“It Takes Two To Tango”

“It Takes Two To Tango”


I wonder how many here heard this faux wisdom following the discovery of adultery and subsequent divorce. It really is just another iteration of “The Shared Responsibility Lie.” And it comes across as “wise” while being incredible hurtful to someone who has just survived adultery (aka soul rape). It is hurtful for faithful spouses because the statement essentially blames the survivor for the sin committed against him or her.

The truth to make this lie go down is that it takes two for any relationship to exist. And we all contribute our own fair share of sinful dysfunction or holy health to that relationship.

Besides suggesting a shared responsibility either for the divorce or infidelity, this statement obscures other truth. What this statement obscures greatly is the truth that it only takes one to end a relationship. One person can unilaterally end a marriage without any regard to the other person’s wishes. This is especially true in our “no fault” divorce world.

So, it may be true that “It takes two to tango” but…

It only takes one to leave the dance.

And it adds insult to injury with an abandoned spouse to be blamed like this statement does. The “it takes two to tango” statement suggests the abandoned spouse had power to stop their spouse from leaving. They didn’t. And this just rubs salt into the wound called “powerlessness.”  We are not responsible for another person’s choices or actions. This line hints otherwise.

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul does not blame faithful, Christian spouses when their unbelieving Christian spouse decides to walk away from their marriage (I Corinthians 7:15). He does not do the subtle blame-shift suggesting the Christian spouse deserved this abandonment in some way because “It takes two to tango.” 


The Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to allow the unbelieving spouse to leave the marriage in peace (I Cor. 7:15). The abandonment is not a verdict on the Christian spouse’s performance as a husband or wife in the marriage. The Apostle Paul does not make the abandonment a report card for the Christian spouse (as if Christian marriage is ever about performance–it’s not!), and he does not then instruct the remaining Christian spouse that he or she needs to work on themselves because the abandonment meant they suck at being wives or husbands. I just don’t see this response in Scripture. But I did, unfortunately, see this sort of response to my former spouse’s abandonment by people calling themselves Christian. It was not helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we all can benefit from learning better ways to relate and communicate. However, I think the saying, “It takes two to tango” is unhelpful and destructive in situations where abandonment and adultery have taken place. So, I think it is past time the Christian world retires the saying.


20 thoughts on ““It Takes Two To Tango””

  1. I remember in the early days as the news of our impending divorce leaked out around the neighborhood and town, a “friend” (neighbor) of ours asked what had happened saying, “I don’t make judgements, I need to hear both sides of the story.” I kept it simple saying he was having a midlife crisis after 30 years. A few months later, this same friend emailed me asking how I was and what was happening. Word trickled back to me, this was because she and her husband had been invited to dinner by my not-yet-ex and his “fiance”. I, once again, told her the story without belittling my STBX. Strangely, she didn’t respond to my email and I never asked whether she went to dinner to meet the OW. What odd behavior when faced with obvious adultery and betrayal.

    I understand that she has never had to face an experience so devastating as this, but her seeming lack of compassion for the faithful spouse hurts.

    1. The only reason for her to hear “both sides of the story” was if she wanted to make a judgement. If she wasn’t going to make a judgement, what difference was hearing both sides going to make to her? My response to people going through divorce or other painful event is to tell them that if they want to talk about it, I’ll listen, and if they don’t want to talk about it, I won’t bother them for details. They don’t owe it to me to tell me anything; talking is for their benefit.

      1. Very astute observation, bnonymous. And I agree about the listening part. It is very healing to be able to share without being judged for having feelings on such matters.


  2. This is the greatest misconception we face in leaving cheaters. Im finally divorcing my spouse who has CHOSEN 100% on his own to sin throughout our 30 year marriage. During my phone counseling (Christian) session on Saturday, i reminded the counselor that I WAS going through with my decision to move towards healing. She actually said to me, ” I really hate for YOU to throw away 30 years”, WHAT??? Wow, I was ticked off and told her that it was HIM who had thrown away this marriage 30 years ago when he chose to be a fraud from the beginning. Repentance isn’t repeating the same sin over and over and over and abusing God’s grace as well as mine. Im so done, and after reading the “It Takes Two to Tango” theory I will expect more blame shift from ignorant, judgmental people.

