Improving on Yourself In order to improve your spouse, you must first improve yourself. BY PETER PEARSON, PH.D.
If you want to get the best out of your spouse, first get the best out of yourself.
I recently had a discussion with a two-time world champion ballroom dancer who has also mentored other dancers to become world champions. This man truly knows dancing and coaching. He told me the way to help your partner to become a better dancer is to become a better dancer yourself.
"Wait a minute—hold on here," I said. "That rule can’t possibly apply to you. You enter Pro-am dance contests where by definition you are more skilled than your amateur partners. Surely it's okay to tell your partners what they’re doing wrong and what they should do better. You are the proven, credentialed expert. They are rank amateurs. You have earned the right to tell them how to improve."
His serious response was, "Not really. The best way to help them improve is by improving myself."
Stunned, I said, "I totally believe that principle is true for marriages. The best way to improve your marriage is to improve yourself, especially in how you manage and react to stressful disagreements. But I thought dancing would be completely different."
Again he reaffirmed his belief. So I asked why he couldn't simply coach a less skilled partner.
He answered, "Dancing is a very interdependent endeavor. You must depend on each other to bring out the best. You cannot depend on someone while teaching them at the same time. If you try teaching them you lose a vital spark in your ability to flow together. The best way to improve my partner is to concentrate on getting better myself."
I savored what he told me and knew it applied to couples’ relationships for sure.
But it forced me to look yet again at something I struggle to accept. When my wife Ellyn and I get into a vital disagreement, I am convinced that I know the correct perspective and the real solution. If only I could make her "a better dancer," all would be right in my world.
I want to remember in that moment that intimate relationships are, like dancing, "a very interdependent endeavor… the best way to improve my partner is to concentrate on getting better myself."
It is a lesson that needs to be learned over and over again. The lesson is simple for me: keep practicing the principles that I teach other couples.
And speaking of teaching other couples, weekend workshops are a great place to learn. To quote the dance pro, have you "lost a vital spark in your ability to flow together?" Or would you like to learn new ways of connecting, relating with vulnerable honesty, disagreeing without losing your focus or your temper? These skills and many, many more can be learned in workshops.
Dr. Peter Pearson and his wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader, are founders and directors of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. As therapists, workshop leaders, authors, and speakers, they are dedicated to helping couples create extraordinary relationships. They have been featured on over 80 radio and television programs including “The Today Show” and “CBS Early Morning News.” For more information, visit www.CouplesInstitute.com or to view their workshops visit http://www.couplesinstitute.com/couples/pete_workshop.html