Dig Deeper into Problem Solving Skills

I've written previously on problem solving communication skills here.
Today I thought I'd offer more techniques for effective communication, 
particularly when a couple is in disagreement or in a fight. To truly resolve an issue, couples must move past the "stuck" phase where each person asserts their reasons for winning the disagreement and move to a productive phase where they genuinely try to understand each others' viewpoints. Instead of digging their heels in to defend an opinion, they dig deeper into solving mode to find a true solution.

The "Stuck" Phase

When couples enter marriage counseling, they commonly describe feeling "stuck" in bad habits. Their attempts to solve problems do not work because they re-play the same ineffective skills over and over and over. These negative communication patterns don't solve the problem because the couple is so busy fighting about small and surface topics, they fail to dig deeper into the true problem. Their poor communication habits go something like this:

Wife: "You should have called me before you drove to Houston with your friends."
Husband: "Well, you would have said no, and I really wanted time with my friends. But what about the time you blew $100 with your friends at the outlet mall? You didn't call me first."
Wife: "I deserved some pampering. I hadn't gone shopping with my friends in over 6 months! You are the one who only thinks of himself; you get to see your friends all the time."
Husband: "It's not my fault you have no money to go out with friends. You're the one who is irresponsible."

Notice how the topic of conversation keeps changing? Neither person is willing to let the other "win" the argument, and so the blame-game continues down the dark path of mutual destruction. Each spouse will continue to criticize harder and harder to boost their own ego and damage their spouse's ego until someone walks away in tears. Over time, this pattern of fighting leaves unresolved needs that breed the "stuck" feeling that couples complain about.

The "Solving" Phase

Instead of trying to prove who is right and who is wrong, the couples that try to genuinely solve a problem dig deeper into their conversations. They ask questions that seek to understand each other; they are willing to admit wrongdoing; they speak calmly; and they listen. Their conversations might go like this:

Wife: "I wish you had called me before you drove to Houston with your friends."
Husband: "I'm sorry. It was a quick decision with the guys, and I didn't think you would mind
me being gone for a few hours."
Wife: "It's just that I had a bad day at work, and I really wanted to come home to you. I needed a hug. I did miss you, and I would have told you that if you had called me first."
Husband: "I'm sorry you had a crummy day. Next time I'll call you. (Hug.) But it was really nice to spend a few hours with the guys. I'd like to plan some more guy trips in the future."

Notice how there is no blame cast in this solving communication example. They discussed their feelings, and they offered some tentative solutions for the problem, but neither spouse was cast as the loser or winner. Neither spouse became defensive and threw accusations at the other. This conversation will most likely end with feelings of comfort, ease, and understanding. These conversations enhance trust, as well.

If your relationship seems stuck in a cycle of poor communication, try to start conversing in "solving" mode. Dip deeper and really listen to your spouse; don't rush to speak until you have made him or her feel heard. Talk about your difficulties, and work together to start healthier habits. Over time, you'll have a new normal way of communicating that will leave you feeling closer to your spouse.

Good luck, and seek out a professional counselor if you need help. Read here for tips on choosing a counselor. The earlier you overcome bad communication habits, the better your relationship will be.

Labels: ,