Relationships have a lot in common with the Argentinian tango. It makes perfect sense to use the metaphor of the tango to immerse into the topic of intimate relationships. A relationship starts when the partners find each other, just like dance partners. One makes the first step towards and asks if the other wants to dance. The dance is enjoyable when both are passionate and attuned to one other. Like in dancing, some people work together well, for others the dance is not as enjoyable. They cannot dance together, they rather dance against each other. When one leads and the other does not seem to follow or tries to lead as well. No flow can be developed. Some seem to always find the ‘wrong’ partners, who seemed attractive at first but later become uncommitted. Unresolved conflict in both partners, which often stems from adverse childhood experience, can constitute an unconscious obstacle for the couple. Resolving the internal conflicts often requires assistance from a professional. Unaddressed, those issues tend to escalate over time. Eight steps lead to a satisfying and fulfilling marriage.
Communication is key in a relationship. In fact, most couples and individuals who come to counseling have trouble communicating. It is therefore not surprising, that successful communication is only possible after consistent practice. Communication skills are based on a cooperative mindset and on entertaining rituals to minimize conflict and maximize nuturing. Staying connected when emotions are uncomfortable is a learnable skill. Being able to read the partner’s needs correctly and turn towards is a decisive factor in successful relationships. Sharing, building a friendship, knowing each other well allows us to step into a better and more satisfying relationship.
Dancing requires to define the space and to hold it. They let go of each other and find back together. Life partners have needs for both independence and connection. Sometimes we have a need for closeness, sometimes we have a need for space and for being by ourselves. The couple needs a mutual and well-defined space. We need rituals to safeguard the individual space and the togetherness. For instance, rituals can help to reconnect after arguing or can help to preserve the good when the going is tough. Even the best intended partners make mistakes and overstep boundaries, e.g. say things that they later regret. Hurting and feeling hurt is all too normal in a committed relationship, yet we can learn how to heal the wounds. We can learn to change the patterns that were shaped by our own upbringing.
Dance partners have good days and bad days. Not every dance is perfect. Such is life. Everyday life can be consuming. No life and no partner is perfect and never will be. Sure, everyone agrees. However, secretly, we wish our partner to be a little bit more like how we want them to be. On the extreme end criticism and resentment impacts on the relationship negatively and attempts are made to change the partner “If only you were … !” It does not work out, at all. Therefore, relationship work is mindset work. It is internal work, reflecting deeply about your beliefs and rules. When we take a good look at ourselves, we discover how much potential we have. We discover, that when we change how we look at things, that so much more to be had than when the partner changes. Our own shortcomings can actually be the starting point to getting what we want and need. The first step is to accept ourselves, as we are, as the beginning of something new. We can begin to accept the partner as the partner is and follow our inner guide. Learning to get your own needs met is not selfish but an enrichment to the relationship is definitely a milestone to having a great relationship. Then, perfection is nothing you would consider worth persueing.
Dancing can be exciting, intimate, sexy, gentle, upbeat or boring. Surprising steps or movement turn up the suspense. Keeping life exciting can depend on how playful we are and if we are able to add surprises and presence. Rituals can help. Rituals of sharing and communicating, regular nights out, together or individually with friends, provide the frame in which connecting, nurturing and inspiration unfold. Celebrating anniversaries helps keep the awareness alive that time passes and our lives are finite. Daily rituals help reconnect and help separate. Twilight talks or intentional dialogue are ingredients for a better connection.
Sexuality is one of the big topics between partners. Sexuality and physical touch is very important to us human beings, in general, but everyone is a little different what they need. Exploring sexuality is an important part in a relationship, going beyond old boundaries. In it’s best form, the couple explore their sexuality together and experience mutual enjoyment. We can learn to play with erotic components of attraction and polarity, seduction, playfulness and release. In most functioning relationships the sexual intimacy is not a problematic area. Isolated sexual difficulties, like erectile dysfunction or low libido, are rare and often an expression of the couple’s dynamic and communication. The reason for this is that the energy in the sexual department is very sensitive to unresolved business in other areas of the relationship.
Being able to live everyday life in a mindful way is a skill that can be developed. The skill enables us to consciously choose what we do, rather than acting on auto-pilot and being caught up in a number of things we believe we “should” do. Living our lives in the moment means to be able to make better, more suitable choices. We recognise what is important to us and prioritise. We are getting better at dropping things that do not serve us anymore.
In a long-term relationship, discipline helps a lot to keep the beast at bay. The beast is our survival instinct, our fears and our anger. The beast, when activated, can harm the relationship big times. Discipline helps limit the hurt that is done by impulsive or emotional acting out. Discipline helps to put the partner first, when needed. Discipline helps using appreciative language. Discipline helps speak the truth and being vulnerable. Discipline helps thinking consciously.
The greatest connecting element that goes beyond the two individuals in a couple are the children. Yet, a question is, what has the couple in common that goes beyond the children? What connects and binds them as people? How big is their overlap of shareed values?
Learning how to have a happier relationship is very doable. The good news is that you can benefit from the moment you implement changes, and it gets better and better. It just takes two to Tango.
Frank Breuer, Clinical Psychologist
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These ideas were brought to us by our lovely German Couples Therapist Michael Knorr and his wife Tanya Vieten who have run workshops in Sydney, Australia in 2011, 2013 and 2016.