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Danceof the Rubber Band

Relationships function much like what I call the Dance of the Rubber Band.  A healthy tension must be kept on the relationship for it to be effective. Much like tension must be kept on a rubber band for it to be effective and to fulfill its purpose.

Think about it. A rubber band is of benefit only when it holds tension around two or more things.

When I conducted private practice couples counseling, often I used a rubber band to demonstrate.

Put one end of the band around your left hand and the other end around your right.

If it is loose, pull both hands back and see what happens. Yes, the tension on the band grows more uncomfortable the further you pull.

Because of this discomfort, you move your left hand closer to the right. The tension eases. The band becomes slack and useless, so the right hand moves back further to regain the tension. And the left hand, uncomfortable, moves in on the right again.

So begins the Dance of the Rubber Band.

For the rubber band to be of any use, tension must be placed on both ends of it. But if it is pulled too tightly, the tension becomes uncomfortable and with increasing pressure, will break. To keep that from happening, often one hand moves forward to ease the tension and the other hand moves away–hence the dance.

But if both hands continue to pull back, what will happen? Yes, the band will eventually break.

Now, take this same example and use it as a metaphor in your relationships. This is where the Dance of the Rubber Band takes life. What happens when, say, a wife has control issues and tries to order the husband to her bidding. He jumps every time she gives an order, and the tension holds. But after a while, say the husband grows and learns

Then, say the husband  one partner moves in too close to the other? Yep, the other becomes uncomfortable and takes a step back.

If, as a result, the first person steps forward again and the second person moves even further back.

On the other side of this metaphor, what happens when a person invades our space? Yep, again. We step back. If both people step back too far, the band (bond) is likely to break. And if they both step in too close to each other, the band–the comfortable, useful tension (purpose) of the band exists no longer.

When I did couples therapy several years ago, I often had each spouse wear a rubber band around their wrists as a reminder of the dance. Keep enough tension on the band to make it useful, but when one person steps away, don’t go forward. Instead, take a step back, and often the other will take a step forward.

The Dance of the Rubber Band.

What about you? Have you noticed how, if you step forward, your partner steps back? Have you been tempted to step in even closer? Keep the tension on your relationships

. Practice the dance and see if it improves your relationship.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yes, I find that if someone is pushing me away, I’m much more likely to step closer as if trying to pursue him or her. Win them over. I often wondered why I did this.
    After reading about the rubber band, I’m understanding more about why couples want a little distance just when they feel everything is going so well. But what about being one with each other? Bonding? Or being soul mates? You can’t get any closer.
    We keep striving for closeness.
    As a I writer, I have a couple who are close and caring. I don’t see any rubber bands there, but then they’re my dream couple.

    January 11, 2013
    • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

      Dorothy, I hear you. And yes, there are some couples who have bonded so close–soul mates as you would. I wonder if perhaps they have found the secret of the dance and they do it so smoothly it isn’t even noticeable to them or to others. There is such a thing as finding that balance in a relationshop. That usually only happens after much work by both parties. Then, the two know how to keep that perfect tension on the rubber band so that neither one moves too far away, nor in too close. Interesting question. Worth observing and watching. Love any more feedback you might have about it.

      January 11, 2013
      • Dickey, I think relationships are always such a struggle. But the time in between the struggle seems worth it. I never know if to demand, nicely, what I need, or if this would push a person farther away. Yet if you don’t reveal your needs, they’re in the dark. I guess it’s the rubber band again. That’s why it’s a struggle because it’s done intuitively and nobody talks about it. Nobody says, “I think we’re a little too close now, so I’m going to back up a little. ” (That made me chuckle.)
        It is fun talking about this with you with your obvious expertise.
        Dot

        January 12, 2013
    • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

      Great conversation, Dorothy. I’m loving it too! Helps me put into words that sense of inner knowing. And you know what? I think when we do sense another person stepping back and we respond by stepping forward, we feel that backward step they took deep in our gut. It is uncomfortable. So, we convince ourself if we step even closer, they will too. Not so–quite the opposite. Often they take a bigger step back.

      Dream couples, I would guess, have perfected the dance! Making the steps so smooth and seamless you don’t notice who is leading at any one moment. And yes, I’ve found myself doing that too, Dorothy, moving closer when someone seems to be pushing me away–or used to–until I learned the power of the dance. Healthy relationships are balanced. And yes, we often keep striving for closeness. The key to closeness, however, is in balancing the dance. Balance.

      Soul mates dance–for sure. There is distance around soul mates. For sure. And their ‘dance’ only deepens the relationship. It doesn’t separate–quite the opposite. Why? Because it teaches us to respect the other person’s boundaries.

      Stepping back is one way of creating a healthy boundary for ourself. Allowing the other person to step back without us moving closer shows that we respect their boundaries.

      Relationships, to be effective, carry that balance, that tension. If not, they languish, limp, ineffective, and sometimes being harmful.

