Effective Problem Solving in Your Relationship

By Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW

Every couple has their own unique set of problems and conflicts, and getting your feelings of anger or frustration out in the open can actually improve your marriage! Here are some tips to solve those quarrels and move on:

1. Start the conversation in a gentle way. Be kind and specific. Each person usually contributes to the problem/argument. Picking out a grain of truth in your partner’s complaint and admitting your role in the conflict will go a long way towards resolving it. Be specific about the situation and your feelings. For example: “I feel… about … situation and here’s what I need…” For the last part focus, try focusing on a positive need. When starting the conversation make sure you leave criticism and contempt at the door.

2.  Complain but don't blame. Focus on the situation at hand. Make sure to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, “I am happy when the dishes are done” is very different from “you never do the dishes!”

3. Describe what is happening. Don’t evaluate or judge what your spouse is saying. Instead be objective and try to hear their side of the story.

4. Be clear about your positive need. The benefit of a discussion will be lost if both partners aren’t clear about what they need. Don’t be afraid to get specific. It would be nice if partners could read each other’s minds, but since that isn’t a reality, we need to make our needs very clear. For example, “I need more help” is a lot harder to interpret than, “I need you to do the dishes each night, take out the trash and put the kids to bed.”  

5. Be polite. Name calling and criticism will not get you anywhere. As with the start, continue the conversation in a kind and gentle way.

6. Be appreciative. Thank your spouse for contributing to the conversation and listening.

7. Don't store things up. Try to address things as they come up. While no one wants to fight all the time, conflict is healthy. When you avoid conflict, issues don't  get resolved and you may have to deal with more difficult problems in the future.

Elizabeth Cobb is the founder and lead therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you'd like help with communication and problem solving your relationship, contact Cobb Psychotherapy, and see how therapy can help.