The beautiful thing about being someone who spends so much time thinking about personal growth is it forces me to utilize the strategies I espouse.
The other day my partner and I were taking about travel. She likes to travel. As for me, I’m not against travel but I’ve done almost none in the past few years due to perceived financial limits (story). I’ve noticed over the last few months that whenever she suggests us going somewhere together I tend to tense up. Our conversation then becomes awkward and the topic changes. This last time she mentioned travel (which is a very important thing to her) I noticed the tense feeling in my body again. When I got back to my apartment I began to sit and think through why I was feeling tense.
I had come across a problem that needed to be solved. I was actually working on a short curriculum I’m putting together on Problem Solving based on the video I shared in last week’s post. I thought to myself, “If this is a legit strategy, I need to apply it right now.” I began thinking…
First, what’s the Problem: I seem to have some internal resistance to any mention of travel that my partner makes. How do I get past this resistance so we can explore options?
Second, what’s the Story (For both of us):
Growing up, my family never went on regular trips or vacations. Most of my life has been spent head down working on something and my idea of a ‘real vacation’ has always been extravagance and cost’s of several thousand dollars. Not having that discretionary income, over time I’ve learned to appreciate my everyday life more and I work to set my life up in a fashion where I don’t feel the need to get away from it in the form of traditional vacation as I understand it (my perception as influenced by social factors is that vacation is supposed to be extravagant and international).
For my partner, her family went on a vacation every summer. As a young adult she has studied and lived abroad in South America and Asia. Pre-COVID, she has taken many impromptu trips to different places around the world. These are factors that I’ve known about her for some time now. They don’t tell me her story around travel but they give me some idea of what she might be thinking… The key point here is that my ideas are purely assumptions until I talk with her.
Third, what are the Facts:
For me, I like road trips and I know from personal experience that ‘getting away‘ doesn’t have to mean going out of the country. It could be a half hour drive to the next city for the day. This is obviously much less expensive than the stories that I have gotten lodged in my head over the years.
For my partner, she also likes road trips and she has stated numerous times that travel for her has always been on a tight budget, even internationally. Also, travel for her is more about exploration than anything. She likes learning about different cultures which is also something I value.
Fourth, what’s the New Story:
Based on the facts it seems like the next reasonable assumption is that a short road trip to a nearby city could facilitate both of our comfort levels. When we talked all this out we actually decided that taking the city bus around town for the day would be nice. Of course, it might go terribly. We might hate spending the day with each other (I don’t think that’s likely at this point). However, this next step is much more logical and carries some assumptions that are based on real quantitative data (how much can we afford) and real qualitative understanding (what does one another like). As we try things out, I’m sure we’ll run into new problems, but life is about Problem Solving.
There is one key point I want to make about this scenario. Essentially what’s happening here is two people trying to move forward together in life and our stories about life are different. Depending on what the differences are and what they imply, there may be a very emotional reaction from either side. Apathy, indifference, anger, sadness, frustration, judgement of the other etc. For myself in particular, the topic of travel always made me frustrated. Initially I found myself finger pointing in my head:
“Oh, now she wants to travel! Now I gotta spend $3,000 dollars that I don’t have to go do stuff I don’t want to do! And, I’m going to have to give more hours to a job and take those hours away from my business… which means even more time doing things I’m not emotionally invested in and losing more options to advance my interests… ” – Travis, is that true?
I hope it’s fairly obvious how I’m leaping to conclusions with no real evidence of what the other side of the issue actually means by travel or what it’s going to cost. What I had to do is take ownership of how I was experiencing the moment. I had to acknowledge my feelings and then begin the process of figuring out the questions I needed to ask in order to confirm or deny the initial concerns that popped up in my mind:
- Where does my partner want to go?
- What type of activities do we both find enjoyable?
- Does this have to cost $3,000?
- etc etc
The emotional response is the part that must be navigated in order to get us out of feeling like the victim and wanting to isolate ourselves because someone is challenging our story. I had to remember that my story has holes in it. I can insist that my way is best but that doesn’t lend itself well to long term health in my relationship.
Romantic Partners. Familial Disputes. Differences of Opinion on how to tackle a project at school or work. Difficulty in communication with a Supervisor. Difficulty in communicating criticism to an Employee. My theory is that all of these challenges begin with understanding one another’s story around the issue. In order to do this we have to see ourselves escalating into an emotional attachment to our own ideas which are always flawed in some way. It’s a practice of formulating questions about why you feel a certain way when certain topics are brought up. It’s a practice of admitting that certain topics frustrate you and being willing to explore why. It’s a practice of admitting that your ideas have flaws. It’s allowing our emotions to be indicators of the problem rather than confirmation of what we already believe, which may or may not have it’s true parts. It’s Self-Awareness.
What topics do you avoid when dealing with people who you com into regular communication with? Why? What stories do you attach to those topics? Have you attempted to investigate how they have formed their stories? What do you know to be true? Remember, stories come from 3 places: Society, Family, and Ourselves.