      January 12, 2013
      • Jim Hogg #

        I am suspicious of “dream couples.” I am suspicious of happy people. If there is no tension, there is no authentic relationship. There is no such oneness. We are different people, regardless of how much we try not to be.

        January 13, 2013
        • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

          Jim, I hear what you are saying. No couple is perfect and no couple is perennially happy. So many times, people/couples put on a happy face in public, and come across as the perfect couple, when in fact, behind closed doors, there is much unhappiness. At times even abuse of one kind or another. Better to be authentic, than ‘happy, happy, happy.’ Indeed, relationships thrive on a healthy amount of tension. Differences must be honored. Each must be open to the other person finding and being themselves, then coming together to share. That is the power of the Dance of the Rubber Band. A healthy amount of tension and space and respect. If not, the band is ineffective. Thanks for sharing. I honor your path.

          January 13, 2013
          • Sylvia, when do you know that the rubber band has snapped? If you pull away at times, and so does he. You can have a period where you don’t seem to be getting along at all. Then it all goes away. Things are fine again.
            What’s that all about?
            But suppose it happens way too much?

            January 14, 2013
          • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

            Oh boy. To me, when the rubber band snaps, the relationship is likely over. When that happens, at least one person of the pair knows that because it rings loud and clear. Perhaps what you are referring to is not a snapped band, but a band that has been stretched so wide it has become unusable. And yes, sometimes a couple is not getting along for a while and then it gets better seemingly for no reason. However, old wounds don’t heal on their own. They fester. Then they get snatched up and used again when the wounded person needs a weapon. I believe it is of the utmost importance for a couple to keep talking about an issue until both people feel ‘done’ with it–even if that takes days. I’ve found that if my husband says something that bothers me, then I raise the issue, then he’s upset. Days later he may come back to me and need to talk about it more. Then–maybe I’m not done, and have to talk through the issue again. However, this does not mean we FIGHT about it, rather we try to understand the other person.

            The biggest argument we have ever had was right after we married and over a half a glass of orange juice. It took us days to work through it–off and on, of course. Today, we laugh about it–BECAUSE we stayed with it until we were both clear about what had happened.

            And if an argument happens way too much, then the two people need to commit to work through it until it doesn’t. (We no longer argue over ‘the orange juice’ which wasn’t about the orange juice at all.

            And congratulations on your new mystery coming out with Mainly Murder Press. “Murder at the P & Z

            January 14, 2013
  2. Sorry, meant to address you as Sylvia!

    January 12, 2013
    • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

      (No biggie about the Dickey)

      I agree, we don’t say, “I’m backing up now.” Seems to me that would dilute the effort. The power is in the self care, the self boundaries, and in the demonstration that we claim what we need–space. Some people need more space than others, and when that is different between each in the relationship, there comes the imbalance. However, when one person feels a need for space and claims it, that in itself helps the other person learn how to use that ’empty’ space. Does that make sense?

      It also helps us each not be so ‘needy.’ I don’t know about you, but I don’t respond well to ‘neediness.’ If someone needs way too much of me, I pull back. Whether that is a mate or a neighbor. It makes me feel like they suck the air out of me. Not good. I don’t help them or me if I allow them to do that. So–I step back.

      That also sometimes requires me to claim some space. For instance–when I’m sick, if the other person becomes overbearing about it, giving me way too much sympathy, I must claim that “I’m tired talking about my health. Let’s talk about something else.”

      Again, it is all about setting our personal boundaries–which always aids relationships because the relationships are more honest–open.

      Thanks, Dorothy, for letting me go on about it. A topic I can talk about forever! LOL

      January 12, 2013
  3. This is wonderful conversation since you are experienced.
    I’ll step back if too much time is needed of me from someone, but I like being needed. Having raised four children, I loved being so essential to their well being. So I guess it’s the maternal instinct in me. You talked about being sick, well, if i’m left alone too much while I’m sick, I become lonely. I like a little TLC. But not to dwell on sickness just a bit of interest and cheering up. I have an awful immune system and I can get bronchitis almost each late September. It drags on for a couple of months. I’m a very active person walking each day, tai chi, and more. So that all comes to a painful stop and all my children are in different states so that leaves me needing company.

    But people can often feel burdened especially if they’re independent themselves. So I understand that.

    I enjoy talking to you, your rubber band metaphor was an insightful, wonderful eye-opener!

    And, please do me a favor and “go on,” anytime!

    January 12, 2013
  4. Donna #

    I feel this happens in friendships as well. So many people don’t realize it takes both people to work at a friendship…just like a marriage, if only one tries to make it work…it will fail. I have had so many friendships end because I tried and worked at each but the other just left it like a flower without water and the friendship died. I actually thought moving 1200 miles (60 miles from my friend) would bring us together as best friends again but it seem to push us apart. I am almost at the point of not wanting any friends because I don’t want to be hurt again, I don’t want to feel the snap of the rubber band because the tension was so tight….both I and the rubber band snapped. Any advice or suggestions on how to balance a friendship.

