It Takes Two To Tango... But Someone Always Leads

Photo: Klemzy / Shutterstock
couple dancing the tango

Rumor has it that opinions are like a--holes — everybody has one. And everybody who has dated, been in a relationship and/or ended a relationship has likely heard enough of their friends’ and family members’ opinions about what they should or shouldn’t do to last them a whole heap-full of therapy sessions.

Then there are those opinions and "relationship tips" that become so ingrained in our cultural library that they become seemingly unshakable universal truths, especially now that they are routinely emblazoned on novelty t-shirts and shared as memes 24/7.

Beneath that artificial veneer of humble honesty, many of these idioms and adages serve as signposts on the road to a lifetime spent in miserable — sometimes abusive — relationships by people who have been shamed into believing that standing up for themselves and walking out the door would be a violation of what everyone else believes to be good old common sense.

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Here is a closer look at the danger of five misleading messages sent when we dole out relationship advice too fast, too freely and without enough information.

The real meaning of "it takes two to tango" and other over-used and harmful relationship "tips"

1. "It takes two to tango."

Yes, it does. The tango is a beautiful, passionate dance. But when people invoke this statement in regard to romantic relationships, they miss these key details about the story a tango actually weaves:

  • A couple dancing the tango is not comprised of equals. There is a leader and there is a follower. The two dancers do not share equal power in the momentum or movement of their interactions with each other.
  • While the tango is typically an improvisational dance, one of the consistent “basics” of a tango is that the follower is rarely allowed to keep his or her weight balanced on both feet at the same time.
  • The tango includes a wide variety of movements (barrida, empujadita, morida, parada, sacada, etc.) during which the leader displaces, halts, or blocks the follower's feet — shifting the follower's direction at his or her whim.

These elements may indeed apply to some relationships. Simply replace the term leader with abuser and follower with victim.

Watch for yourself.

Just as there are many styles of tango, there are many styles of relationships. Don’t be so quick to judge which one may be in front of you at any given time.

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2. If you'd both focus on what’s best for the kids, co-parenting could be easy.

This one seems reasonable enough on the surface. Of course, every parent should place their focus first and foremost on what's best for the children. Problem is, who is to say what the children’s best interests truly are?

We want to believe that everyone will ultimately do what is right for their children. Unfortunately, there are many people in the world who equate what is right for the children with what is right for themselves. There is an unconscious justification that plays out, during which an abusive ex can almost instantaneously calibrate their internal rationalizations so that whatever would be worst for their ex or best for themselves can also be framed as best for the children.

We want to encourage our friends and loved ones, so when we say to a friend struggling with high conflict custody issues, “Surely he/she will do what is right for little Jimmy and Jane. You guys just need to focus on the kids,” I get what you are trying to do.

The unintended effect, however, is far more likely to be feelings of dismissal, shame, and self-blame on the part of an already hurting mom or dad.



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3. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

Someone once came to me frustrated that her new love interest insisted she must still have feelings for her ex, because during a moment of co-parenting frustration she made a comment to the new guy about how much she hated the former.

“You know,” the new man replied, “Love and hate are essentially the same feelings. If you ‘hate’ him that much, you must still be in love with him.”

Please allow me to clarify on her behalf — nope!

I can understand the confusion, to a degree.

Research has found that certain parts of the brain are stimulated when subjects experience both love and hate. But in general, we need to be far more patient when it comes to drawing conclusions from similarities alone.

For example:

  • Only two of the five sections of what has been labeled “the hate circuit” in the brain are also activated by love. Hardly an exact match. Love and hate are both represented on brain imaging not only by areas of activity but also by areas of inactivity. Aha! Another similarity! Until that is, you look closer...
  • According to Randy Kreger, author of Stop Walking On Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder, "The scientists found that when we love someone, we shut off the part of our brain that judges — one reason, perhaps, that helps us dismiss red flags that crop up again later in the relationship. When we hate someone, however, we leave the judgment part of our brain blazing. Judgment is an essential part of hatred.”

Hate and love may both be powerful emotions, but they are not equivalent, and feeling one does not necessarily imply a unconscious feeling of the other.

Also, as far as I know, technology as of yet has failed to invent an app that allows us to know what anyone else is feeling at any given time.

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4. Everyone can change.

I have wished upon many a star myself that this one was true. It may be true to a certain extent, but not in the way most people mean to imply when they invoke this codependent relationship classic.

There is certainly a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, i.e., "the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.”

In other words, this phenomenon implies that brain development is never set in stone. As we continue to grow and learn and experience, our brain has, to some degree, a silly putty-like ability to stretch, reshape and copy new data.

Please note the emphasis, again, on to some degree. Just like silly putty, there is only so much stretching any one brain can do, and depending on the conditions and care with which any one brain or putty globule is handled, success may vary.

Handle with care and expect reasonable limitations.

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5. If you love someone, you must accept the good along with the bad.

Again, a half-truth does not a healthy motto make.

No one is perfect. Everyone has some level of crazy. We all have our faults. Yes, yes, I know. Relationships do require patience, communication, tolerance and non-judgmental support in order for the both individuals within them to thrive.

But we all know someone, have been someone, or currently are someone who desperately wishes they could find their way out of a dissatisfying, unhealthy, or abusive relationship, and yet continues to stop themselves just as they finally believe there's a way out of their own prison cell with statements such as, “But no one's perfect, right?“

Yes, that is correct. No one is perfect. I will say it again.

Far more importantly, though, no one has the right to repeatedly and systematically belittle, threaten, dismiss, ignore, berate or harm in any emotional or physical way.

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Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, MSN, Fox News, Bustle, Parents, and more.

This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.