    Thank you DM for continuing to point me the correct way! Blessings to all

    1. gigi56,

      Sorry you had to deal with that subtle blame-shift from the counselor. It’s not yours to own. He’s the one throwing away 30 years with his sinful choices and unwillingness to repent of adultery/cheating.

      Thanks for your kind words!

  3. I recently had a very literal experience of it only taking one to leave the dance. For the first time in nearly 2 years [since husband’s affair started] I recently went along to a dance, as I knew there would be people there I knew who would dance with me. And discovered that husband and his partner in adultery there. It is a free country. However, during one of the dances, with changing partners, he came face to face with me, and the thought of touching my hands to swing was too awful and he just disappeared off the dance floor. Leaving me unable to swing and the other couple and the rest of the set unable to easily continue. Well, fortunately a friend came and danced with me and we were able to continue. It shows that it is not just the faithful spouse who is affected by the abandonment, it is the others [family] and those further out from the family [the church]
    So much for it only affecting the faithful spouse as is often said

    1. This is very true, Nell. It has a major impact across many relationships and is part of the reason it is viewed as an evil needing purging from the Jewish community in the Old Testament (see Deut 22:22).


  4. How about falsely judging the one who leaves the” dance? “I was judged for ending my marriage with an alcoholic, emotionally and sometimes physically abusive, sexually promiscuous spouse…who happened to be a fake Christian/ Bible school grad, deacon. I was told by the church…I didn’t submit enough to him, and was shunned. The people in church had no idea what our family really was at home. I had no help raising the kids, and he degraded me sexually ( he was a closet porn addict too, )and shamed me every chance he could. Years later after Christian counseling I have forgiven and moved on. I would agree that I also needed to work on my own heart, because if I had submitted to God at 19 years old , I never would have dated or married my ex. in the first place. I think it takes two to make a dysfunctional or codependent marriage, just as it takes two for a healthy marriage. One person draining themselves being a door mat and doing all the giving in a relationship is not healthy. I pray for my ex. and his new unsaved wife and I’m respectful to them. I’m not angry anymore, and am dedicated to being a godly parent.( If a Christian wants to claim I abandoned my marriage go for it. My ex. was happy having maid and cook, some one to abuse, and…several girlfriends on the side. I was an empty shell who couldn’t even hold my head up anymore.)

    1. Sadly, I wonder how many Christians end up in marriages like this.
      I have heard that narcissist will seek out Christians as spouses because we are taught to love, put others first, be submissive, forgiving, patient, and nonjudgemental.
      I took a class on alcoholism and other addictions. The course put a lot of the blame on others for enabling the abuse and being codependent. It occurred to me that the list of codependent’s actions and behaviors that the instructors said enabled the substance abuse to continue contained several actions and examples of Christian love. In the right relationship these traits would be considered positive.
      Is it correct to assume that narcissists and abusers take advantage of those that love them? Is the church setting people up to be victims of narcistic abuse?

      1. I would say yes. As the daughter of missionaries I was taught to submit, and make big sacrifices, but in my unhealthy marriage it became codependency. My parents wish they had taught me more about boundaries. I took the Boundaries , and beyond course at church. Great help to me.

  5. Long story short, 20 years ago we were in counseling that was going nowhere. The counselor decided to do separate sessions to see if that would help. With me, she quipped about the failing relationship, “It takes two to tango.” I responded, “yes, but it only takes one to dance poorly.” It floored the counselor, who fully got the meaning.

    The dance of the Tango is a success. It is two people working together to a successful, well, dance relationship. Both partners must be fully engaged for the dance to be performed. If either one of them opts not to dance, there is nothing the other partner can do in order to successfully dance the Tango.

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