69% of your relationship problems are unsolvable!
Dr. John Gottman
Really? 9 Ways to Overcome Relationship Problems: Perspective! That’s right, change your perspective and change your trajectory.
I remember the day I read this statistic in Dr. John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. At first, I was a bit surprised. But as I began to absorb what he was saying, I felt a sense of relief. As my wife and I began to understand what this statistic was telling us, it began to change our perspective and my work as a marriage counselor. Frankly, we were both relieved to know the research indicated that we were reasonably normal.
As you read 9 Ways to Overcome Relationship Problems: Perspective is a very kinetic read filled with some practical things you can do to enrich your marriage.
It is always interesting when I present this concept to a couple, many of whom are frustrated to know most of their problems are not solvable. When you think about it, how much time and energy do we waste as a couple fighting over things that do not have a solution? It’s kind of like a puppy chasing its tail. In the end, the puppy feverishly runs in a circle, the tail is never captured, and the dog is dizzy, disoriented, and tired.
I believe one of the best ways to understand this has to do with perspective. Keep reading if you want to have a more meaningful and resilient relationship. When you get the proper perspective you will begin experiencing positive, lasting grow in your marriage.
You see, perspective is everything.
When you can break apart something or look at it from a new angle, it loses its power over you. It helps you realize and hopefully begin to accept that many of the problems you have in your relationship are not going away.
Once you realize this, you can start to focus your energy on what you can and will do when those issues bubble up.
Before I move into the 9 Ways to Overcome Relationship Problems: Perspective, let’s review the three types of problems couples typically face.
There are three types of problems that couples face.
The first type is solvable problems. These can be about household chores, disciplining kids, sex, and in-laws. A particular solvable problems for one couple may be a perpetual problem for another. A solvable problem within a relationship is usually about something situational. The conflict is simply about that topic, and there may not be a deeper meaning behind each partner’s position. A solution can be found and maintained.
For example, a disagreement about where to go on a date or spend the holidays. There is no deeper meaning behind the issue, and you can solve them with a compromise.
The second type of problem is perpetual. These are the unsolvable problems, the ones that can center on fundamental differences in your personalities, family of origin issues, or lifestyle needs. All couples have perpetual problems.
These issues can concern the exact same topics another couple might find solvable. However, unlike a solvable problem, these are problems a couple will return to multiple times with the same result: a lot of energy expended, and no resolution.
Here are a few examples of unsolvable problems:
• Frequency of sex (one wants or needs it more often)
• Spending habits (savers vs. spenders)
• Family ties (spends lots of time with the family of origin vs. highly independent)
• Socializing (wants to go out vs. stay at home)
• Organizational requirements (tidy vs. disorganized)
• Family planning (wants children vs. doesn’t wish to have children)
• Time management (advance planner vs. last-minute planner or no plans)
By now, you may be feeling discouraged. So let me give you a little bit of hope. While Gottman’s number asserts 69% of couples’ problems are unsolvable, he does not mean that all of them are entirely unsolvable forever. People and circumstances can change, and over time, some unsolvable issues may shift into a space where they are more easily solved or even resolved.
The critical piece, in my opinion, is not allowing them to shift into the most daunting type of problem—gridlocked, perpetual problems.
Those are the third and probably most corrosive type of problems. Gridlocked, perpetual problems are lingering, unsolvable problems that have been mismanaged and become a central “sticking point.” In many instances, these types of problems have become chronic and very painful. When a couple attempts to engage in a conversation over a gridlocked issue, it will usually fail to go anywhere productive. The nature of gridlock is that hidden agendas commonly underlie the problem at hand.
Here is an idea of what gridlock looks like:
- The conflict leaves you feeling rejected by your partner.
- You continue talking about it without progress.
- Whenever you discuss the issue, you feel more frustrated and hurt afterward.
- Your discussion about the problem is devoid of humor or affection.
- You dig in your heels about your positions and refuse to budge.
- Over time, you become more rigid in your position.
- You vilify your partner during discussions. Unfortunately, this vilification leads you both to become even more polarized in your positions.
- You emotionally disengage from each other.
Are you with me so far? I hope you are gaining a little clarity about the types of problems couples face at this point. Now that we have been able to look into the kinds of problems you tend to face, what can we do to engage them and move towards some sort of resolution? Once you have decided to work on the solvable problems, the work is pretty straightforward.
Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps.
It begins with how we look at and identify our specific problems. Once we identify the type of problem we are dealing with, we will be able to use our energy and creativity to actively break the solvable problems down and turn them into growth opportunities.
Also, we will be able to identify the unsolvable problems and see them for what they are.
So where do we go from here?
First, focus on identifying and working on the solvable problems.
Second, acknowledge the unsolvable, realizing that some of those may one day be solvable, but do not waste too much energy on them now. The truth is, an unsolvable problem will not ruin the relationship.
Third, if you find that you are in perpetual gridlock, it might be time to reach out for some help from a trained counselor.
So here are a few things you can do, beginning today, to enhance your problem-solving skills as a couple.
1. Awareness — work on conversations about your solvable, unsolvable, and possible gridlock problems.
2. Keep an open mind as the two of you consider the types of problems couples face.
3. Please DO NOT try to change the other person.
4. Grow in understanding your partner. After all, you are pretty quirky, so learn to appreciate their quirkiness.
5. Choose the sword you are going to fall on. In other words, Pick Your Battles carefully.
6. Fight fair.
7. Learn to communicate clearly and directly.
8. Remember that not all problems are solvable.
9. Pray. It can’t hurt, and who knows, it might help.
I’d love to get your feedback, so feel free to leave a comment.
Good luck as you lean into the 9 Ways to Overcome Relationship Problems: Perspective.
“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” From the New Testament Book of James, chapter 1, verse 19, NLT
“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” From the New Testament Book of Colossians, chapter 4, verse 6, NLT.
If you need help shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call me an leave a message on my private, confidential email 505-343-2011.
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Disclosure: I am profoundly thankful for the work of Drs. John & Gottman, and many of the principles and thoughts of this post come from his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and several continuing education events that I have attended.