Saturday, December 3, 2016

Loop the Loop

What do I mean by a "systems approach" to relationships? An analogy is our natural environment, where we easily understand two key principles. 
A stable environment tends to maintain stability (homeostasis). For example, when sunlight is plentiful and atmospheric temperature climbs, phytoplankton on the ocean's surface thrive and produce more dimethyl sulfide (DMS); the DMS molecules in turn increase cloud condensation, and the increasing number of clouds lowers the temperature of the atmosphere. 

Changes in one part of the environment will affect others parts. Think of what happened with the introduction of kudzu, jokingly referred to as "the vine that ate the South." Kudzu was brought to the U.S. from China in an effort to control erosion, but these non-native vines spread rapidly and killed many trees by shading them with leaves.
Those who introduced kudzu to a non-native environment were using what's referred to as "single-loop learning": Hey, this plant grows quickly and would stabilize some ground that's eroding. Let's try it! "Double-loop learning" would have been to consider that basic assumption in light of a bigger picture, the environment into which the kudzu would grow, whether or not it would have natural boundaries or constraints similar to those in its natural environment.

You can use the same principles in your relationships:
What do you do that continues to maintain homeostasis, even when you don't like the results? If your spouse expects you to manage the finances, for example, and you'd rather not, do you grouse as you balance the checkbook, or do you step back and ask Wait a minute, why does this keep happening even though I complain? Clearly my grousing isn't changing anything.

What have you introduced into a key relationship, thinking it would have a positive result, only to find it made things worse? For example, one of the Love Languages is "acts of service." I have a client who wanted more intimacy with her partner, and kept doing little things for him that showed her love. Instead, he withdrew more and more, interpreting these acts as implicit criticism that he couldn't do those things for himself. His Love Language is "words." All she needed to do was tell him what she loves about him, but until they stepped back and examined their assumptions about "love," her attempts to fix the problem were only making it worse.

No comments: