The push and pull of a friendship ‘dance’

Have you ever watched the sport of  ice dancing? I recently watched the 1984 Olympic gold medal performance of Torvill and Dean, which was the first skating couples’ performance to achieve 12 perfect scores.

One of the things that struck me as I watched was the perfect balance of push and pull that this outstanding couple achieved. Each action one made resulted in a corresponding movement from the other. They moved around the rink in a coordinated, responsive progress that was beautiful to watch.

Friendships (and parent-child relationships too) can be like a pair’s ice skating performance. Every action one takes triggers a reactive step in the other, which in turn is responded to in a corresponding step. Friendships can be tricky when the ‘dance’ becomes too rough or when one partner pushes or pulls too much on the other. Staying Connected* have worked out four of the most common ways that these relationship dances play out:

Too Bossy

  • “I know it all, you should…”
  • Contagious with stress
  • Unable to listen
  • “Helps” by imposing beliefs and values on the other
  • Leaves no space for the person to think for themselves
  • Does everything “to” the person

Too Kind

  • Can’t say no, “It’s all my fault”
  • Contagious with stress
  • Fixes without listening
  • Cares for others before self
  • Gives up own beliefs and preferences in attempt to please the other
  • Leaves no space for the person to come to own solutions 

Too Busy

  • “It’s all about me”
  • Contagious with stress
  • Preoccupied with own issues
  • Unable to listen
  • No concern for the other person
  • Does “nothing” for the person, expects them to help instead

Good Enough

  • “I believe in you” approach
  • Contagious with calm
  • Sets boundaries
  • Listens without fixing
  • Encourages the person to think for themselves
  • Supports the person in their solution, doesn’t do it for them

In reality, we can be all of these types of friend with different people and at different times. We will all however probably have a ‘default dance’ – the one that we end up doing over and over again in most of our relationships, because it’s the one we do without thinking, and out of habit.

When things aren’t working in a friendship, change can come through choosing to do a ‘new dance’. We have little power over the actions of others, but we can change our own actions which can have the flow on effect of changing the reactive step the other takes.

Maybe you have never thought of relationships like this. It’s not always easy and it takes practice to stop going back into the old dance. If you’d like some help changing your dance, please get in touch with me at school and we can talk about some possible options.

 * Staying Connected is a carer’s support initiative provided by NSW Health in the Illawarra. For more information, please contact me hbaker@cedars.nsw.edu.au.