There are two types of problems in relationship, the solvable problems, and the logjam problems. Today, I’m going to talk about managing solvable problems. Solvable problems are usually every day disagreements or problems for which there are an ongoing discussion and strategy. This includes things like chores, communication issues, and other responsibilities.
A great start to problem-solving in relationship is mutual respect. When two people respect one another they want to know what they can do to be supportive. They’re curious about their loved one’s experience and how they are being perceived.
Keeping in mind mutual respect, let’s look at the first step to problem solving: a gentle approach to the discussion. Even if you’ve discussed a problem a hundred times, begin with softness in your words and your voice. When you speak harshly, contemptuously, with criticism, using blame, or defensively the other person almost immediately feels defensive and cannot hear your intended message. Instead, they hear something like, “you’re not good enough.” It’s crucial to begin discussions on a calm and respectful note because it’s much easier to maintain stability throughout the conversation. It’s possible to backtrack and try to smooth out a choppy beginning, but this is invariably more difficult. Setting a gentle tone promotes safety and stability. Now, some of you are thinking, “I do approach gently. Or at least I’ve tried it. My partner gets defensive no matter what.” Stay tuned for information about how to address this in a later post.
Next, practice extended and accepting relationship repairs. A repair is when either of you makes an attempt to de-escalate an intense (or intensifying) situation. This can come in the form of humor, soothing the other, taking a break to regroup, apologizing for any hurt/taking responsibility, showing appreciation, taking a step back to look at what’s happening, and being affectionate through disagreements. It’s just as important to accept these repair attempts from your partner as it is to initiate them. This keeps you from getting dragged down by the negativity and keeping the message afloat. You can try saying things like, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can we take a break?” or “I feel blamed. Is there a way you can rephrase that?” or “Something I admire about you is ______________. It makes me feel __________.” Let your partner know how you’re feeling and what you need in a clear and respectful way.
The third step is comforting yourself and your loved one. Taking care of yourself and managing your emotions is important when problem-solving because it keeps you in your rational mind (prefrontal cortex) and out of your emotion mind (limbic system). This helps you to keep the conversation productive instead of out of spinning out of control and being hurtful. Self-soothing can be anything from a deep breathe to taking a break and switching gears to something relaxing. Soothing your partner can be demonstrated by softening your tone, showing affection and or appreciation. You can also ask your partner what you can do to soothe them (both in the moment and during a less intense time). This is an incredibly loving act that carries a lot of weight with most people.
The fourth step is compromise. Keeping in mind the respect you have for one another (and messages in an older post about being open to influence from your partner), compromise is another critical ingredient for successful problem solving. Talk to one another. Find out what you have in common with one another, shared beliefs and goals. This common ground will make it easier to effect a compromise. Finally, practice being tolerant of each other’s faults. We all have them. You can’t change this. This acceptance is an ongoing practice.
Keep in mind that this is a condensed description! Please contact me if you have any questions or want more information about problem-solving in relationship.
Love and Be Loved,