Don't let problems
tear you apart. Learn from them and use the solution process to
help you create an even more intimate and satisfying marriage. While
relationship problems are varied and complex, we believe that most
relationship problems are by-products of ineffective or counterproductive
communication within the relationship. Improved problem solving starts with
improved communication that is then enhanced with problem solving skills. We
recommend that you use the following steps to improve your problem solving
1. MAKE COMMUNICATION PART OF
Good methods of communication
are the best preventative you can have as a couple to keep the inevitable
problems from interfering with your marriage. When problems do arise, seek
understanding first. Marital research shows that about 80% of problems don't
even have to be solved when the couple talks through the issues and reaches
mutual understanding. Only the most difficult problems will require the use of
problem solving methods. Even then, understanding is vital. Beneficial
communication methods include the following:
Start the discussion in a
positive way. Most discussions end in the same positive or negative manner
that they are started. Choose to make a positive start by speaking for
yourself and not pointing the finger at your partner. Phrase the problems as
questions to invite solutions and cooperation. If you are having problems
talking, use written notes to communicate until you can talk.
Use questions to invite
solution to the problem. For example, say "What can we do together to solve
this problem?" or "In what ways might we solve this problem?" Questions like
these can be a positive way to start, and a productive way to continue the
Employ active listening
skills during your everyday conversations. It's a good idea to practice
paraphrasing, mirroring, and other active listening skills when there isn't
any stress because otherwise they may get lost when you're under pressure.
Use time-out's to cool off if
the pressure gets to be too much to stay positive. Remember that whoever calls
the time-out must set a time to continue the discussion. You don't want to
start a pursuit - withdrawal cycle.
Treat each other with respect
and kindness at all times. This is especially important when problems raise
emotions. It will be easier to maintain kindness and respect when you are well
Reduce your stress and learn
how to get beyond your money problems.
CHANGE - - GET OFF THE MERRY
If you find that you and your
partner are going around and around on the same problem without solution, itís
time to get off the merry go round. In breaking
this endless cycle of complaint and cross-complaint, you will be taking the
first step toward reaching a solution that is acceptable to both of you. The
decision to change, to do something different allows you to take a new path. You
may start by stating your concern in the form of a positive question such as,
"What can we both do differently to solve this problem so it doesn't continue to
be an issue for us?"
: Make a
commitment to each other to be on the same team rather than opposing each
other. When you work together and play by the same rules, you have a real
chance of finding new and better solutions to your problems.
USE THESE METHODS FOR
SUCCESSFUL PROBLEM SOLVING:
Keep the problem the problem:
One critical rule is that you state the problem in terms of how it impacts
you. If you feel a particular way as a result of what the other person may
be doing, the problem is that you feel a particular way. For example,
say "(wife) I feel lonely when you (husband) are not home at night,"
instead of saying, "You are never home and that makes me think you donít
love me." There is no room in effective problem solving for blame,
name-calling, bad history lessons or other negative behaviors that are typical
Problem solving is not an argument.
Work on one problem at a time.
Itís important that you both agree to focus on one problem at a time. It
becomes confusing when multiple issues are raised. Pick one issue and stick to
it even if you have to remind each other to stay on that one subject. Stay
with the one problem until youíve reached an understanding or solution.
Understand the problem:
Quite often, what first appears to be the problem is only a part of the
problem. It may be a symptom of a different problem that is not immediately
obvious. Reaching understanding of the problem requires that you communicate
with a joint desire to understand what the problem is. It does not require
that you agree on any solutions at this time. It is, in fact, important that
you agree to defer your opinions, reactions, and proposed solutions while
youíre seeking understanding. Save your judgment for later when you are
evaluating problem statements, ideas or options that you have created
together. Understanding the problem can be simplified by doing the following:
Write down any descriptions
of the problem that you can think of.
Describe the problem in
terms of what positive outcome you would like to have. Itís helpful to state
the problem as a question. For example, state "How might I not feel
lonely in the evenings?" or "Wouldnít it be nice if we could be
together more often on weeknights?" Review these and select the one that
best describes the situation. Then go on to the next step.
A simple starting point for
understanding is to gather information about what you have stated the
problem to be. List the facts, feelings and other data that are associated
with the problem. For example, "You have to work a lot of overtime. I
stay home on weeknights. We're both tired after work."
Review the information in
light of the problem that you have described earlier. Now restate the
problem in a way that most clearly describes the situation. To continue our
example, "How might we arrange our schedules so that I don't feel
lonesome on weeknights?"
This is the stage where you work together as a team to create a new future.
Use the problem statement (question) from the above step as the focus for all
of the activities at this stage. Again, focus on the problem.
Find solutions together
. The technique of
brainstorming has been found to be very effective in creating many possible
choices. Brainstorming is the process of thinking of and writing down all
the ideas that come to mind without judging them. The guidelines for
Develop ideas for possible
Do not judge any ideas in any way - good or bad.
More ideas give a better chance for one good idea.
Strive for quantity
Include every idea no matter how strange or silly it might seem.
Try to create new ideas from the ones that are listed.
Look for combinations
In the example about
loneliness, some brainstorming ideas might include the following: "Get
a new apartment closer to work so there is less time commuting. Husband
gets a new job. Wife changes work shift to match husbandís schedule.
Couple makes dates." There are many more possible solutions.
PROBLEM SOLVING SUMMARY:
You don't have to let problems run your life. You can take control.
See our article on Conflict.
The determined pursuit of understanding will make most problems go away and you can
solve the rest when you take a team approach to solving them together in a positive way.
Keep the problem the problem and keep your relationship a priority. Problems can be an
opportunity to learn and grow together. Talk with each other, learn and grow, and use
effective problem solving methods with a positive, productive approach to life's
challenges. This will keep your loving relationship alive and happy with mutual honesty,
kindness, and respect.
Taking control of the problems around you is one way to set
yourself apart and achieve personal growth. Become an expert in
communication and problem solving at
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This problem solving model was developed using the principles of
the Creative Problem Solving model and the book
"Talk to Me: How to Create Positive Loving Communication". Similar methods are taught in the Prevention
and Relationship Enhancement Program developed by the University of Denver
Center for Marital and Family Studies.
Recommended Reading List for Couples: