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The foundation of any long-term relationship - gradual improvement




For anyone who has been in a long-term relationship, you'll know that things tend to be less glamorous than a Hollywood movie, and that's putting it mildly. For anyone who has worked with a colleague or boss for a long time, you'll know the same.


Beyond the initial courting phase where you're deciding if there is enough synergy and chemistry to actually commit - relationships of every kind are tough. As individuals in a relationship, we come together around some shared cause or commitment, and we're constantly trying to find common ground with another person who comes from a different background, has their own aspirations, their own neuroses, challenges, opinions, gifts, values, desires and so on. Add to the fact that the situational authority and power dynamics between you might not be evenly distributed, and one can quickly see why relationships are so hard.


With all of these challenges, and especially when they converge, it's too damn easy to throw in the towel and decide that things aren't working, and that you'd be happier with someone else, at another job, etc. When we imagine ourselves with someone else, it's a sneaky trick of the mind that we are able to easily imagine ourselves to be much happier elsewhere. Then we make the change, love the initial stages before things get real, and generally repeat the cycle all over again.


Personally, I'm a huge fan of long-term relationships. The depth of context and shared history with other people creates a symbiosis that is impossible to match with new and shiny surface-level relationships. Depth takes time to build, but if you can push through the challenges, it's a gift where the impact snowballs your personal and shared development.


This means a lot of hard conversations, and a lot of introspection. This means inviting a trusted individual into your life to see the real you, warts and all, which is scary as hell. This means being brave enough to do the same for those you are in relationship with, and volunteering perspectives and opinions which they might not want to hear.


Real and deep relationships are messy by definition, and at any moment in time, it's very easy to view the mess as a failure. My emerging view is quite the opposite - the best indicator of a quality relationship is that it is messy and raw, and requires both parties to constantly grapple with their respective roles and contributions to the relationship.


That said, and this is the heart of this post - the general trajectory of the relationship should be gradually improving over time. Bit by bit we should be graduating from our previous challenges to deal with new and higher order challenges. In a work context the sorts of business problems we're solving now should be a step up from the issues we were solving 12 months ago. In our personal relationships, the sort of challenges we're dealing with should be gradually progressing over time.


The underlying commitment here is to a gradual improvement over time. Embracing the mess, and inviting the learnings from the messiness of relationships, where bit by bit we can see changes in ourselves and others.


In your intimate relationship, has your partner shown you that they can gradually improve over time? When you think about who they are today, and who they were 1 year ago, what are the changes you've seen? The same questions applies to you for your partner.


When you think about your colleague/boss/business, have they shown you that they can gradually improve over time? When you think about who they are today, and who they were 1 year ago, what are the changes you've seen? The same questions applies to you for the business.


Only you can make a call if the sorts of changes you're seeing are heading in the "right" direction, which is in alignment with your values, worldview and aspirations. Without question, there are times when one needs to pull the plug, but don't pull it because things are messy, pull it because the mess you're dealing with isn't gradually changing and improving over time.


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