David Brooks: There’s a psychologist in New York named Francine **** who councils people in marital therapy. And she says when a couple comes in to see me; there are three characters who are walking into my office. There is the husband and the wife and the marriage. The marriage is an independent character. And what is the marriage? The marriage is the pattern of behavior that has been established by these two people. And once they fall into a pattern of behavior, they’re sometimes trapped by it. So for example, let’s say they stop talking to each other at dinner. Maybe they go out to dinner and individually they probably would like to talk to each
other, but their marriage has picked up certain habits and traditions. And so it would feel weird to be the person who started the conversation. And so that marriage has a top down influence on the two people involved in it because of all the accumulated experience.
And so a marriage is an emergent system. It’s all the different things that have happened over the history of the marriage, which then has a top down influence on the two people stuck inside of it. And so how do you change that? It takes… sometimes it takes quite radical changes. You have to step outside that pattern of behavior. You have to acknowledge that there’s a pattern. You have to say, I’m trapped by this pattern of behavior that I am replicating over and over again, and you have to sort of radically step outside of it.
And so, how do you do that? Well, the research is pretty clear on this. We do not have the ability to change our own minds consciously. You just can’t sit there and say, I’m going to
think differently because there’s too much going down unconsciously. But the way you can change you mind is to change your behavior. If you change your behavior, then that will groove certain characteristics in your brain and eventually you’ll change your thinking. The folks at Alcoholics Anonymous put it a different way, “Fake it till you make it.” Change your behavior first, then that’ll change your mind.
And so if you’re stuck in say a bad marriage with bad behavior, then do things, certain habits that you do every day that you would never do otherwise. Sometimes it’s a simple as, you know, giving each other a peck on the lip as you go… as you leave. Sometimes it’s as simple as going to some cognitive therapy where they force you to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do, have the kind of conversations, you know, something as stupid as leaning against each
And so it’s doing those little daily acts of unusual things that will eventually change that thing called a marriage.
If you want to change a culture, what you have to do is try to change everything all at once.