Resolving Conflict: Perpetual Problems
Many folks in marital counseling tell me they have trouble solving their problems without getting into arguments. “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, they are issues that arise that can be resolved 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.
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” these problems. 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 parent the children, recognize that you are different from each other and understand that this is okay. Couples cannot resolve their problems if they do not recognize that they feel differently about an issue.
2) Understand Your Partner’s Perspective: this is a very important part of resolving differences. One of the greatest gifts of being in a relationship is being accepted and understood for who you are and what you believe in, even if you feel differently about something. Take turns listening to each other about why you feel the way you feel about the issue. If you like to save money because your father always spent your life saving, and you don’t want to end up like him, that is an important part of why you are who you are. 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 perpetual problems stem from core values that drive us in life. We need to take time to understand what makes the person we commit our lives to believe strongly about their views.
3) Calm Yourself and Your Partner: listening and understanding your partner can be difficult. When you feel differently about something than your partner, it is easy to get defensive and upset. Next thing you know, you are both heated about the issue, and it becomes very difficult to hear and understand your partner. Work hard to calm yourself and your partner when you talk about issues. 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.
About the Author:
Jesse Thornton is a licensed psychologist who practices individual and marital counseling in Columbus, OH. He is a partner at Foundations Family Counseling, a group private practice located in Worthington, OH. If you would like to learn more about the author feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org