The Keys To a Healthy Relationship: Key No. 3 – The Dance

The Keys To a Healthy Relationship: Key No. 3 – The Dance

by Dr Emma Gray - 12th November, 2018

Relationship Workshop - Key 3

This is the 3rd article in the blog series The Keys to a Healthy Relationship and in it I am going to look at our tendency to get stuck in repetitive communication patterns.

In our relationships we often unknowingly, engage in repetitive patterns of interaction, a kind of communications set piece, or dance. These dances can be healthy leading to both partners getting their needs met, however, often we are drawn to recreate unhealthy interactions or dances from our past, simply because these are familiar and this feels safe, even if it does us no good.

Two of the most common patterns I see in my clinic are:

  • Mark expects to be rejected, Sarah often copes with life by withdrawing. This behaviour confirms Mark’s expectation for rejection and leads him to repeatedly ask for reassurance that Sarah loves him. Sarah finds this behaviour overwhelming and withdraws further. This pattern continues, with neither Mark or Sarah feeling they are getting what they need from the relationship.
  • Sue and Dave both have low self-esteem. Dave copes by believing he is never wrong, Sue by believing she is never right. This dance leads to Dave feeling superior but always slightly angry and dissatisfied and Sue feeling depressed. Neither Sue or Dave feel any joy or contentment in their relationship.

The best way of tackling your (unhealthy) dance is:

1. Accept that a relationship dance involves 2 equal partners, the dance only exists because both partners contribute.

2. Take responsibility for identifying your moves and encourage your partner to do the same.

3. Being able to identify your dance will, over time, enable you to step back from it, creating the space to do something different. This will happen far more quickly if both partners are involved in this process, however, even if one of you does something different, the interaction will change, because ultimately, no one wants to dance alone.

In the next instalment of this series I will look at Key 4: The Impact of the Past.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleagues once described me as a natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.

Read more about my approach to counselling here...

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