Making Marriage Work, Pt. 6: Solving the Solvable Problems

By Dr. Robert Grice

In this post, Robert Grice, PhD, continues exploring Dr. John Gottman’s principles for nurturing a healthy marriage. Dr. Grice is a therapist at Counseling Resources, where he specializes in trauma, grief, and marriage counseling.

In our first five posts, (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), I introduced the first of John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, which he discovered after 40 years of research with couples. So far, we’ve looked at the first four principles:

1. Making love maps

2. Nurturing fondness and admiration

3. Turning toward each other instead of away

4. Letting your partner influence you

Today, we turn to the 5th Principle: Solving the Solvable Problems

Solving problems is necessary to maintain confidence and a sense of commitment in a relationship. Couples often report needing help with communication. The complaint could be valid, but the definition of what they see as the problem may be vague. Do they not talk at all? Do they only talk about trivial matters? Do they tend not to talk about issues? Are their attempts at solving problems contaminated by getting off-topic and devolving into “griping about everything.”

Whenever two people decide to live in a relationship with each other, problems will arise. Resolving those disagreements when they arise is a necessary skill the two must develop, or they will find the issues push them apart. Avoiding conflict or “sweeping disagreements under the rug” is not resolving conflict. Getting off topic and arguing about everything under the sun is not resolving conflict. One person generally backing down and surrendering to maintain peace is not resolving conflict.

Couples need to adopt rules of engagement that they will follow when conflicts arise. First, select your battles. Every disagreement should not become World War III. If every dispute is a major battle, there is likely another problem and professional help is encouraged.

Second, stay on topic. The temptation in conflict is to bring in other issues that have nothing to do with the matter. A sign of the problem is using phrases like “you always” or “you never.” Avoid personal attacks and name-calling.

Third, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If this happens, treat them the way you want to be treated: with respect, consideration, and as an equal partner.

Fourth, keep emotions out of it. I know this seems impossible because we associate negative feelings with conflict. However, emotions running wild will likely cause the conflict resolution train to run off the tracks, and conflict resolution becomes nothing more than venting and personal attacks.

How do you handle problems in your marriage?

If you are interested in exploring therapy with Dr. Grice, click HERE to send a message to our office, or call (334) 671-1280.

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