The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate

The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate

by Harriet Lerner


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060956165
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/06/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 131,383
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is one of our nation’s most loved and respected relationship experts. Renowned for her work on the psychology of women and family relationships, she served as a staff psychologist at the Menninger Clinic for more than two decades. A distinguished lecturer, workshop leader, and psychotherapist, she is the author of The Dance of Anger and other bestselling books. She is also, with her sister, an award-winning children's book writer. She and her husband are therapists in Lawrence, Kansas, and have two sons.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Finding Your Voice

The thread that unites my work both as an author and as a psychotherapist is my desire to help people speak wisely and well, sometimes about the most difficult subjects. This includes asking questions, getting a point across, clarifying desires, beliefs, values, and limits. How such communication goes determines whether we want to come home or stay away at the end of the day.

This is no simple matter, as glib terms like communication skills or assertiveness training imply. Assertiveness is considered a good idea — if not a cultural ideal. But despite decades of assertiveness training and lots of good advice about communicating with clarity, timing, and tact, we may do our best to speak but still feel unheard. We may find that we cannot affect our husband or wife or partner, that fights go nowhere, that conflict brings only pain rather than an opportunity for two people to learn more about each other. We may have the same dilemma with our mother, sister or uncle, or close friend.

The Limits of "Good Communication"

We all want to communicate well and make ourselves heard. "He just doesn't get it" or "She's so critical" are sentiments I hear daily in my work. When we speak from the heart, we long for an ear to hear us, and we all have experienced that down feeling when we perceive ourselves as written off or misunderstood.

I wish I could reassure you that reading this book will guarantee that you will finally be heard in your most difficultrelationships. Or that strengthening your voice win bring you the love and approval of others. Or that following my good advice will give you a deep sense of inner peace.

Truth is, nothing you say can ensure that the other person will get it, or respond the way you want. You may never exceed his threshold of deafness. She may never love you, not now or ever. And if you are courageous in initiating, extending, or deepening a difficult conversation, you may feel even more anxious and uncomfortable, at least in the short run.

All the assertiveness training and communication skills in the world can't prevent a relationship from becoming fertile ground for silence and stonewalling, or for anger and frustration, or for just plain hard times. No book or expert can protect us from the range of painful emotions that make us human. We can influence the other person through our words and silence, but we can never control the outcome.

That said, what we can learn in the chapters ahead is enormous. We can maximize the chance of being heard and moving relationships forward. We can take a conversation to the next level when the initial foray doesn't bring the desired result, We can stop nonproductive conversational habits so that an old relationship will take a new turn. We can clarify what we feel entitled to and responsible for — and what we really want to say. Or, alternatively, we can learn to sit more comfortably with our confusion. We can operate from a solid position of self, even when the other person won't speak to us at all.

Toward an Authentic Voice

The challenge of finding an authentic voice within an intimate relationship is far larger than a word like communication can ever begin to convey. Authenticity brings to mind such elusive qualities as being fully present, centered, and in touch with our best selves in our most important conversations. Moving in this direction requires us to clarify — to ourselves and others — what's important to us. Having an authentic voice means that:

  • We can openly share competence as well as problems and vulnerability.

  • We can warm things up and calm them down.

  • We can listen and ask questions that allow us to truly know the other person and to gather information about anything that may affect us.

  • We can say what we think and feel, state differences, and allow the other person to do the same.

  • We can define our values, convictions, principles, and priorities, and do our best to act in accordance with them.

  • We can define what we feel entitled to in a relationship, and we can clarify the limits of what we will tolerate or accept in another's behavior.

  • We can leave (meaning that we can financially and emotionally support ourselves), if necessary.

The second half of this list is about knowing our bottom line — that is, the values, beliefs, and priorities that are so crucial to preserving and protecting the self that we will not compromise them in any relationship. This is, perhaps, the most difficult challenge in couples.

In the abstract, any or all of these actions may seem obvious and easy. But when we are dealing with difficult subjects or significant relationships, nothing is ever simple.

Bold New Conversations

The challenge in conversation is not just to be our self but to choose the self we want to be. What we call "the self" is never static, but instead is a work in progress. That's why we don't discover who we are by sitting alone on a mountaintop and meditating, or by being introspective and "going deeper," as valuable as these disciplines may be. The royal road for both discovering and reinventing the self is through our relationships with other people and the conversations we engage in.

In a sad paradox, the more important and enduring a relationship (say, with a partner or relative), the more we tend to participate in narrow, habitual conversations where our experience of our self and the other person becomes fixed and small. My goal is to challenge us to engage in novel conversations that will create a larger, more empowering view of who we are and what is truly possible.

Although I resonate with the phrase "finding our voice," the image it evokes is deceptive. We don't dig our authentic voice out of the muck, as a dog digs...

