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Problem Solving Methods For Relationships

by Greg Baker  
3/26/2010 / Relationships


The key to solving your relationship problems is communication. Without proper communication, you will solve nothing, only make things worse. Through the many years of counseling marriages, I have developed a system of communication that I can nearly guarantee will help you solve your problems.

Every step of this has been carefully tested in real situations hundreds of times. If you'll carefully adhere to the method listed, it will help you find real solutions for your real problems.

Step #1 - Get the Right Mind Set

If you don't get the proper mindset, this system will fail. I have developed a method designed to solve problems, not point blame or to figure out whose fault it is.

The proper mindset is simple. You want only to solve the problem. It doesn't matter who is at fault. It doesn't matter who is to blame. The only thing you should be interested in is solving the problem.

I can't stress the importance of this enough. Where marriages or relationships fail to overcome their problems is when there is more finger pointing than finding solutions. Your goal with this method is simple. Find a workable solution to your problem.

That's it.

Throughout this system, I will remind you of this and explain in more detail the problems that arise when you cannot do this.

Step # 2 - Telling the Truth

I've detailed this more thoroughly in another ezine article entitled: Telling the Truth in Marriage.

But suffice it to say, that unless you both are willing to tell the complete truth and hear the complete truth, you won't be able to solve problems in your relationship. Truth can hurt. You need to be big enough to handle it. If you can't handle criticism, then you are incapable of solving problems correctly.

Even if you disagree with the other person's version of the truth, it does not matter. As soon as you say they are wrong, point out the problem with their logic, or tell them that they got it all backwards, you are spoiling for a fight. And you'll get one.

Remember, you are not trying to find out who is right and who is wrong. You're trying to solve the problem. In order for you to solve it, you need to be able to hear what the other person thinks and feels. All of it. No matter how absurd you think it to be.

Note: In every problem there are two people-much like a court case: the one who has been injured and the one who is accused of doing the injury. I will use these terms to help differentiate the various roles in this system. It is for clarity only.

Step #3 - The Problem Phase.

The Injured Party: States the problem, clearly, and as truthfully as can be done.

The Accused Party: Listens carefully to the stated problem in a non-threatening and non-defensive manner.

This is really the beginning of this procedure.

Find two comfortable chairs where you can face each other. Then, the one with the problem states exactly how he feels, what he believes the problem is, how it makes him feel and so forth.

The other person merely listens attentively. She does not argue, she does not defend herself, and she does not disagree. She simply takes a non-threatening, non-defensive posture and listens. She will nod her head to show she is following, and she will look the other person in the eye.

Let's create a scenario and show it in practical application. A husband has a problem with the way his wife is doing certain things. From his perspective, she is doing it wrong and everything he's tried seems only to cause fights, arguments, disagreements, and hurt feelings.

To solve this problem, they begin as instructed in this article. They sit down across from each other and the husband begins by outlining the problem.

Note: People's emotions catch them up like a tidal wave. They get caught up in their pain, their frustration, and their guilt. This clouds the root of the problem, and when people try to explain the problem, they tend explain it from an emotional source. The root of the problem is often very different than the problem that is initially explained. This system is designed to find the root of the problem without offense.

He says, "I feel that you are always cutting me down. You don't think that my opinions are worthwhile, I feel that you aren't interested in my thoughts." He may continue in this vein for some time. He might shed tears, he might rant a bit, and he might raise his voice in emotional pain. That's okay.

Her job is to listen and that only. Even if her initial impression here is that he's wrong, she doesn't say anything. If she interrupts and begins to correct him, they will end up in a fight. If she stays non-defensive, doesn't argue, doesn't disagree, and doesn't try to explain her side, then she gains the power to actually fix it.

Note: We have natural tendencies to want to explain and defend ourselves. If both people follow this instinct, you clash, you fight. Someone has to bury that instinct for the sake of the relationship. In this case, the one who feels wronged gets to express his or her position and feelings and the other just listens. Again, it ought not to matter who is right and who is wrong. Only the solution matters.

Step #4 - The Questioning Phase

The Injured Party: Answers questions asked by the defendant.

The Accused Party: Asks gentle, non-confrontational questions to help isolate and clarify the root problem.

When the person with the problem has finished, and the other feels that they have expressed what they wanted to say without interruption or argument, the accused then asks gentle probing questions about the problem.

This accomplishes a variety of things:

1. It is not argumentative.
2. It shows that you care about the other person's feelings and emotions.
3. It clarifies.
4. It forces the one who is hurt to examine his or her feelings much more in depth.
5. It isolates the real problem-the root problem.