    January 13, 2013
    • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

      Wow. Good question, Donna. And you are so correct. This dance of the rubber band occurs in any relationship we may be in. Friends, professional relationships, family. I hear how this snap of the band has hurt. I, too, have had such experiences. One in particular. And yes, it does hurt, badly. I grieved over the loss of that friend for a long time. We finally reconnected several years later–after we’d both grown. We are still friends–but live a 1000 miles away from each other and only see or talk to each other once a year maybe. That way, we can still enjoy those times without the friend dishonoring my choices.

      Friendships are tough. Or can be. Particularly if one person wants more out of the friendship than the other. And as in any relationship, it takes both people wanting the friendship and working equally to make it happen. When that isn’t the case, when I want a closer friendship with someone than they want with me, I must back off and respect their boundaries, otherwise I push them away–and don’t have the friendship at all. Sometimes, perhaps our expectations of a friend can be too great. More than the other person can or wants to give. Friends can’t be everything to each other, they can only compliment each other. When those expectations are too great, the other takes a step backward.

      I suggest you practice tuning in to your own sense of knowing–your intuition–and follow it. Pay attention to those subtle messages another person gives. Don’t listen so much to what a person is saying, listen to why they are saying it. Then, adjust your actions accordingly. Better that a friend want more of your time, than less.

      When a person can leave a friendship like a flower without water–the friendship was not a good match, or the timing of it wasn’t. That friend did not value you–at least at that moment. Also, remember, oftentimes those actions are not so much about you, but about them–stresses, issues, financial problems, health concerns, relationship issues, job problems–all of these can sap a person’s energy, leaving nothing else to give. At different times in our lives, our need for friendships vary.

      And when a friendship is not working, bless it and let it go. Best of luck.

      If any of this doesn’t make sense, or you have a question about it, please ask.

      January 13, 2013
  5. Donna, I can’t wait to hear Sylvia’s advice. Real friendship is very rare.

    Here’s hoping that the next one will work. It’s worth the effort.

    January 13, 2013
    • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

      Dorothy, you are so right. Real friendships are indeed rare. And friendships come and go. We move in and out of relationships because of our own growth. We can really care about someone, and each grow in different directions. Just like marriages. Just like my first marriage. I still love my ex, but I couldn’t live with him! LOL We no longer have anything in common (but children and grandchildren).

      I count many people as my friend, even though I seldom see them or talk with them. That’s okay. I still care about them, and they, me. The key, again, is balance. I had a male friend tell me one time, “Sylvia, never give more intimacy in a relationship than you get back.” Perhaps that’s the key to balance.

      January 13, 2013
  6. You have a husband who will talk, Sylvia. Some husbands don’t want to get close to emotions. They consider it a breakdown of some kind if they have to discuss their feelings–go figure. So what occurs is an argument and you hope it doesn’t come up again and you try to get over it.

    January 14, 2013
    • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

      My husband talks, but not about feelings. The best way to dialog with men is to talk about thinking. “What did you think when I said that? Or did that?” Then you have a chance to clarify what they thought about what you said or did. And you do that until the issue is clear. He used to ascribe my intent. “You said that just to criticize me–to judge me–or control me,” whatever.” That was a tough one to get past because he was certain of my intent. Took me a while to convince him only God and I knew my intent–he didn’t. And his assumption was incorrect.

      And if we think that topic won’t come up again (if we haven’t settled it–completely settled it!) WRONG! 🙂 That’s why it behooves both people in the relationship to work through it until it is a fond memory, and without barbs attached to it.

      January 14, 2013
  7. So, Sylvia, you say to this person, “We had an argument this morning,” just to get at the root of what caused the argument, and he says, “I didn’t have an argument, you did.”

    Where do you go from there? There is use of the word “thinking,” at least in this situation.

    Isolation sets in. You withdraw thinking, “Am I living alone?”

    January 14, 2013
    • Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

      Some people define arguments differently, too. Some people–I’ve known men this way–who just see it as clearing the air–and not arguing. Whether you did or not, it is all about communication and feeling understood. To do that, often we have to first seek to understand!

      January 14, 2013
  8. Sylvia, I’m adding to my above comment because it doesn’t make sense. What I meant to say was people get heated and sometimes you need a little space. But if you can later talk about what you “thought” started the argument and not what you “feel” started it, as you suggested, you might get some where.
    I hope that’s clearer. You did me a great service. Next time I’m in an argument with a man, I will stay away from the Feeling-Word.
    Thank you!

    January 14, 2013
  9. Sylvia, my above comment doesn’t make sense. But let me just say that you did me a great service. Next time I’m in an argument with a man, I will stay away from the Feeling-Word.
    Thank you!

    January 14, 2013
  10. So true, Sylvia, thanks again.

    January 15, 2013

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