Solving Your Solvable Relational Problems

John Gottman and his colleagues began studying marriage in 1972. Their research revealed that many of the standard beliefs and interventions in marital therapy were ineffective. What they learned instead was that successful marriages had a quality they labeled “emotional intelligence,” or the ability to allow positive thoughts and feelings to override negative ones. Additionally, they noted that successful marriages are based on

  • deep friendship,

  • mutual respect,

  • enjoyment of each others’ company,

  • repair attempts that prevent negativity from escalating out of control; and

  • a sense of purpose and support of one another’s dreams.

Gottman observed seven specific behaviors that seem to be predictive of successful marriages, which he calls “the seven principles for making marriage work" -- the title of one of his books which is often recommended for those wanting to improve their marital relationships. One of these principles is solving your solvable problems.

There are two types of conflict in marriage: perpetual and resolvable. Perpetual problems are fundamental to the personalities involved and are likely to endure throughout the relationship. In other words, they will not be "solved" (i.e. difference in emotional needs, difference in personalities, lifestyle differences, faith belief systems, personal dreams and goals, etc.). According to Gottman, 69 percent of all marital conflicts tend to be perpetual. Perpetual conflicts do not necessarily need to be resolved. Instead, both parties can find ways to cope through genuine acceptance of the spouse’s influence and shortcomings and respectful consideration of his or her views and differing opinions.

On the other side of the coin you have resolvable problems where resolutions can be found and negotiated (i.e. parenting strategies, housecleaning responsibilities, how to deal with in-laws, setting boundaries, sexual negotiations, etc.).

Couples who can deal with perpetual problems effectively are better able to use the following five steps in finding solutions to their solvable problems:

Step 1. Soften the startup by beginning discussions without criticism or contempt.

Step 2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts.

Step 3. Learn to soothe yourself and your partner.

Step 4. Compromise and accept each other’s influence.

Step 5. Be tolerant and accepting of each other’s flaws.

What are some differences between perpetual and resolvable problems that you have noticed in your relationships?

relationship problems post

Jennifer White, CSW has extensive experience in helping clients with faith transitions, sexuality concerns, anger management, substance use disorders, domestic violence, and self-esteem. She has also taught psychology and social work classes as adjunct faculty at Utah Valley University.

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