It Takes One to Tango. It Doesn’t Take Two.

Back in the early, struggle-filled years of my marriage, the self-help books that I read emphasized love and togetherness. But at the time, my husband and I didn’t feel all that loving, and sometimes I wondered whether staying together was even an option.3D

Many books made it seem like marital strife could be easily corrected. Dozens suggested five or ten or one hundred “simple” things couples can do to be happily married, many of which looked like great ideas for people who were already happy, and utterly useless for couples like us who were in serious distress.

Other books were deeply discouraging, making it seem as if struggling couples were simply mismatched. Marital struggle, it seemed, was an indicator of something having gone terribly wrong: an exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

Was everyone else effortlessly using I-statements? I wondered. Were they all being respectful and tolerant, embracing their partner’s uniqueness? Why, then, was the divorce rate so high?

Obviously, lots of people struggle in their marriage. And some forty percent of them give up. Yet nothing I found explained why.

Where was the book called, How to Keep From from Killing Your Partner While You Figure Out Why He Drives You Nuts? I needed that one.

But no such book existed. So I decided to write it myself. Only I’ve called it IT TAKES ONE TO TANGO: How I Rescued My Marriage With (Almost) No Help From My Spouse—and How You Can, Too.

DesignThe party line about marriage is that it takes two. It’s what most people believe and many therapists espouse: Marriage is a two-way street, a fifty-fifty proposition.

We’re told that change in a marriage requires a shared commitment to growth, and that for good things to happen both partners must be willing to put both feet into the process.

But if it really takes two people to fix things, what happens when one partner is deeply discouraged, or has one foot out the door? What if you’re desperately longing for change and your spouse digs in his heels?

Does that mean you should just call it quits?

Conventional wisdom would say that it does.

That’s the problem with the “it takes two” approach. It limits our options. It leaves us powerless, waiting for our partner to meet us halfway, do their fair share, put in an effort that’s equal to ours.

The message in my book is simple and empowering: you only need one partner to create far-reaching positive change in your marriage. No matter how frustrated you are. No matter how long you’ve been stuck.

I know from experience that when one partner takes that first step, behaves in a new way, challenges the status quo, the other will usually follow. Sometimes slowly, not always cheerfully, and often not in the way we imagined. But eventually, both partners become stronger and healthier, and so does the marriage.

One person must take the first step. Why not let that person be you?


My book is now on sale! As my way of saying thank you for being such loyal and enthusiastic readers, I’ll be giving away autographed copies to three people who answer the following question: As a Speaking of Marriage reader, what’s the most useful piece of marriage advice you’ve gotten from my blog? Tell us a bit about what change it inspired in you or your relationship.

Have a friend who might be helped by my book? Please share!

For info regarding my talks and appearances, as well as news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly and Facebook: WinifredMReilly

38 thoughts on “It Takes One to Tango. It Doesn’t Take Two.

  1. I ended my marriage because my ex husband was molesting my only daughter. it takes two to tangle not one. No one should tolerate or endure a bad marriage where there is no romance, emotional disconnection, cheater, a liar, untrustworthy man, an abuser all in the name of keeping a marriage. Who cares anyway!


    • Hi Christiana,

      Thank you so much for commenting. The “one to tango” premise is not at all about enduring a miserable marriage, putting up, shutting up, being a martyr, or staying with a partner who is endangering you, your children, or your well-being.

      Far from it. It’s about taking the lead, becoming clear and strong about who you are, what you know, and what you want for your life. It’s about taking a step in the right direction.

      And, in your circumstance, that step took you, rightfully, out of your marriage.

      Wishing you and your daughter all the best,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great title, “One to Tango.” I am in my 2nd marriage and finally realizing that my true happiness does not lay with my mother’s truisms, “your husbands happiness comes first before yours.” I will most certainly pick up your book.


    • Thanks Ann. There sure is a boat load of bad marriage advice out there!
      Reminds me of “happy wife, happy life,” another one with some serious pitfalls.

      I hope you enjoy the book. Let me know what you think of it.


  3. I read your blog to remind myself to remain positive within my own marriage, but it’s funny….I don’t really remember any particular piece of advice that stands out in my mind with the exception of this last post. I know I get a lot of chuckles reading your posts and it makes me ponder the early days of my marriage with new insights. This post caught my attention because it’s how I saved my own marriage from crumbling and becoming another statistic. I am the proof that one can tango……we are going on 34 years….and counting. I’m in it for the long haul.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Margaret,
      My post doesn’t go into how much this book is the story of my own marriage. Yes, it definitely works to be the change agent in your marriage. Congratulations on your 34 years.

