A Tango for Thriving by Annette Carpien

annetteTodd and I were engaging in friendly banter with a young engaged Italian couple sitting at the next table.  When they asked what brought us to Rome, we told them we were celebrating our fortieth anniversary in Italy.

“Forty years!” they shrieked in their Italian-English, “We don’t know anyone who stayed married that long.  Quite honestly, we are hoping we make it to 5 years.  You both look so happy, do you have any secrets to share with us?”

Todd told them, “You asked the right person.  My wife is a Love Coach for couples, and she LOVES helping couples have juicy and thriving marriages.”  I love that Todd is excited by my passion, and he even has adopted my juicy words.

“My favorite tip,” I told them:  “Laugh at yourselves a lot, and don’t take each other’s faults too seriously.”  Carlotta didn’t quite understand and asked if we would tell them how we laugh at ourselves.  I blushed a little, but then thought of a story I could share.  I knew I had Todd’s permission to tell this story.

“Todd and I go out Ballroom and Swing dancing frequently.  We enjoy it a lot …when our dancing goes well, …but it doesn’t always.

I used to feel so invalidated by his look of annoyance and frustration with me, that we had quite a few arguments on and off the dance floor. His looks triggered me into feeling a bit pathetic and hopeless as a dancer, and even as a human being, believe it or not!  Many times, his upset was with himself, not even with me, but I didn’t know that, and I would be triggered and upset anyway.

Once, about 12 years ago, we were attending a romantic dance getaway weekend, and were staying in a lovely hotel.  But that first evening, we got so upset with each other that Todd packed up his suitcase and went to sleep …in our van ….on a freezing night in Feb!

I decided at that moment, that I wanted to master being calm, assertive and responsive, not reactive, when triggered.  Thirty minutes later, Todd came back sheepishly (and freezing) to our hotel room, and said he was sorry for (in his words) ‘being an asshole and getting so annoyed’ with me.  He offered to give me a massage to make up for being an asshole.  We laughed really hard, and I accepted, with delight.

For many months after that, I worked with a spiritual life coach to help me be able to be calm and self-loving, even when I thought he was annoyed with me, as well as with all my other triggers.

Now, as soon as I see that very annoyed look on his face on the dance floor, I will say, with a smile, “Are you going to sleep in the van?”  The absurdity of that incident reminds us pretty quickly to stop taking ourselves so seriously.  It totally changes our mood for the better, very quickly.  Now that I don’t get triggered anymore, that helps Todd get over his upset more quickly.  My growth and change became a mirror for his growth and change.

Other times, Todd will be trying to teach me some new Tango moves that he learned from a DVD.  It usually takes me a long time to really get all the steps and correct timing; sometimes he has to repeat every nuance of every move over and over and over, till I get it.  I tell him, “Thanks for pretending to be patient with me.” And I smile lovingly at him.  We always get a good laugh about that.  He is pretending to be patient, which helps him to actually be patient, and I really appreciate it!

So, Tony, at the next table exclaimed, “Oh, so we don’t have to be saints to get along well; we just have to be willing to laugh at our own imperfections, and make up! I like that!”

“Remember this,” he commanded Carlotta.  They both looked at each other and laughed.

“OK, and #2, “Learn how to let go of your triggers,” Carlotta wrote down.

“Yes!!!” I exclaimed.  “You will be so much lighter and able to enjoy life and each other.  Your buttons are your own responsibility to heal.  When you are not triggered so easily, you get to experience more joy in yourself and together.”

“Tell us more secrets,”  they clamored.

“What you feed is what will grow.”   Will you be feeding your complaints or your happiness?”   I let Todd know, many times in the course of a week, the things about him that I admire, love, respect, and appreciate.  Guess what?  He does more of those things I love.  Then when I ask him to change how he behaves in some way that bothers me, he is much more willing to listen and to please me.”

When we feel believed in and valued, we grow into our own greatness,” I added.

“We both feel so valued and cherished now, that we are blossoming as human beings and as a couple, and that NEVER gets boring!”

“Wow,” Tony said.  “If we just remember those few things, I think we have a chance of at least 10 years together!” They beamed into each other’s eyes and laughed.

Carlotta asked, “Can we look you up then and get our next installment of tips so we can make it to 20 years?”

“Gladly.” I said. “And for your 20th anniversary, Tony and Carlotta, you’ll need to be sharing your wisdom with all the young engaged couples you meet at restaurants.”  A whole new possibility of thriving as a couple opened up for them that evening.  That is a legacy I am happy to leave.


Annette Carpien, PCC

Professional Certified and Mentor Coach

Coaching for Joy, for Singles, for Pre-Committed and Committed Couples

Recovering from and thriving after Divorce

Great Relationships Coaching


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