By Richard A. Shulman, Ph.D.
One of the most difficult challenges that couples face is resolving conflicts. Many times poor communication and poor problem solving skills, lead to arguments, hostility, and power and control issues. However, if this skill is utilized in an effective manner, it will increase a couple’s ability to communicate, which in turn increases intimacy and trust.
For problem solving to be successful, it requires honesty, communication, and a genuine desire to resolve the conflict.
Step 1) Identify the source of conflict.
This might sound too simplistic, but many big conflicts are hidden in very discrete ways and what you are arguing about is not the real source of the problem; for example, “you never listen to me”, “why don’t you help around the house”, or “you always nag me”.
Step 2) Explain your personal view of the problem.
Remember, when you are incorporating this step avoid attacking, blaming, and personalizing the issue. Also it is crucial to use “I statements” when expressing your view. For example, “I feel angry about the checkbook being overdrawn each month”.
Step 3) Listen and understand your partner’s point of view of the problem.
Ask your partner to explain their point of view. Listen and try to understand the problem from their perspective. Then repeat or reflect back to them their opinion. For example, “Let me see if I understand you correctly ….”
Step 4) Brainstorm as many options and solutions as possible.
Using a pen and paper, create a list of possible solutions. A good rule of thumb is about 20 possible solutions. Avoid critiquing, evaluating, or commenting on the possible solutions, because some of the silliest ideas lead to creative solutions. Also, remember that this step should be fun, so this is a time to be playful and creative.
Step 5) Pick one of the solutions or a combination of the solutions from your list.
Working together as a couple, pick out a solution or combination of the solutions from your list that both people agree on. Remember that this is a compromise. Therefore, both people will be giving a little to take a lot.
Step 6) Evaluate the success of the solution after one week.
This is the most crucial step in the whole process. Many times problems aren’t resolved on the first go around and may require additional experiments. Therefore, don’t give up or resign. Simply go back to your brainstorming list and try a different option. Problem solving is a series of experiments and your job is to continue trying options until the conflict is resolved.
Step 7) If the situation is not resolved in a timely fashion, seek professional help.
Sometimes couples are too deep in the grit of the conflict to identify what the real source of the problem is or they are unwilling to compromise their views. This is where a professional would help. Many times professionals are not in the mist of the conflict and are able to help couples identify and resolve long-standing or heated problems/arguments.
Good luck and may your communications and conflicts be a way to develop a happy, healthy, and intimate relationship.