      😊 Winifred


    • Thanks for bringing the hope here. My wife is pretty darn special 🙂 and challenging. Suspect something similar would be said by her, but I’m not a mind reader. Thing is, it just gets out of hand at times and you do have to do your own dance aye.


  4. I love reading your posts! I was just talking with my sisters about the exact topic of your book! How, for the most part, our husbands always act the same (somewhat oblivious!) and that it has to be how we react from one time to the next whether we’re okay or frustrated. And how we need to try to think about how we’re reacting and try to react differently to see if things improve. I will definitely be ordering your book as it sounds like just what I need to work through this. Thank you!


  5. Hi Winifred,
    I love that I’ve got onto your site….fabulous info
    It’s true that we need to be the change we want to happen; because we can;
    and we need to lead by example; we need to hold onto our power, by being responsible for our own happiness; whether that is by staying or by leaving.


    • Yes. Precisely! The main thing I want readers to take away is just that: marriage is a choice. Your happiness is in your own hands. You can stay or leave but if you’re going to stay you have to figure out how to be happy and, what I think is even more important, how not to be driven absolutely nuts by the partner you picked. 🙂

      Now that my book is done, I’ll be posting more often. Thanks for reading.



  6. Hi Winifred,
    Thank you for this most recent post and for your new book, which sounds wonderful, unique and one I would personally love a copy of for my husband and I to read together! So, I’m responding to your challenge as well as sharing my personal (short) story.

    The first blog post of yours I ever read was your ’36 Things I Know After 36 Years of Marriage’ and I loved each and every lesson you shared with us. I was referred to your site by another blog. I appreciated all of what you shared and all of what I have read on your blog whenever you post in two key themes 1) the truth is that marriage is not easy and 2) it takes consciousness, effort, the right attitude, loving gestures, etc. You never shy away from the reality of life and I appreciate that candidness. But you also provide practical advice and ideas which truly make me feel hopeful when things are tough. Not only do you remind us of the inevitable struggles of marriage but in fact how it is necessary – I truly believe every struggle (and every person/relationship) provides an opportunity for growth. All of that ’36 things…” post resonated for me, but the very last thing sticks with me: “36. One of you has to go first. Apologize first. Be vulnerable first. Yield first. Forgive first. Why not let that person be you?”. A good friend of mine once told me that whenever I have a need from my partner, instead of asking or ‘taking’, I should try giving that very same thing to him. So along with your advice to be the one to hold out the olive branch, I can also be the one to throw my arms around my partner’s waist when I feel low and need a hug instead of finding a way to get upset at him for not knowing my needs. Everyone gets something positive in the end!

    The message of your new book really resonates for me having had a challenging few years and persevering in a very beautiful marriage that hasn’t had a shortage of struggles, too. Your concept of ‘it takes one’ is something I have been working on for a long time (still working!) taking responsibility solely for MY actions, reactions, behaviours, feelings, baggage rather than focusing energy on what my husband could/should be doing. I believe that you are right that when we model the behaviour and actions that are healthy, constructive and loving, not only will we be personally more satisfied, but those we love will feel happier, and it is very likely they will also follow suit. It is very rare that criticizing another and telling that what they should do encourages them to change anything for the better!

    Adding to this one of my favourite quotes by Goethe “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” – we should be kind and accepting of our spouses, seeing the best in them and treating them as the person they really are inside (all the reasons we fell in love with them!) – and that consistently positive response and encouragement is often enough to push a person to themselves act with kindness and love – discouragement usually breeds negative behaviour! The challenge is that it isn’t enough to do it once or twice or short term, it has to become part of our philosophy of life – no doubt it is worth the investment. I imagine your book helps with that and some of the personal insecurities/self-esteem issues that can make it difficult.

    That was longer than I intended to write but thank you for the opportunity to share and comment, and, fingers crossed, an opportunity for a signed copy of your new book!

    All the best!


    • I love long comments. Feels like a satisfying conversation and a reminder that I’m not just talking to myself when I send out my posts.:-)

      I also love that Goethe quote. In fact, I put it up on my twitter account yesterday!

      Thank you for telling your story. One of the great things about blogging is that my readers often learn as much from the comment section as from my posts.



  7. Hi,
    I have been reading your posts for quite awhile and would like to enter your contest.

    It seems that the advice I most need and that will help me the most would be in your new book.

    I seem to be the one in our marriage that pays all the emotional dues, eg. the one who had been willing to go to therapy for awhile to help our marriage (he refuses), and the one who comes up with all the ideas of what can help – often with barely an acknowledgement that the thing to try might be of assistance. It gets so very tiring to have to do all the work.

