Trust in a relationship
When we got married some 26 years ago, someone gave us the advice to say “I love you” every day. It was a simple recipe and we started doing that; saying positive, encouraging and loving words to each other every day. This formed a habit, which our children eventually got into also. Sometimes we don’t feel a thing, but we keep on saying it anyway. It gets easier and is more powerful when trust has been built up for some years. It is like investing in the future. We have had our ups and downs, but this simple habit has been a cornerstone in building a warm and lasting relationship which means a lot to me. Nowadays when I come home after a troublesome day, I just need a couple of minutes cooking dinner together to get on the right side again. We have trust and the words of my wife have deep effect.
This simple story could be expressed in system dynamics (SD) concepts. A habit is a pattern, consisting of reoccurring similar events and resulting consequences. The consequences feeds back and affect the type of event that caused it. These patterns form a dynamic structure, intangible in this case but none the less very real. This structure was formed over some time and as established it now has almost a life of its own. It affects the surrounding environment.
System dynamics is a way to describe behaviour that change over time. It is like an abstract language, with a terminology that naturally explains what is happening around us. Abstractions and models of the real world can be more or less fitting. In system terminology the above could be described as below.
A simple model
Encouraging, positive Words affects Change of trust which makes Trust increase. Trust is like a bathtub and Change of trust is like the faucet controlling the flow of water. The arrow going out from Trust symbolizes that negative words drain Trust. With positive words, Trust accumulates over time. In the model there is also a relationship between Trust back to Change of trust, meaning that as Trust increases, Words have bigger effect. This feedback reinforces the increase of Trust.
Remember that this is a simple model to illustrate the concepts of system dynamics.
What difference does it make to describe the situation this way? We are typically not trained to see patterns over time, feedbacks or accumulations and this lack of perspective brings us into trouble. We try to change a situation and and are surprised as it becomes worse. When something goes wrong we look for someone to blame, but the truth is that we together have created a structure that produces the behaviour, good and bad. Our thinking, deeply affected by media, is short-sighted and focuses on simple event-cause relationships and details.
What difference does it make to know about dynamics? If we are conscious of these principles we can purposely design or redesign structures around us for the better. If we cannot manage the system, we can at least navigate in a smarter way. If we realize the above structure in a relationship, we understand that it takes time to build trust and that we have to be patient. Trust is a stock and is very valuable. It shouldn’t easily be thrown away.