Do you know that couples who fight once a month are 42% more likely to break up than couples who fight less? More frequent fights you have, the higher the chances of separation become. Now you might think that you need to fight less with your partner to solve the issue. And yes, you do. But I wish it were that simple.
Dr. Gottman mentioned in his book that it’s the underlying differences in fights that are the real cause of unhappiness, not the fights themselves. Another 2019 study showed that couples who simply suppressed their disagreements are more likely to be unhappy and have even higher chances of separation.
This is why simply ignoring the things that bother you will neither help your relationship, nor will it help you and your partner feel closer. You need to learn the right skill for the specific problems that you are experiencing in your relationship. Which is why, in this article, we’ll talk about the two types of relationship problems and the best ways to resolve issues in each of those categories. When it comes to relationship problems, they fall into two categories: solvable problems and unsolvable problems. Solvable problems are the ones where you have disagreements about very specific issues. They’re more about what someone did or didn’t do.
Sort of more superficial, rather than differences in values. Having different values is what creates unsolvable problems. For example, forgetting to do dishes when it’s your turn is a sign of a solvable problem, something that can easily be resolved with good communication skills. On the other hand, if your partner outrider refuses to help out chores, because you both feel differently about the gender rules in their relationship, then there’s a difference in life values.
Unsolvable problems highlighted differences in values like politics, money, lifestyle, kids, etcetera. But this is also where it gets tricky. Most people don’t even want to, that. The problems in their relationship could be in the unsolvable category. And it’s understandable, but unsolvable problems doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the road. It simply means that the issue is deeper than it might seem at first and you need to approach it a little differently than you would approach solvable problems. So keep reading this article and we’ll get into all of that.
So the first step in resolving a relationship problem, to even identify it as a solvable or an unsolvable problem, is defining the real issue. You would be surprised how often it might like you’re fighting about one thing when the real issue is something entirely different. For example, forgotten birthdays or anniversaries are less about not getting a gift or going out for dinner, and more about feeling valued and loved in a relationship.
And to make matters worse, when you get angry, you often say or do things to hurt the other person, just because you’re hurting yourself. This tit for tat can easily take the focus away from the real issue and before you know it, you might be so down the spiral that you don’t even remember the initial trigger. That’s why it’s so important to clearly identify what the argument is about. So you can take the next step of figuring out if the issue is superficial or deeper. Now, there are three common reasons for relationship conflict. So let’s look at each of these to tease out solvable issues from the unsolvable ones.
The most common reason couples argue is because of finances, which are covered in-depth in this article right here. Now, conflict about finances can be a solvable problem if it’s just about managing your budget, but if you have different views on the importance of money in your life and happiness, then that would be an unsolvable problem. That requires a different approach.
The second reason: couples fight is anger issues. If it’s just about the struggle of getting your point across during heated conversations, you can still do that, but while remaining respectful, and in that case it’s a solvable problem. In fact, I talk a lot about how to handle your feelings, and communicate them effectively, when you’re getting angry in this article right here. But also keep in mind that anger issues that become frequent in a relationship or cross the line of respect, including physical or verbal abuse, are in the unsolvable category.
And the third most common reason for relationship conflicts is trust issues, which is an excellent example of an unsolvable problem, because trust issues are rarely superficial. Whether these trust issues are from your insecurities or your partner’s behavior, or a combination of both, they almost always have deeper layers to them that need healing. So this is the first step defining the real issue, and whether it’s solvable or unsolvable.
And sadly also the step where most couples fail because they keep thinking that their wives are about dishes, cooking, cleaning, texting, etc. When, it’s often about the deeper needs of feeling supported, understood or appreciated. It leads to this sense of constant fighting and relationship anxiety, which you need to stop before it becomes more prominent than the happy and fun moments of your relationship.
You cannot let these fits take over your relationship, so let’s talk about the actionable steps that you can take to approach both solvable and unsolvable problems in a relationship. Now, if the issue you identified is a solvable problem than congrats, that’s an easier one to resolve through productive conversation about paying attention to three things. The first is to have a gentle approach to the disagreement. It means that instead of starting the conversation when you’re experiencing that rush of anger, take a moment to calm your own emotions first. Once you feel a bit more grounded, then take some time to identify what you want your partner to hear and what will make you feel better.
Only after you have that clarity should you invite your partner for a conversation. You could start by saying something, as something made me uncomfortable today that I would like to talk about, or something along those lines. Once you bring up the issue with your partner using this gentle approach, then it’s time to get to the root of the problem. Still, it can be hard to keep your emotions in check during these conversations. But there are two seemingly small that can help you achieve just that: The first skill is to take turns with active listening. Hear what your partner wants to share and validate their experience before sharing your side of things. And if you want to learn more about active listening or effective communication, then check out my free ebook, Master Your Emotions.
The link is in the description. And the second skill that will help you have a productive conversation rather than a screaming match is timeouts. Taking time-out when either of you start to feel irritated in the conversation is a great way to keep things from spiraling down. It will help you and your partner to keep the conversation respectful and productive, and I talk about the step-by-step process for effective time-out in this article right here. And the third step for resolving solvable problems is to verbally agree upon a compromise.
Couples have a tendency to simply assume that they decided upon something without saying it out loud, and that can lead to different expectations, which can easily be avoided by summarizing whatever you agree to. Saying it out loud will ensure that both you and your partner are on the same page. Now when it comes to unsolvable problems, they are manageable. As long as you stay open to each other’s point-of-view. It doesn’t mean that you have to adapt your partner’s viewpoint. Instead, the goal is to build a common ground, where you and your partner understand and respect each other’s views, even if you don’t agree with them.
And to build this common ground you need to follow just three steps. The first is to set the right expectations when approaching the issue. When you both agree that you have an unsolvable problem on your hands, then pair up to tackle it as a-team. This will make it easier to stay open minded and compassionate towards each other perspectives – to disagree but still accommodate one another. The second step is to share the life experiences that gave rise to the values and views you hold today. Help your partner understand your side of things more deeply.
It becomes easier to stay compassionate and respectful when you both understand the context, even when you look at things differently. Still, because you’re talking about things that you have fundamentally different values on, you can’t expect your partner to just get it. So, put in that extra effort to look at things from your partner’s lens of life, and validate each other’s experiences along the way. If you need to disagree with one another, then use I-statements that I talk a lot about in this article right here, in case you need a reference.
And once you share your perspectives and reasons behind them, it’s time to make an explicit agreement on how you want to approach the topic in the future. It’s okay to disagree on an issue, but having a practical action plan will help you resolve a problem quickly, rather than getting absorbed in the deeper layers of disagreement each time. For example, if you disagree on gender roles in your relationship, then make a-list of house chores that you divide for each person and, while doing that, aim for compassionate compromises and respectful accommodations. Also, just like in the last step for solvable problems, be sure to summarize and say out loud what you both agree to, which will save you a lot of headaches down the road. I hope this article will help you and your partner approach your relationship problems as a team. Be happy, stay healthy, live intentionally.