In the beginning of our ballroom dance experience, we attended Friday night practice dances at the studio. You were supposed to take the dance moves you had learned and execute them without the instructor calling them out. One evening, Bob and I were sitting at a table and catching our breath when I was approached by Roland, one of the young dance instructors. He extended his hand to me and invited me to dance. “No, Roland,” I said. “It’s a Salsa. I’ve never taken Salsa.” (Not even one class.) “C’mon, c’mon,” he persisted. I looked at Bob and he shrugged his shoulders. “Go ahead.” So, I followed Roland onto the dance floor.
Roland was not only a dance instructor, but he was also a competitive Salsa dancer. We faced each other and he took my hands. “This is the basic step,” he instructed. “Right foot back. Left foot forward. Right foot back. Left food forward.” Simultaneously, he was showing me with our hands the pattern my feet should make. His clarity of communication made him easy to follow.
“Now,” he said, “just keep doing it. Don’t stop.” That didn’t seem too hard until Roland surprised me by turning me suddenly to my right. “Don’t stop. Just keep doing the basic.” But then, he turned me just as quickly to my left. After a few more turns, I became comfortable with this step and he began crisscrossing our hands over our heads and leading ever-faster and more complex turns as well as steps I can no longer describe or remember. And in all of this, I, a beginning dancer, was able to follow him.
When I returned to our table, Bob was flabbergasted. How did I manage to follow him and why would I tell you this story in a blog about marriage? The principles Roland seemed to know intuitively about leading in dance, also apply to a husband’s leading in marriage.
- Roland was sure of himself. He had a plan. He had studied the steps. He had practiced them and it made him a strong leader. There was never any wavering. No hesitation or uncertainty. That gave me confidence to follow him. In marriage, you get surer of yourself by studying the Book (the Bible) to learn the principles of how a godly husband conducts himself. You practice those principles. Daily. With the help of the Holy Spirit. You hang around other “skillful” husbands and learn what they do to be successful.
- He was gentle. For as strong and sure as Roland was, I never felt jerked around. A husband who is not gentle with his wife will probably find her resisting his leadership. Strong + Gentle is a good formula for cooperation.
- Roland communicated clearly what was needed. He said it with his mouth and demonstrated it with his actions. We have written numerous blog posts on the topic of communication. Here’s the Cliffs Notes version: You’re not always as clear as you think you are. Make sure your partner is hearing the same meaning as you are trying to communicate. “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” Understand the concerns that are churning below the surface. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.
- Roland made it fun. That’s another principle to incorporate when leading in marriage. Some things must be done. Sometimes hard decisions need to be made. Build in a reward at the end. Schedule the objectionable task in reasonably-sized bites. At least figure out how to joke about it. Try to make it fun.
There is much more to be said about the parallel between leading in dance and leading in marriage. If you care to explore it, it can be found in Chapter 5 of The Marriage Dance: Lead with Confidence—Strong but Gentle.