In my limited experience, I have observed that most married couples start out dancing together. As time passes, they dance more often with their respective teachers and less with their spouse. In my case, my wife has surpassed me in abilities and can dance at a higher level than me. She is very comfortable, and can follow the most skilled male teachers. Meanwhile, I still trying to figure out where the "7 beat" is in my waltz routine (old joke with my teachers).
Let's face it, males have a tougher time in dance - not only do we have to know the routines, or dance steps, but then we have to lead someone else through it and stay on beat - all at the same time. So, it ends up that the female likes to dance with someone who can do all those things the males do. And, by dancing with instructors, the males can fudge their way through the dance. Thus, the growing apart starts.
In our case, my wife and I enjoy dancing with our instructors, but we have also maintained the joy of dancing together. In our studio, my wife and I are one of the few couples that still dance together, and we even compete separately and together as an "amateur couple".
I would not characterize dancing with my wife as a major problem, however, we do not compete together. It is our standing joke at the studio that we prefer to remain married rather than competitive partners.
She does compete a little in Pro-Am events while I compete with another student in International Amateur events as well as some Pro-Am with my instructor. We agree that I am the better dancer but that seems to be OK with her so long as we dance socially and we do, three or four times a week. However, I take considerably more instruction with my amateur partner, with my instructor (and Pro partner) and I provide practice partnership for several other ladies at the studio.
When we dance socially there are definitely some "don'ts" and for us, criticism or correction is a big don't. Only rarely do I offer criticism of her dancing, but I praise as much as I can. Often, when she does something "wrong" it is my fault in that I lead poorly or indecisively. As I become stronger because of my other partners and more instruction I provide a better social partner for my wife. I study both my steps and the ladies' steps and technique with the goal of being unaffected by any deficiencies my partner may have. As my skill grows I find I can dance comfortably with most ladies at any skill level. The primary skill my wife addresses is the ability to follow and she does so very well.
Leading and following is anything but subconscious. These are two of the most difficult skills to master. Confidence (or lack of confidence) in self or a partner may be a subconscious factor in a successful partnership. I know that I am not as strong as her Pro partner (instructor) and there are times when my wife may not feel as strong or precise a lead from me but by following what she feels it generally looks good and by not back leading I feel my mistakes.
Keep dancing with your wife and just have fun doing so.
Your problem is not unique. As is so common with family, we tend to be less diplomatic with the ones we love, which can cause much more strife in a dance partnership than in one where the two people are just dance partners. Not so say that people who only dance together don't go at it pretty fiercely sometimes too, but never mind that for now.
I teach a married couple. They have come a very long way and are now dancing at a very high level in the open smooth. I'll tell you what my partner and I have done with them in the hopes that some of this can apply to you.
1) Always try to figure out what you may have done incorrectly rather than assume that it was your partner's fault. When you have a moment that isn't working or feeling good, both parties need to step back and make sure that they are doing their respective jobs correctly. The odds are, you both could have done something better and made the other person's job easier.
2) If it becomes clear that the other person is the one messing up, ask them what you can do to make their correction easier. That way you can figure out your part more accurately (either how to clarify your lead or how to more accurately respond as a follow), and you create a situation where it becomes less about who is right and who is wrong and more about how you work together to get it right.
3) If you cannot figure out what the problem is, make a note of what the issue is, and take it to a teacher to have them help you sort it out. Don't wait until you are both irritated with each other to stop. As soon as you see that between the two of you you do not have enough information or understanding to fix the problem yourselves, drop it and move on to something else. Don't ruin your practice session over some-- in the grand scheme of things -- completely unimportant moment.
My partner and I adhere to these rules, and in 7 years of dancing together, we have never had a fight. We have not always agreed on things, but we have been able to either fix the problem, or know when to just let it go. Granted, we are not married, but we have imparted this philosophy on our married couple, and they have managed to temper their fighting as well. Remember that your number one job as a dance partner is to create a safe learning environment for your partner. You have to be each other's number one fan and helper. If you both do this, you may find that you can teach each other quite a bit and even find that your ability to communicate with one another improves greatly both on and off the floor.
I hope that this does not come off as being terribly corny, but I very seriously believe in approaching your dancing in this way, whether or not you are married to your partner. I hope you find this helpful and that you and your wife end up loving your time together on the floor.
I am so new to this world of dancing that I would be considered a sprout!! However, I enjoy dancing with the man who introduced this to me far more than any other man. He is extremely tough on me and that can be daunting, but I have only been dancing in this style less than 7 times since we began. I love it!! and to this point have found no equal to him on the floor. I am looking forward to dancing with others, but do not think at this point I will ever prefer someone else to him.
In my opinion (which may not be worth much) the follower has a tougher job than the leader. Yes, the man (leader) has to think of what to do next, know how to dance the figure, and lead his partner. But the lady (follower) has to be able to "read" what may be some pretty subtle cues, and she has to know the figures as well--unless she is a VERY good follower, it's next to impossible for her to dance some of the more involved figures "cold."
My regular partner is my wife, even after quite a few years of dancing. Yes, we have our disagreements. She is a more "intuitive" dancer than I am, and she gets frustrated sometimes when I don't pick up something new as fast as she does, or when I can't figure out what pattern she would like to do (if she suggests one) from her description. We also probably know each other's mistakes and compensate for them. But we still enjoy dancing together. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't dance with other partners, or that you shouldn't. I'm glad you say you still enjoy dancing with your wife.
Phew!!! I am so glad I am not alone out here. My husband and I are really really new to ballroom dance. We have only completed about 15 weeks of class and we still feel like we have two left feet at times. I do learn dances a lot faster than my husband does and at times I admit I get frustrated with that blank expression when the teacher calls out a dance step and he has no clue what she is talking about...even though we have danced it many times. I have to admit...even though we ladies have to think fast on our feet when we are given the lead...I think the man has a lot more to think about. As far as dancing with my husband...I do prefer it and have to keep reminding myself that he is just learning and may not take the study of dance as all encompassing as I do. I love dancing with experienced dancers that can lead you around the floor without so much as a second thought...but I would never give up the experience to learn together with my husband, partners in life and partners on the dance floor...what more can you ask for.