Table of Contents

Prologue: Back to the Sandboxxiii
Chapter 1Finding Your Voice1
Chapter 2Voice Lessons from My Father12
Chapter 3Our First Family: Where We Learned (Not) to Speak24
Chapter 4Should You Share Vulnerability?37
Chapter 5In Praise of Pretending51
Chapter 6Putting Our Parents in the Hot Seat70
Chapter 7Love Can Make You Stupid88
Chapter 8Marriage: Where's Your Bottom Line?107
Chapter 9"I Can't Live with This!" Voicing the Ultimate in Marriage120
Chapter 10Warming Things Up136
Chapter 11Silent Men/Angry Women157
Chapter 12Criticism Is Hard to Take169
Chapter 13An Apology? Don't Hold Your Breath183
Chapter 14Complaining and Negativity: When You Can't Listen Another Minute201
Chapter 15The Sounds of Silence: Finding a Voice When You're Rejected and Cut Off215
Epilogue: To Thine Own Self Be True233

What People are Saying About This

Edward M. Hallowell

The Dance of Connection can save your marriage, a friendship, and your relationship with your mother, father, sister, brother—even your boss. Brimming with practical advice, sharp wit, extraordinary knowledge, deep caring.”

Mary Pipher

“Lerner does a remarkable job teaching us new steps in the complicated, mysterious, painful and beautiful dance that we call family life.”

Janis Abrahms Spring

“Lerner rescues us from the swamps and quicksands of difficult relationships with her unique clarity and profound intelligence. This book is for everyone.”

Anne Lamott

"I love Hariet Lerner's work.

Reading Group Guide

In her most groundbreaking book to date, Dr. Harriet Lerner takes us beyond The Dance of Anger and shows us how to "find our voice" with the people in our lives who matter the most. The Dance of Connection tackles the most difficult problems we face with people who hurt us.

Drawing on her own experiences and those of some of the many clients that she counsels privately, Lerner illumines the most pervasive and profound relationship issues, including how to cope with feelings of rejection; how to embrace emotional vulnerability, how to take positive steps to deflect criticism or negativity from a family member or friend; and how to reinforce the positive in all of our relationships.

Lerner reveals a startling new definition of what it means to have an "authentic voice" -- one that runs counter to the automatic ways we try to speak our truths. The Dance of Connection goes beyond "communication techniques" to provide bold and innovative "voice lessons." Lerner tells us when to lighten up and let things go, and when we need to take specific steps to heal betrayals, inequalities, and broken connections.

With wit and wisdom, Lerner shows us how to "set things right," how to pay attention to and trust our "inner" selves, and how to heal the most painful disconnections with others.

Discussion Questions
  • Harriet Lerner writes that "we all seek to control the flow of personal information about ourselves" (Chapter 4). How do you feel about being emotionally vulnerable -- is it something you prefer to avoid, or something that you actively seek? Are there situations where you are more comfortable with yourvulnerability than others?

  • In The Dance of Connection, Harriet Lerner talks about putting her family on "the hot seat," and she describes confrontations with her parents in which she openly acknowledges differences of opinion (Chapter 6). Do you find you are able to address sources of conflict with your parents or your children? Did any of her remarks ring especially true for you?

  • Lerner argues that we rarely evaluate prospective partners "with the same objectivity and clarity" that we bring to making major purchases (Chapter 7). Can you relate to this idea? Have you ignored important differences with a partner in order to continue a relationship that was ultimately doomed?

  • Harriet Lerner talks about establishing a "bottom line" -- a point from which you won't retreat -- to help a partner to realize that you are serious about a problem in your relationship (Chapter 9). Do you think this is realistic? Can you articulate your bottom line in your relationship with your partner?

  • Harriet Lerner writes that "there is no expert who knows what warms your partner's heart the way you do." (Chapter 10) Do you think this is true? What specific actions could you take to improve your relationship with your partner? What actions could your partner take?

  • Review Harriet Lerner's list of ten "do's and don'ts" in coping with criticism (Chapter 12). Do you agree with all of her suggestions? Are there any other strategies that you have learned over time that you think belong on her list?

  • In the anecdote about Joan and Corrine, Lerner describes a friendship that -- literally -- falls apart. Have you experienced any total breakdown of communication? How did you deal with it? Did your relationship recover? Were you able to get closure on the relationship?

  • Were there any individuals in The Dance of Connection whose stories you found especially poignant or relevant to your life, or whose experiences spoke to you? Who were they? What about their experiences did you find compelling? About the Author: Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is one of our nation's most respected relationship experts. A renowned scholar on the psychology of women and family relationships, she served as a staff psychologist at the Menninger Clinic for more than two decades. Her popular trilogy, The Dance of Anger (1985), The Dance of Intimacy (1989), and The Dance of Deception (1993) has been published in more than 30 foreign editions, and has sold more than three million copies.

    Born in Brooklyn, NY, Harriet Lerner graduated from the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in psychology and Indian studies. Lerner received an M.A. in educational psychology from Teachers' College of Columbia University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the City University of New York. It was there that she met and later married Steve Lerner, also a clinical psychologist. After a postdoctoral internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, the couple moved to Topeka, Kansas, for a two-year postdoctoral training program at the Menninger Foundation.

    Harriet Lerner and her husband reside in Lawrence, Kansas, and have two sons. In addition to her private practice, Dr. Lerner tours the country to lecture, consult, and present workshops on her findings. She has coauthored several children's books with her sister.

