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  • Debby Gullery

the art of problem-solving in marriage

Negotiating and problem-solving is a huge part of any marriage. So how can we have a more spiritual and effective approach to problem-solving?

The first thing to look at is our attitude. Our attitude towards our problems determines our approach and what we choose to do about them. We have all have moments where we worked ourselves into a frenzy and made a small problem bigger than it needed to be.


What if instead, we chose to put our energy into creating harmony, despite our differences?

Whatever we invest our energy into is what grows. Winning an argument at the expense of our unity doesn't serve us, and being right is largely overrated, especially in marriage.


What if we stop to ask ourselves this question when approaching a problem:


“What can I do to ease the situation or to make a positive difference here?”


This simple question can move us towards connection and foster openness.

Research tells us that all couples have between five and eight irreconcilable differences. This means we will never see eye to eye on these subjects, despite our persistent efforts to get our partners to agree with us.


For these unsolvable problems, an attitude shift can really be helpful. Instead of asking, “How can I get you to agree with me?”, we can try asking this:


“What can we do to protect the rest of our relationship from this unsolvable problem?”


This puts us on the same team, instead of on opposite sides, and gives a positive spin to a problem area.

Sometimes we really do need to come to consensus about an important issue such as parenting or finances. What can we do then?


Here is a good rule of thumb: Seek to understand each other first.


In other words, don't try to solve a problem until you've discussed it thoroughly, and each of you understands why the other one thinks and feels the way they do.

This is the stage most of us skip, partly because we are too often in a hurry, and partly because we don't always know how to do it. Here are a few tips:


  1. Start important conversations in a positive way.

  2. Resist guessing what your partner is thinking.

  3. Avoid the blame game. Blaming our partner blocks any possibility of understanding.

  4. Frame problems in the form of questions, as they are more likely to invite solutions and cooperation.

  5. Eliminate the following phrases from our vocabulary:

  • You never or You always

  • I’ll try (this usually means I’ll make a half-hearted effort but won’t quite succeed)

  • You should or You shouldn’t


It’s easy to see why using these phrases is unhelpful, because when our spouses have used them on us, it makes us crazy!

When it comes to dealing with problems as a couple, our attitudes really matter and largely determine our success. We can get upset about our problems, which doesn't help, we can try to get our partners to agree with us, which rarely works, or we can ask ourselves what we might do to foster communication, understanding and cooperation.

And remember, we are always in charge of our own behaviors and responses, and when we approach our problems as a team, we are stronger, saner, and more successful!

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