Archive for February 1st, 2011

If you have a baby and/or toddler at home, this post is for you.  If you or your spouse is going to school while working, this post is for you.  If you have ever said to yourself, “Once we get through _______, we’ll be fine,” this post is for you.  The marriage dance is designed by God to be a beautiful expression of true love and commitment.  But sometimes life happens, and our partner dance begins to feel like two solo routines.  We all go through times of intense trials, and sometimes end up shifting into what I call, “survival mode.”

When my daughter was a baby, we thought it would be a great idea to build a house (those of you who’ve ever built a house are, no doubt, laughing right now).  So we sold our tiny home that was bursting at the seems with baby and toddler gear, and shacked up with my folks for what was SUPPOSED to be just a few months.  We moved in with my parents at the beginning of March, and our house was finished July 29 (for those of you who just whipped out your fingers to count, that’s over 4 months).  By the time we moved in to our new house, my then 3-year-old son was on the verge of a nervous breakdown from being dragged in and out of home improvement stores and having his routine utterly destroyed.  My daughter turned one during that time and didn’t even crawl until her birthday, when I put a trail of Fruit Loops on the floor to encourage her to move (‘cuz that’s what an awesome parent I am – it worked though!).  During this time, my husband was enrolled in a Masters program while also working full time at a new job.  Looking back, I wonder if we were merely ignorant or just plain stupid.

So there I was, trying to get us settled in a new home, with a tantrum-throwing preschooler and a baby who didn’t walk or talk until she was over a year-and-a-half (she’s totally normal, by the way, so if you have a baby like that don’t sweat it).  My daughter didn’t cry, she screamed.  And although her words sounded like Chinese, I’m pretty sure she was saying, “You suuuuuuuuuuuck!”  My husband was under enormous pressure to finish his Masters degree because his funding had run out.  He had a 45-minute commute to work each way, and came home exhausted every day.  The kids were desperate for Daddy, so he tried to play with them a little after dinner, but once they were in bed he needed to focus on his masters project.  During this time I had no choice but to shift into survival mode.  I knew I couldn’t ask anything of my husband because he was already at the breaking point.  I did my best to take care of the kids and house on my own, and told myself that my needs would just have to wait until life settled down.  “Once we get through ______ (the house being built, the masters program, the Terrible Toddler stage…), we’ll be fine.”

Eventually, we did get through those things by the grace of God.  But guess what?  Life doesn’t automatically go back to the way things were once we are done with survival mode.  I had learned so well how to live independently, and convinced myself and my husband that I was capable of carrying the weight of our home and family by myself.  The problem was that God didn’t design me or marriage that way.  It doesn’t matter how strong you are in survival mode, a marriage can’t last like that forever. God made us for relationship with him and each other.  When we pretend like we don’t need each other any more, that’s all it is – pretending.  Deep down I knew this, but had no idea how to get out of the rut we’d created in the trenches of survival mode.

Then God gave us a wonderful gift – the dance.  I love to dance, and had always wanted to learn how to do partner dances.  My husband?  Not so much.  But I convinced him to take swing dancing lessons with me at the Rec Center anyway.  (I probably fed him some line about how it would improve our sex life – so jot that down, ladies.)  Swing dancing classes in January led to Tango classes in February.  We stopped after Cha Cha in M.arch, when we discovered that my husband does NOT have Latin rhythm.  But for three months, every Friday night (while my mom watched the kids – thanks Mom!), we practiced one simple concept: my husband had to lead, and I had to follow.  He was pretty insecure about leading at first, since I’ve had a lot more experience with dancing than he has (being the good little Nazarene boy he was).  But in ballroom dancing, the man has to lead.  He learned how to guide me gently with the subtle motion of his hand.  I learned to trust him, and wait for his cues for what to do next.  Our favorite dance was the Tango (which is not nearly as glamorous as in the movies – there were no roses or women being dragged around the floor, much to my husband’s disappointment).  Because the Tango is a slower dance, there was less pressure on my husband to come up with different combinations of dance steps.  We could relax a little and focus more on each other than on figuring out what move to do next.  Tango is an intense dance, requiring you to make eye contact with your partner at all times.  Surprisingly, this was very difficult at first.  We couldn’t look at each other seriously without giggling.  But for four weeks, we practiced looking each other in the eye and moving together in unison.  The two at last became one again!

To come out of survival mode, I needed to step down and let my husband lead again.  He needed to demonstrate that he could be trusted to lead me.  We had to look each other in the eye and rediscover why we were together in the first place – not just to share a home and raise a family – but to dance!

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