    I am an older woman who feels I need his financial input and appreciates that my health, vision, and dental insurance comes through his past work (but will end the moment he passes on). He’s the one with the money and I only have a small retirement and Medicare. He’s a good guy in many ways, many superficial, but it seems to me very lazy and uncaring in offering to help me do difficult manual labor in the yard, carry heavy things, etc. It is difficult for me to not think that, if he cares/loves me, why doesn’t he WANT to help me do things that are difficult for me with my arthritic joints.

    I didn’t mean to go on and on about what is wrong but I guess I just did.

    Anyway, I will check out your book.


    • Hi
      Thanks for your comment. Your situation doesn’t sound easy. I do hope you read my book and check back with me via comments and let me know if it’s made difference for you.

      One of the things I talk about in the book is how to have difficult conversations with grumpy, challenging, angry, or passive,spouses. When delivered with courage and calm, people sometimes hear things they might not hear otherwise.

      Really. Do check back.


  8. This is amazing Winifred. Congratulations! I can’t wait to read it.

    Liz Morris

    sent from my phone. please excuse brevity.


  9. Several months ago I read an article you wrote –or someone wrote about you– on this topic. It was just what I needed to hear. My marriage is better now. We are both kinder and more helpful to each other. I know my spouse has made significant changes, too, but I focused on my part. What I have control over. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.


    • Hi-
      It’s amazing how powerful kindness is. And, yes, focusing on your part is a better use of your time and energy.

      I’ve been off and on the radio for the last several days as my book launches and I’ve enjoyed saying that posting my announcement about my book has prompted people to share their positive experience with the one to tango approach as well. It’s unconventional and it works.

      Thanks so much for commenting.



  10. Hi Winifred,

    I am in a 17 year marriage that is struggling. He is a good man, honest and hard working but he does not seem to care about my emotional needs. We have grown very far apart but neither of us seems to want to divorce.

    Your blogs have helped me a great deal since I found you Googling marriage advice one sleepless night a year ago. For me, the biggest thing I have learned is you remind me it is up to me to determine my happiness. I find myself time and again doing the opposite of what I truly should do to be happy and have a positive effect on my marriage.

    I would love to read It Takes One to Tango and hopefully learn the tools I need to shift my thinking and heal my marriage and my heart.

    Congratulations on the book!


  11. Hello Winnifred,
    Next month I will be married 28 yrs. I still love my husband and I know he loves me too. But maybe he doesnt in a romantic way. Truth be told he has never showed me romance or even affection. We have been through many small obstacles that have emotionally separated us. We sleep together but I feel we are so apart. I talk to him and he listens quietly and no change comes.
    Your suggestion about the fact that if one of us does change it will make a difference gives me hope for the future. It seems he is stuck and doesnt want to improve. Im scared he will call it quits some bad day and I will feel guilty that I didnt do more. Yet Im tired of being the only one trying to keep this marriage afloat. I really need your book. A new approach. Please get it to me. Thank you.:)


    • Hi
      In my experience, most people want to have a more satisfying marriage but when they don’t know what to do, they give up or hunker down. I wouldn’t be so sure that your husband doesn’t want to improve. Likely, you’ll have to take the first steps toward changing some longstanding patterns. Smoetimes small positive changes will inspire the less motivated partner to step up.



  12. The most useful piece of advice was about being the first one to extend the olive branch. Even if my feelings are hurt, I feel better if I say apologies and try to mend fences. Neither one of us likes drama, so just being calm and trying to maintain a loving attitude goes a long way. I love the title of your book: great play on words!


    • Hi
      Thanks for your comment.

      Many people think that being the one to extend the olive branch is an admission of guilt or fault. I have the same experience as you: it feels bad to be estranged and I’m fine reaching out. I’d rather feel empowered than stuck



  13. I’ve read every book under the sun is seems in my attempt to repair my marriage.

    I get discouraged when I read blogs/books that talk about how one person grows so weary after their attempts to improve their marriage going unheeded, they just give up and ask for a divorce. It seems that’s where my husband thinks he is – that he tried and tried and it wasn’t until he finally said how unhappy he was that I took notice. The problem is this just simply isn’t the case totally. I tried and tried too at some earlier points – those went unnoticed and undiscussed – we both tend to avoid the conflict. The difference is… I never thought to walk away. Divorce was never in my vocabulary.

