You took ballroom dancing a while ago. And quite a few times this experience came up in our conversations.
So much in the image of dancing relates to the couple relationship in marriage. If you can hold the image, for a moment, of a couple engaged in a dance, let me reflect on what this experience can teach us about a healthy marriage.
Marriage is a dance. Usually someone takes the lead, and the other follows. But, depending on the music, the roles might reverse. Sometimes in marriage when circumstances change, health challenges mount, or when certain stresses pile up, the one who usually follows might need to take the lead for a while; whether it’s taking care of the other, or simply giving a little bit more time and love. Other times, the roles might need to reverse, again.
The first message here is to remain flexible in your roles and learn to give and receive when called upon. Rigidity and inflexibility are not signs of a healthy marriage; being flexible and fluid with roles and responsibilities, are.
Secondly, in a dance, couples sometimes dance together and sometimes apart. Kahlil Gibran (“On Marriage”) wrote about the blessing we find in the spaces between us. Honouring our differences and the important function of our individuality in a relationship is just as important as the togetherness part.
In truth, respecting boundaries may even be more important because in doing so we recognize our unique gifts and contribution to the relationship. Instead of pretending we have to be the same and merge our concept of self – blend it – with the other until we lose a sense of unique self, we learn to complement one another in mutual love.
Indeed, there is a time in the dance where we need to ‘let go’ of holding the other’s hand and dance separately: Pursuing our unique hobbies and interests, spending some time with our own friends, asserting one’s own opinion vis-à-vis the other – these are examples of a healthy individuality within a committed couple relationship, a vital characteristic of the ensemble.
Mutual and reciprocal love also means that when a mistake is made, or a mis-step as in a dance, both individuals in the partnership have to face the problem. Both are affected. When one of you messes up, both of you are thrown off course. And in that moment of confession and realization of the problem, you are left facing each other. And what will you do in that moment?
When you’ve described this situation to me, I was glad to hear that in the dance you tried to regroup, and get back into sync with each other and the music. And carried on. Because mistakes will be made, to be sure. In marriage, when one partner slips, we often think: “Well, that’s HIS problem.” Or, “that’s HER problem.” “They need to fix it;” “They need to get help.” “It’s not my problem.”
Actually, it is. The mutual nature of a healthy relationship means that just as much as it takes two to tango into a problem, it will take two to tango to resolve the problem and manage it. Any problem or conflict in a relationship carries with it mutual responsibility – causing it and resolving it. Accepting this truth will go a long way to getting a couple back into the dance.
For example, whether or not you directly exhibit symptoms of a problem that affect the relationship, you ask yourself: How did I contribute to causing this? What is my culpability? Was there something I was doing, or not doing, to allow this problem to grow? And, what is my role in solving the problem? What can I do to improve and help the situation?
In order to get back on track, both sides of the question need to be addressed by each partner.
Finally, the broad context of a dance is a party, right? Let’s not forget this: At a party, you dance. It is a joyous event, something to be celebrated. Like marriage, and this wedding day, you are surrounded by a community. Marriage is a public act, supported by others around you. Your friends, your family and your church gather to celebrate and give thanks for your decision to be married.
And, what is more, we’re having a ball! It is a party. Take the time to look around you today at the faces of those who have come to support you and pray for you. These are the people who have walked with you and promise to continue walking – and dancing on the dance floor – with you on the journey of life. Marriage calls us, in the end, not to retreat and isolate ourselves from, but to engage with our community and our world in meaningful and productive ways. Marriage is a reflection – a witness – to God’s purposes in the world.
The music is the source of our dancing and our partying. The music is the reason for our joy in marriage. The music is like God’s presence. It is always there for us. God’s love, God’s peace, God’s Word – are available to us. God’s grace is the beat – the rhythm – that gives life to our movement with one another.
And for this, we are eternally thankful!