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Over/Under (Part 3)

November 17, 2010

During the month of November our bloggers told their stories of how they with their spouses found creative solutions to the problem of how to hang the toilet paper. Their blogs gave us light-hearted examples of how they handled problems well. However, in many marriages, couples face problems that are much more serious.

When you are dealing with things that are difficult to handle, you are most likely to benefit from structure. In Fighting for Your Marriage, a bestselling marriage enhancement book, the authors Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, Susan Blumberg, Natalie Jenkins and Carol Whitley—recommend a structured approach using the following steps to handle problems well:

  1. Problem Discussion
  2. Problem Solution
    1. Agenda Setting
    2. Brainstorming
    3. Agreement and Compromise
    4. Follow-up

Problem Discussion

It may seem obvious but don’t ignore the importance of discussing a problem before you try to solve it. In this step, discussion creates a foundation for the solution that is to come. Whether the problem is large or small, do not move on to problem solution until you both understand and feel understood by the other. In many cases you will find that after discussion, there’s really no problem to solve—just having the discussion was enough. Researchers find that as many as 70% of the issues couples face do not need to be solved as much as they just need to be aired out.

Problem Solution

After the couple has done the work of discussion the following steps work well:

Agenda Setting—The key to this step is to make very clear what you are trying to solve at this time. Take a large problem and focus on manageable pieces, one at a time. The more specific you are in this step the better your chances of coming to a workable and mutually satisfying solution.

Brainstorming—This concept is to come up with lots of possible solutions. Any idea is okay to suggest, and the more creative you are the better. Don’t evaluate the ideas during brainstorming. One of you should write down the ideas as you generate them together.

Agreement and Compromise—In this step, the idea is to come up with a specific solution or combination of solutions that you both agree to try. Although it is easy to see the value of agreement, some people have trouble with the idea of compromise. Marriage is about teamwork, and the two of you will see some things differently. Two people nurture a great marriage when you can put the needs of the relationship above your individual desires at key times in life.

Follow-up—After agreeing to try a particular solution to a problem, it is just as important to follow-up on how the solution is working out. Following up has two key advantages. First, you may need to “tweak” solutions in order for them to work long term. Second, following up builds accountability. Often we don’t get serious about making changes unless we know there is some point of accountability in the future.

All couples have problems, and the key to a successful relationship is in how you handle those problems. The biggest mistake couples make when dealing with their problems is trying to fix them without first talking and building mutual understanding. Problems and disagreements offer great opportunities to enhance a couple’s sense of identity as a team founded on honor, respect and acceptance.

~Cindy

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