    We both went into our own stress/despressions and pulled out of this marriage but once I started coming out of my depression and saw how far apart we were – I jumped back in with both feet. Unfortunately my attempts to fix things at that point, only made it worse because he was at a point where all he saw and continues to see is the damage. So my “talks” to try and get the hurt feelings on the table and healed are only viewed as causing more pain and damage. He doesn’t see where restoration is even possible. By other blogs, he is right – too far gone is the theory.

    If i’m at a point where I can say – ok, what happened is in the past – both sides. Let’s figure out how to put it back together – how then can just one person do that? He’s moved out of our bedroom, told the kids he’s considering divorce although he’s told me he wants one. It has been a long time – 18-24 months that we’ve been struggling –
    after all this time of him thinking it’s not fixable and getting to this point, how can I possible do something I haven’t already done and be a change agent?

    I know I need to let go of trying to fix it and of trying convince him to at least try to see my perspective of things. It’s hard though because I feel like I’ve really tried to see it from his perspective and fix the the things he felt he needed that I didn’t give but I don’t see that same effort towards me. He’s just done.

    I’m starting to believe that the statement “too far gone” might just be true in this case.

    I’d love to believe otherwise which is why I sat down and made this google search and found your post and book. I’m leary of investing more time trying to come up with a solution to a problem that might not actually have one that looks like what I want to have happen.

    How far gone is too far gone?


    • Hi

      There’s a lot to consider in your comment.

      I believe a marriage is only too far gone when one partner has two feet out the door and is unwilling to take a step back in and the other stops saying he or she would like to keep,trying. I’ve had couples come to me in the middle of divorce mediation because one has convinced the other to take one more look at repair. Many of those couples find their way back to each other. Some do not.

      I have a post on this blog about questions to consider before calling a divorce attorney. Perhaps you and your husband can read it. My book also outlines specific steps people can take to change longstanding patterns.

      The only thing you can do, if you still have any hope at all, is to get to work on the negative patterns that are about you. If you are a withdrawer, step closer, if you’re a hot-head, take steps to cool down.

      You might try asking your husband what hurts from the past he feels he can’t forget. Why does he believe he can’t come to peace with whatever went on between you? Is it really too risky to try?

      Perhaps my book will inspire you to see things in a new way, to try some new ways to approach your difficult situation.

      I’d love to hear back from you about anything that helped, what you tried, and what happened in your marriage.

      Wishing you the best,


  14. Thank you for your reply! I think he would say he has 2 feet out the door – he says the switch has just turned off and he doesn’t think it can come back. He also says all he sees is the damage. We have had tender moments over the last couple of months that to me indicate our foundation is still in tact – just buried. He sees that to a point but then says he sees the damage and that takes over and he tells himself it can’t be fixed.

    I certainly am not willing to give up. He hasn’t taken steps to make this “separation” official and I’m seeing that as a glass half full at this point!

    There is a lot that would need to be healed on both sides and I’m willing to do my part in that. I know where I went wrong to get us to this point which includes the continual need to talk about it. I guess I thought if we could just put everything on the table we’d know what we both needed to work on. Well that ended up just pushing him further out the door. I read about that so I knew it would happen but i could not let it go. My total failure for sure!

    I will continue to hope for this Marriage while I work on ME. Thank you for directing me to other resources on your website, I will read those for sure and I will order the book as well.

    Thank you again for your reply.


  15. One of the most helpful messages that I’ve received in your blogs is that it’s OKAY to struggle-It’s NORMAL. And the idea that if we put the focus on changing self good things happen. THANK YOU


    • Hi

      Thanks for your comment. It’s a big relief, isn’t it, to realize that struggle is normal? People end up unnecessarily discouraged thinking marriage is a breezy walk in the park for everyone except us! Better that we put our energy into figuring out how to deal with the struggles we have.



  16. Well for many of us good single men that really thought by now that we would’ve been married with a family which we really will blame the type of women nowadays for that one since it does really take two too tango. Women today have really changed unfortunately since they’re nothing at all like the real good old fashioned ladies that we had in the past.Ron


  17. Not taking HATE seriously–understanding it as a normal response that can arise at certain times within a marriage… That’s a big one. I’ve always tried to work through any conflict before we got to that point. This is an interesting, new perspective.


    • Yes, good idea not to drive each other so crazy that we get all the way to hate, even if it subsides. Terribly painful, just not worth freaking out about unless it’s so pervasive that it overtakes love.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂


  18. The simple advice of one can tango. Just finished your book ten minutes ago. Years ago, I read in a Michelle-Weiner Davis book the same principle and have seen it in a few other books, too, but it resonated with me in your book because of the background story with Patrick and yourself. Happiness is an inside job and acceptance is a gift we give ourselves. One who tangos can make two lives better. May our dance card be full…cha, cha, cha…


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