Each of us has emotional and behavioral tendencies that come out in our relationships. We’re sensitive about certain things and we react in certain ways. We learned most of these tendencies long ago in childhood. We act them out again and again over the years, automatically. They are habitual patterns, and they severely limit us.

As partners, we bring our patterns together, forming a sort of dance. To others, our dance may appear well rehearsed – a choreography of action and reaction. Sometimes, instead of moving together with grace and balance, we exaggerate our differences and dance in steps of opposition. Patterns come up in which we judge each other or emotionally react, and we end up communicating by stepping on each other’s feet.

For example, one of the classic dances in all relationships is the dance of closeness and distance. Though it’s a normal part of daily life, this dance can be difficult. Increased distance may touch off one partner’s pattern of feeling insecure. Extended closeness may touch off the other partner’s pattern of feeling trapped. Such patterns originate in childhood, and they make transitions between closeness and distance hard for us today.

In a troubled dance of closeness and distance, one partner’s pattern sets off the other’s. One may feel insecure and ask for closeness in a way that makes the other feel trapped. Or one may feel engulfed and ask for space in a way that makes the other feel insecure. Soon they’ll be reacting back and forth in extremes, dancing with all the grace of partners hopping on one leg. In this case, one leg stands for “closeness” and the other for “distance.” Depending on which leg one partner puts down, the other will hop on their opposite leg.

The card PATTERNS asks you to be alert to the patterns you dance. What are your patterns for expressing feelings, wants, or needs? Do you withhold or overdramatize? What are your patterns when others express their feelings? Do you attempt to avoid certain feelings? Do you try to fix other people’s feelings if they’re upset? What sets you off? What are you sensitive to? How do you react?

When you notice that you are in a pattern, it’s a good time to stop and breathe. Consider whether you truly want to dance out your whole pattern. Don’t you already know where it will end up? Wouldn’t you prefer to explore a new option? If so, then do not follow your normal steps. Possibly even do the opposite of what you usually do.

For example, consider the dance of closeness and distance. If your pattern is to act out a feeling of insecurity by clinging or demanding closeness, experiment with letting your partner have all the space they want! If you normally feel trapped and dance away, this time stay present and available! In either case, you will be choosing to face the feelings that typically drive your pattern. It takes courage to experience those feelings without reacting. But as you do, you will start to liberate yourself from an old pattern that has run you for years.

By intentionally breaking your habitual patterns, you can move beyond the limits of automatic behavior. You and your partner can develop new options for joy and fulfillment in your relationship – and dance together like true artists.