When you ask questions instead of fighting, you cut away much of the excess fat of the pain and suffering the other person feels. You can quickly find the real problem. Each question that you ask allows you to narrow the problem down and allows both of you to see the problem clearer.

Don't explain yourself. Ask questions-gentle questions, not accusatory questions.

Have you ever played the game Mind Trap? The game consists of riddles, mind twisters, and a variety of riddles that are stated like this:

A man, walking in a forest, discovers a cabin with two men dead inside. What happened?

Obviously, there is not enough information here to determine what happened. If you jump to conclusions, you will be wrong. In fact, you may start a fight. If you say, for example, "It was a hunting accident!" You'd be wrong, but now you'd be forced to defend your position.

The game allows you to ask an unlimited number of 'yes' or 'no' questions. The questions help you cut away irrelevant trains of thought, isolate the important facts, and ultimately discover the truth.

In this case, the answer is a plane crash. The cabin is the cockpit of an airplane, and the two men, the pilot and copilot.

Without asking lots of questions, you would never have discovered the truth. The same goes for most of your relationship problems. There is usually underlying root causes that must be discovered before any real solution is developed. Asking lots and lots of questions will help you find it.

Going back to my scenario, the husband has now stated his position and now it is his wife's turn to ask questions. She does not say, "You're wrong." That'll start a fight. Instead, she may ask:

"Do you feel this way when we have company?"

He thinks about the question and realizes that he does not. He responds, "No. I guess not there."

"How about with family?"

Upon examining his feelings, he believes this to be true, so he says, "Yes."

"Is it with outside family, or the kids, or both?"

He thinks about it. "Actually, it's with our kids. I don't think I feel that way around your brother or sister."

Now we are getting somewhere. If the questioning process is done right, the one who is hurt will invariably contradict himself. That should not be pointed out. It should be viewed as progress. Our emotions cause us to rage. They cause us to blow things out of proportion. This method helps both people to analyze the problem and cut away the fat.

After asking a few more questions, they might realize that the root of the problem is really the wife's behavior regarding the children. The husband discovers that it's not that his opinion is meaningless to his wife, but that his wife seems to disregard his opinion in regards to the children. Upon further questioning, it might be discovered that the real problem is actually the wife's treatment of the children. He thinks that she favors one over the other. His past attempts to solve that have been met with frustration. His anger over that caused him to feel small, and his emotions built his pain into a much greater problem than really existed.

The questioning phase showed this truth to both parties involved. If the wife had instead tried to defend her actions, they would have ended up in a fight. Instead, the husband feels that his wife was interested in his problem by the many questions she asked. In addition, he was forced to reevaluate his position based on the questions asked.

Both discovered the real problem.

Step #5 - The Solution Phase

The Injured Party: Listens to the solutions provided by the other party and determines if they will work or not.

The Accused Party: Offers solutions to the problem.

Now that the problem has been isolated and clearly defined comfortably to both people, the one who is accused of the problem is the one who offers possible solutions.

There are several important reasons for this. If you have the problem with your spouse and you offer solutions to your spouse, your spouse might feel that you are dictatorial, or that the solutions are unreasonable. Again, you might have a fight on your hands.

Instead, your spouse ought to offer up solutions that he or she feels they are capable of carrying through with. Your spouse knows his situation and character best. If he gives solutions for your problems with him, then he is more apt to see them through. And you won't appear to be correcting him or telling him what to do.

The injured party must be honest, however. If a solution doesn't work, or he feels that the solution doesn't go far enough, he needs to say so. Still, he doesn't offer solutions, he just approves or disapproves them.

Using our scenario, the wife might say, "Would it help if I take child so and so out on a date every week?"

Her husband thinks that over and realizes that that would really help. "Yes, I think it would, but I fear that the other children would get jealous."

The wife mentally examines her weekly schedule and offers, "I think I could do something special for each of the children then. Would that be sufficient?"

After thinking it through, he may agree, "Yes. I think that would be great."

Now we have a solution for the root problem. It is one that the accused feels capable of accomplishing, and it has satisfied the injured party.

Step #6 - The Reevaluation Phase

Both Parties: Sit down at some later date and discuss the solution again to see if it is really working.

It would be wise to sit down at some later date and re-discuss the solution to see if it is really working. You may find that there were unexpected snags that could not be seen when the solution was first offered.

There is a degree of trial and error. The great thing about this is that you are working together on a solution, not trying to pin the blame.

I've used this method successfully for many years, not only in my own marriage, but in counseling other couples. The effects are dramatic, and couples soon learn to work together to solve problems.

It really works.

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Or for books on communication and social skills in relationships! Specifically, our books 'Fitly Spoken' and 'Restoring a Fallen Christian'.

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