner.  Sarah was feeling the pain of a relationship wound that needed healing, but raising it this way wasn’t going to accomplish that.

Let’s take a Slow Marriage approach:  

  1. Wait a beat.  Sarah lets her husband absorb (without any negative or begrudging comment from her) how great it was to have her support during his late week.  Sometimes we need to trust that our partner, like us, is learning from everyday life experience.  That’s one reason marriages improve over time.
  2. Engage your partner as an ally.  Before getting into why she’s upset, Sarah gets John on board: “Listen, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.  Ready to  talk?”  The focus is on a conversation that will be good for the the marriage.  That protects Sarah by ensuring that her relationship wound will get the caring attention it deserves.
  3. Focus on the future, not the past.  Instead of insisting John “admit” anything, Sarah tells him that she is still hurt about the way he hadn’t been there for her during tax season and asks him for assurance that next time he’ll be more attentive — taking over some of her chores and errands, giving her a back massage, listening to her vent, whatever’s important to her.  More often than not, in my experience, John is glad for specific instructions on how to brighten Sarah’s day.

Which brings us to the #2 element in Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s analysis of flow:  The Merging of Action and Awareness.  When we just criticize our partner, we are highly aware of what we’re feeling.  But awareness without action is just complaining.  It’s like an awkward dance or a bad golf swing.  No flow.  By telling John about her hurt and letting him know what she’d like in the future, Sarah is both aware of her relationship wound and taking action to heal it, She’s changed their dance step.  Flow.

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