Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Many folks tell me they have trouble resolving conflict in their marriages. “In fact,” they say, “there seems to be some problems that we are never able to solve.” That’s when I talk to them about the difference between solvable problems and perpetual problems. Solvable problems are just that, issues with a clear final answer. Typical solvable problems include building a deck on your home or going on a vacation. Perpetual problems on the other hand are problems that continue to crop up in a relationship that just don’t seem to go anywhere. Some common examples of perpetual problems are: he wants to spend more money while she wants to save; she likes to go out and be social while he prefers to remain at home; he wants to be stricter with the kids while she wants them to be free to have more fun.
Counseling research teaches us that every relationship has these perpetual problems crop up from time to time, and couples quickly learn that no matter how much they try to convince their partner, they are going to be unable to “solve” this conflict. The good news is that this is okay; couples do not have to be able to solve their perpetual problems. The goal for resolving perpetual problems is manage the problem with your significant other rather than solve the problem. Here are several tools to managing perpetual problems with your loved one:
1) Understand the Problem:
First thing is first, when you feel differently about how to manage finances, where to spend your time, how to clean the house, or how to parent a child, recognize that you are different from each other and understand that this is okay. Couples cannot resolve conflict if they do not recognize that they feel differently about an issue.
2) Understand Your Partner’s Perspective:
One of the greatest gifts of being in a relationship is being accepted and understood, even if you feel differently about something. Take turns listening to each other about an issue. She wants the kids to have a break because she always felt pushed as a kid and never got to have her own time. Now she wants to make sure her kids have fun as kids. The bottom line is that conflict stems from core values that drive us in life. We need to take time to understand what our spouse believes in, especially if they feel strongly about it.
3) Calm Yourself and Your Partner:
Becoming anxious and/or angry is a common problem I see while working in marriage counseling sessions. When you disagree with your partner, it is easy to become defensive and upset. Next thing you know, you are heated, and it becomes difficult to hear and understand your partner. Work hard to calm yourself and your partner when you have conflict. Choose your words carefully and avoid making accusations. Instead, explain why you feel the way you do about an issue. If things get too heated, take mutual responsibility for cooling down before you continue talking about the problem.
4) Compromise After Mutual Understanding:
Once you both feel you know and understand each other’s perspectives on your problem, you will be able to work together as a team. Avoid compromising until you both clearly state that you feel understood. When you feel understood, you feel as if your partner is invested in protecting what is important to you. This makes it easier to work together rather than work as opponents where only one person wins.
Remember, you have committed yourself to a person who brings with them many beliefs that are similar and different from your own. The goal for managing perpetual problems is to understand your differences and grow closer to your partner. If you can achieve this, then you will have more success managing your perpetual problems.
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About the Author:
Jesse Thornton is a licensed psychologist who practices individual and marital counseling in Columbus, OH. He is the owner of Foundations Family Counseling, a group private practice located in the Columbus Ohio area. If you would like to learn more about the author feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org