Or, the importance of iterative change.
In a relationship, for instance, you will find certain conversations “reoccur” with surprising frequency. They are the themes. The persistence of their reoccurrence year over year is just the proof that the underlying issue has not been moving, not been changing.
In our romantic relationships it’s easiest to identify these fault lines that don’t mend because we get to be up close and personal day after day. But the same structures pervade all our relationships.
There’s a well-known pop-psychology experiment that takes married couples, puts them in a room, requests they discuss a topic that they feel challenged about, say, money or kids, while they are video recorded. The analysis of the video can show with remarkable accuracy the likelihood of divorce for each couple. Expressions of contempt, criticism, defensiveness or stonewalling lead to splits.
The lesson: pay attention to the structures of the conversation. The topics (money, kids, fidelity) are tropes- everyone negotiates them in every romantic relationship. The structures and the storytelling are important- they are the foundations, beams, bridges and overpasses of a relationship- how we relate as individuals, and how we relate as members of society.
When you tell the same story, wear deep the same groove, rehash the same plot month after month or year after year- there’s no creative growth happening. There’s no growth happening. I thank god and my own intensive reflections that I’m not still dealing with the same psychological structures that colored my teens or twenties, but I also get frustrated at how long it takes to change current structures that might be in my way.
Patience and Radical Honesty
When Daniel and I got together, the first and foremost thing we promised each other was that we would support each other as constantly changing and evolving human beings. This has been a fascinating process. How different our life and lifestyle looks even when compared to five years ago! The way we work, the type of work we do, the activities we do for pleasure, the things we consume, and where we intend to live- all have changed significantly.
Interestingly, none of these changes has required compromise (generally, not a concept I believe highly in.) They were gradual and iterative. One or the other of us might express interest in a different lifestyle choice, and then a period of time would pass before the other would adjust fully to it.
For instance: for a couple of years I’ve been saying I would prefer to live in a cabin in the woods. I felt fine saying this out loud, and didn’t make it into a big deal. I took zero steps to actualize the wish. I knew Daniel really loved the city life, the ability to walk out the door and get coffee from a coffee shop.
But, then we started climbing. Followed by camping. Then, we rented a cabin in the woods for a month to see what it was like. It was an iterative process.
In the end, Daniel ended up being readier than I was to actually take the plunge and buy a cabin in the woods (it’s under contract….fingers crossed.) He found the place after ceaseless hours zillowing, arranged the viewing, planned how we would renovate, and was the deciding factor in going for it.
Example lifestyle choices and habits that work well with iterative change:
- where we live
- what kind of work we do
- how much or little exercise we do
- how much or little time we spend together
- how much or little we share workspace, living space, vehicles
- how we relax
- how we socialize
- consumption habits: food, alcohol, media, et al
- money management