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    Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book speaks to everyone who has ever been in a relationship - familial, romantic or business. She doesn't just give you steps on how to deal with people, but real life anecdotes that allow you to understand the concept and then she breaks it down into manageable strategies for your own life. I want to purchase a copy for everyone in my life! (I won't, but I'd certainly like to !!)
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Harriet Lerner is an excellent writer but the audiobook version drives me nuts! She speaks slowly and constantly pauses after 2-3 word phrases in the middle of sentences. Her tone of voice tends to be flat. The result is an extremely slow-moving, boring version of what I suspect is a really good book. I don't think I can get through this but will probably get the book itself and find it very useful!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    In a moment when we feel safe, loved, comfortable, and relaxed, most people can communicate quite well and strengthen relationships. Catch us off guard with a terrible blow from someone close, and our knees may jump so hard that they hit us in the jaw. We may say and do things that damage or destroy relationships. What can we do instead of these harmful reactions? How can we repair things once the damage has been done? While many authors have written fine books about building and maintaining good and deteriorating relationships, this book has taken on all of the tough issues as its focus. You think your spouse is seeing someone else. Your child won't speak to you. Your husband has taken liberties with your daughter. Your best friend says she or he never wants to see you again. There's a terrible family crisis and the other person cuts you off. Dr. Lerner draws on her personal experiences as well as case histories from her practice as a psychotherapist to give you answers. In doing so, she doesn't promise solutions will follow. But you can be sure that you will have done a great deal to try to help the situation. The book starts with the contrast of adult behavior to how children behave. Two children become angry in a sandbox, but five minutes later are quietly playing together again. 'They choose happiness over righteousness.' Adults usually do the opposite. The essence of the book is to encourage you to figure out what you need to have from a relationship, and to communicate those needs, while finding out the same from the other person. In that simple statement, the book's concept is very much like the better negotiating books (such as Getting to Yes). Naturally, this advice is a lot harder to follow when your most intimate and closest relationships are involved. So you need someone to talk it over with. You can also use this book as a source of coaching for most of the tough personal situations you may find yourself in. While reading this book, you will get more from it if you keep an open mind about the specifics of the advice being presented. The overriding point Dr. Lerner is making is that the other person may be in the wrong, but if you make him or her feel unhappy all of the time about it, you may lose the relationship. If the relationship is important to you, you may win the battle and lose the war. There is a lot of judgmental advice in here about when to be silent, when to speak, and how much to say and in what ways. In different families and with different cultures, these rules will be quite different and Dr. Lerner makes that point explicit. You have to decide how you want to respond. That's what's important. Although this book will seem like a natural to many women, I think most men will benefit as well. The examples go from the perspectives of both women and men, and men will get many valuable ideas for constructive ways to deal with conflict and issues. In my case, I find myself spending a lot of time listening to other people unburden themselves. Sometimes, this gets to be more than I am comfortable with. The book provided me with some valuable ideas for drawing limits to how many times I have to listen to the same complaint while still expressing my desire to support and be there for the other person. I thought that the best parts of the book were the concepts of asking questions to find out more about what and why the other person is feelings the way she or he is, and providing the kinds of support that will make others realize that we care about them. Both are enriching and rewarding things to do. Knowing that some people have trouble apologizing, I thought that the book was realistic to point out that in some relationships you are not going to get apologies. You should face up to that and decide how you feel about it. After you finish reading and thinking about this excellent book, I hope you will drop a note, call, talk to, or give a hug to each person you care about
    ChloeWarbucks More than 1 year ago
    Her books have opened up my world...she has helped me figure out my mother, kids, friends and work relationships in an easy concise way. I love the audiobooks the best and listen to them every morning while getting ready for the day. She has helped me realize that I am NOT to blame for everything...and some things will never be resolved, but at least I can think differently about them and stop just "reacting". She has helped me find my "self" and my "voice" which I didn't even realize were missing!!! That AHA! Moment was HUGE! My first introduction to Harriet came with my discovery of "The Dance of Anger". WOW. After listening to that book for at least 10 times I knew that I needed to end the circular dance. My next audiobook was "The Dance of Connection" which I believe has helped me even more. I would say that this book, in conjunction with "Dance of Anger" should be required reading for couples in trouble (I wish I had found Harriet before my divorce)....or any relationship that matters (even if its your boss) "Fear and Other Uninvited Guests" helped me understand my mother and what she has lived with her entire life...and my daughter who has seemingly inherited all my mothers anxiety traits...and myself (even though other people describe me as fearless, I do not see it that way) I have now purchased "The Mother Dance" and "Life Preservers" and can't wait to dive in. Bottom line-- Harriet Lerner gave me new insight to my life with explanations and "fixes" (for lack of a better word) that I found easy to understand and even easier to practice. And she has a sense of humor too! If you don't like the way she reads her audiobooks then you must be listening more for the aesthetic value and NOT for what she has to say.. oh, and one more thing...most players have settings that will speed up the playback....personally, I am hard of hearing so I like that she speaks slowly and enunciates her words.
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