Probelm Solving in Marriage

marriage-600x319[1]by Sheila Kreifels, LMFT

If the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing and expecting a different result” then no wonder couples drive each other crazy!!   It does not seem to matter how intelligent two people are, when they come together in a marriage, good problem solving skills seem absent.  Control, guilt, manipulation, demandingness, and coercion do not solve marriage problems, they simply add to the dysfunction.

Good problem solving requires right and left brain activity.  It is both an analytical process and a creative process.  We first have to prioritize and define the problem that we are going to tackle.  Then we have to brainstorm possible solutions and pick one to try out.  In couplehood, it is often the first step that gets skipped – what are we fighting about?  Rather than defining the problem in clear terms, couples often blame each other or point fingers at the symptoms.  Problem solving is the practice of change and most people do not want to change what they do, they just want to change what their spouse does!

Problems are problems because we cannot readily find a solution.  I suffered from intermittent  neck and shoulder pain for several months.  I thought the cause was a fall while hiking and that it would just go away.  I did not want to go to my doctor because I figured she would just give me Advil to take.  I looked online and began to catastrophize that it was “frozen shoulder” or something worse.  I went to an acupuncturist and a massage therapist trying to find a solution.  Finally, one day while on my computer, my husband walked in my office and exclaimed, “No wonder your neck and shoulder hurt, look at how you are sitting at the computer!”  He had me stand up and pumped up my chair and lowered my screen and like magic, the pain went away!

Couples spend most of their time arguing over symptoms rather than solving the problem.  I have an exercise I call, “define it”.  I put a pillow between them on the couch and I say, ” You are not the problem and your spouse is not the problem.  The problem is the pillow between you.  See if you can both work together to define the problem between you.”  This helps couples to stop pointing fingers at their spouse and to begin to really define the actual problem so that we can begin to solve it.

A good way to define the marital problem is by using the “5 whys” technique.  Example:

Why did we have that fight today?  We had that fight because you were late.

Why did we fight because you were late?  We fought because I asked you specifically to not be late today because the babysitter had to leave on time.

Why did you have to ask specifically?  Because we are usually late to pick up the kids.

Why are we usually late to pick up the kids?  Because we do not set good work boundaries or take turns picking up the kids.

Why do we not take turns picking up the kids?  Maybe we need to.  That’s a good solution!  The problem is that we both off shift the responsibility to each other rather than taking turns and being accountable.

Solving problems together is satisfying.  It bonds you together in powerful ways and helps to reinforce your commitment that you can work through anything together!




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