It takes two to Tango. Does it take two to make peace?

It takes two to Tango. Does it take two to make peace?

  • July 26, 2014

What do you do when the other person doesn’t want to Tango and work things out? How do you know when to hang in there, and when to move on?

There are many reasons why someone might refuse to engage in a difficult conversation. She may not feel safe – physically or emotionally – to discuss a touchy subject. He may feel that it would be pointless to talk. She may not feel ready, or be concerned she doesn’t have the skills to handle the conversation well. He may be too busy polishing his halo.

If you can identify the barrier to dialogue, you may be able to remove it and get a conversation going. Sometimes, however, you encounter a person who simply refuses to talk and work things out. No matter how hard you try to engage him in a Tango, he stays in his seat and refuses to come onto the dance floor.

You go through all the potential Tango obstacles you can think of and work hard to get them out of the way. You beg. You gravel. You cajole. You analyze. You reason. You bargain. You apologize for things that you feel are not your fault. Maybe, in total exasperation, you even threaten or set ultimatums.

He. Just. Won’t. Move.

If you’re like me and the words “I give up” are not part of your regular vocabulary, this is supremely frustrating. You are convinced the situation can be improved. You are convinced the tension can be relieved. You are convinced the conflict can be worked out. You realize he won’t meet you somewhere in the middle. You go all the way across the room to ask him to dance, but he keeps turning you down.

I have a substantial reservoir of patience and perseverance in these situations, which is my biggest strength and also my biggest weakness.

I have been able to turn things around, both for myself and for my clients, because I hung in there and kept trying. As I mentioned, “I give up” is not part of my regular vocabulary. I learned from my father that some things simply need time, and you just need to develop the stamina to hang in there long enough. I learned from my spiritual mentors that everybody has unlimited potential, and you just need to bring it out. This attitude has served me well over the years.

This same attitude has also caused me quite a bit of grief over the years. I have stayed in situations long after they turned toxic, because I refused to give up. I have continued to work on making peace long after everyone else decided it was hopeless. Sometimes, my efforts have borne fruit. Sometimes not.

When someone suggests to leave a conflict unresolved, I struggle. Am I giving up? Or am I moving on? Have I really done enough? Or have I simply had enough?

How do I know when I’ve put in enough time and effort? How do I know that I’ve really done all I can? How do I know that a Tango really is not going to happen?

As far as I’m concerned, there is always one more thing I could try. There is always one more person I could ask for input, one more scientific study I could quote, one more book I could read, one more argument I could make, one more perspective I could offer. There is no objective standard that tells me when it’s time to move on. There is no checklist that tells me when I’ve done enough.

I finally came to this realization: I can never truly know. I can only choose. I can choose a different dance floor – perhaps this is simply not the right venue, and he will engage somewhere else. I can choose a different ball – perhaps this is simply not the right time, and he will engage later. I can choose to offer a different dance partner – perhaps I am simply not the right person to have this conversation, and he will engage with someone else. I can choose a different dance – perhaps the Tango is simply not the right approach, and he will engage when asked to Cha-Cha. I can choose not to dance – perhaps he will engage when he sees I won’t be trying forever, and perhaps he won’t.

I can’t be certain. I can only make a choice – Tango elsewhere, Tango another time, get someone else to Tango for me, Cha-Cha, or not dance at all. And then I can choose to not second-guess myself and be at peace with my choice. That part is entirely up to me.

Just as it takes two to Tango, it takes two to make peace with another person. But when the Tango is not happening, it takes only you to make peace with yourself.

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)