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problem solving

Outgrow Problems

Carl Jung said, “Our most important problems cannot be solved; they must be outgrown.” In the sense that maturity makes problem solving much more successful, I agree that in order to solve many of our problems we have to grow up first.


When it comes to many of our important issues increased maturity would go a long way in either resolving issues or learning to live in harmony in spite of differences. We first have to be able to accept responsibility for our own thoughts, words and actions and become aware of how we are contributing to the problem. We then need to be able to listen to our partner and be willing to put ourselves in his/her shoes. We need to be able to hang on to ourselves in the midst of strong emotions, control our temper and sooth our own hurt feelings. All of this requires growing up rather than simply growing older.

Maturity says, lets figure this out together so that it works for both of us. Immaturity says, my way is the right way and you had better agree or else. Maturity says, we disagree and that is okay, I can respect your opinions and hope you can respect mine. Immaturity says, I’m right and you are wrong and you should see things the way I do.

Maturity asks how can we fix the problem? Immaturity asks who is to blame? Maturity says, I appreciate hearing how you are feeling and hearing what would work better for you, thanks for the feedback. Immaturity, says how dare you criticize me when you are just as bad.

When you consider the immature and mature approach to problem solving, it is obvious that the mature approach is much more likely to lead to solutions or resolution. Interestingly, the resolution of our most important problems begins as an inside job. As we grow and mature within ourselves we will find our problems easier to deal with. We will have outgrown our problems.

He Says, She Says

Men naturally tend to lean more toward problem-solving types of conversations and women tend to lean more toward feeling-sharing conversations. This can lead to frustration on both parts. Women may say things like, “He never listens to me. He just tells me what I should do.” While men are saying, “I don’t understand I was just trying to help.” When we see our differences as problems rather than just what is, we can set ourselves up for constant disappointment. The fact is that men and women tend to approach conversations differently. Recognizing and accepting this fact can allow us to side step the usual frustration by clearly communicating our needs up front. couple Let your partner know what direction you want the conversation to take early on. If you just need an opportunity to talk things through and process how you are feeling, you could say something like, “I just need you to listen to me right now.” That lets your partner know that you are looking for reflective listening. You need them to listen carefully, validate your feelings and empathize with your experience.

If you are looking for advice or help solving a problem, you might say something like, “I could use your help.” Or “What do you think I could do about . . .” This lets your partner know that you are looking for their thoughts, advice and problem solving expertise. It is still important to listen, but the door is now open to suggesting possible solutions.

Being clear about whether you are looking for a listening ear or help solving a problem can reduce the frustration of receiving unsolicited advice. It is not the men cannot listen empathetically or that women cannot problem solve, it is just that their natural tendencies are different.

We need to accept that different is not bad. We can celebrate and enjoy the differences.

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.


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.