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Effective Problem Solving

Many couples find themselves having the same argument over and over, without ever resolving the issue. Frustrations and resentment builds. To break this pattern, it can be helpful to have a framework to follow. Here are step-by-step suggestions for for more effective problem solving:

1. Get on the same side of the table. Instead of thinking of each other as the problem, think of it as the two of you against the problem. You are a team, not opponents.

2. Choose a good time. Right before bed or when you have to leave for work is not a good time to tackle a problem. When either of you is tired, cranky or preoccupied with something else is also not optimal. Try problem solving when you are calm and have enough time to complete the process.

3. Stick to the problem. It works best to solve one problem at a time. Heaping a bunch of problems on top of the issue at hand is just confusing and frustrating. Generally nothing gets resolved when you try to deal with multiple problems at once.

4. Clarify the problem. Define the problem as clearly as you can from each of your perspectives. Take turns explaining how you see and feel about the problem. Talk when it is your turn. Otherwise listen to understand your partner's perspective.

5. Brainstorm for possible solutions. When brainstorming there is no judgment. All ideas are respected and accepted. Try to come up with several different options.

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6. Evaluate possible solutions. Here is where you sort through the ideas. Disregard any solutions that you both agree are completely unrealistic. If one of you likes a solution and the other does not, hang on to it. With each of the remaining solutions consider the following: a) advantages from his perspective b) advantages from her perspective c) disadvantages from his perspective d) disadvantages from her perspective Then each of you rate the desirability of each solution on a scale from 1 - 10, with 1 being undesirable and 10 being highly desirable.

7. Find a Win Win Solution. You can choose from among your solutions. You can get creative and combine or alter solutions until you find sometime that is acceptable to both. If you cannot find an alternative that satisfies both, don't give up. Consider that compromise is not a dirty word. Sometimes an attitude of, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" can help you negotiate something workable.

8. Test Your Solution.Put your plan into action for a set period of time, a week or a month. After trying it out, get back together and evaluate how it worked. If it was successful, pat yourselves on the back and continue. If it was partially successful, you may want to tweak it a bit. If it has not worked, consider that you have learned some valuable information and start over at step one.