Think of a relationship as dancing cheek-to-cheek with your partner. You’re both doing the same steps, moving in sync. Then mid-dance, one of you changes the steps completely. At first, the other person resists. They’re confused. They stumble. They struggle to get you back to the old dance routine.
At this point, one of two things happens:
- Your partner stops dancing with you, OR
- They catch on to the new steps, and a new dance is born.
A man, I’ll call him Ben, was having an affair. “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat,” he said. “I feel ashamed and guilty, but I can’t stop.”
“What do you want to do?”
“You mean change wives?” I asked.
“No. I mean if my wife changed, maybe we could be happy again.”
Ben and his wife, Joan, had 3 daughters.
“We have no time for each other,” Ben told me. “Joan gained weight with each pregnancy. 70 pounds total. I was still attracted to her, but she was never in a romantic mood. She said she felt ugly.”
“If you want to give your marriage another chance, first you have to give up your girlfriend,” I said. Ben looked miserable.
“You could look at it as a temporary break,” I continued. “If your marriage doesn’t improve, you can always go back to your girlfriend.”
“My girlfriend would freak out. I can’t do it.”
Then Joan found out about Ben’s affair. She threatened divorce. Ben promised her he would end the affair. Time went by. Ben didn’t end the affair. Joan found out a second time.
Months later, I saw Ben again. “Joan has a lawyer,” he sighed. “I don’t want a divorce.”
“Are you ready now to put your girlfriend on hold?” I asked.
Ben was desperate and scared of losing his family so he told his girlfriend he couldn’t have any contact with her for awhile. Then Ben brought Joan to meet me.
Almost a year had passed since Joan had discovered the affair. By the time I met her, she was a beautiful, athletic, and slender young woman.
“This is called the divorce diet,” Joan said with a bitter laugh. “I was so depressed I couldn’t eat. I was so angry, I battered my body at the gym every day.”
I asked Joan what might lead a man like Ben, who had always been faithful, to become involved with another woman.
“There’s no excuse for what he did!” Joan said. “This is not my fault.”
“You’re right,” I said. “What Ben did was wrong. This isn’t about fault, though. It’s about discovering what happened to your relationship.”
For many weeks, Joan expressed anger, grief, mistrust, and sadness. Finally, she was ready to talk about the marriage.
“I had no interest in Ben after the kids,” Joan admitted. “I was too tired. I gained all that weight and I felt so unattractive that intimacy was the last thing on my mind.”
Did Ben change his wife, Joan, the way he wanted to? First, he changed his own steps in the dance.
He wrote her little love notes. He unexpectedly cleaned things around the house that Joan usually took care of. He took over some child-rearing tasks. He cooked dinners and made lunches.
Showing love and romance is not only a matter of buying flowers or giving massages. Some men, and women, get that wrong. The sexiest thing you can do for your partner is to figure out what they really need, and then give them that. Don’t forget to surprise them.
Joan changed. She made reservations for a romantic weekend at a mountainside lake. She spontaneously seduced Ben when the kids were out with friends, or sleeping.
What about Ben’s girlfriend? She became shrill and needy after being rejected. Ben scratched his head. “I don’t know what I ever saw in her. It’s like I had temporary insanity.”
The last time I saw Ben and Joan, they were joking with each other and laughing. He reached for her hand under the table and she winked at him.
Did you ever change the dance steps in your relationship?
*Details of this story have been fictionalized to protect privacy.