Anyone who tells you that couples don’t have problems is living in a 1950’s sitcom. Couples do have disagreements and if they don’t, there is obviously something intrinsically wrong on an inner level. Understanding that couples will disagree from time to time is imperative to a healthy relationship. By recognizing common problems and discussing potential solutions you are laying the groundwork for a solid, long-lasting relationship. Our differences are probably what drew us together in the first place, so don’t let them be the ultimate cause for disaster.
Problem: When Wants and Needs Aren’t Met
Each and every one of us is a unique individual with our own personal wants and needs, and when they aren’t met, there is cause for conflict. It is human nature to expect our partners to be perceptive enough to know what we want, or need, from them. Consequently, when they don’t act as we would like them to, we react in different ways from silence to all out warfare. This is the number one cause for strife in any relationship and the vital first step in learning how to resolve ‘issues’. Recognize that it is your want or need – you own the problem.
Solution: Learn to Communicate
The problem with not having our wants and needs met is that we often ‘expect’ our partner to know what those wants and needs are! Early on in any relationship it is crucial to talk about how you feel. Be open and honest when discussing what you expect from that relationship. Perhaps you want to be taken out to dinner every Saturday but you need to know that he is faithful. Learn to differentiate needs from wants and communicate them from the beginning. Unless your partner is psychic, you need to be willing to literally ‘bare your soul’ if you expect him/her to know what you are thinking.
Problem: Pointing the Finger – Accusations
The next ground rule is to know who owns the problem. Sometimes we have expectations that haven’t been communicated, and even when they have been, we tend to accuse the other person of some wrongdoing. For example, you tell your husband that you have a great dinner on the stove and it will be ready at 7PM. That’s the only thing you tell him but you expect him to know the kids are at the babysitter and you have a romantic candlelit dinner ready and waiting. When he gets home at 7:45 and the roast is dried out, your hopes are dashed and you accuse him of always being late and of not wanting to spend quality time with you. You are accusing him of something he had no previous knowledge of!
Solution: Own the Problem
In the 1980’s pop psychologists called this approach “you messages” and “I messages.” Instead of accusing your partner “You did this, therefore I am angry” try working with “I expected this and so I am feeling this way.” You are then not accusing your partner of anything; you are simply stating how you feel, or how their actions made you feel. He will not be put on the defensive and all out warfare can be avoided! In this case the problem is not his, so there is no reason to send a “you message.” Understand that you expected him to read your mind and that it is really you who should own the problem. “I should have told you I had a surprise and the kids were away for the evening, then you could have called to say you’d be late.” You have just owned the problem and taken responsibility for your foul mood.
Problem: Looking at Your Partner Through Your Eyes
While diversity is a wonderful thing and it would be a boring world if we were all exactly alike, sometimes we fail to recognize that our partner comes with a history. His or her family was different than yours, may be of a dissimilar ethnic or religious persuasion and the household composition itself may have been entirely different. You may have come from a family with 6 children who went to Sunday school every week while your partner was raised as a single child with no religious background whatsoever. He is used to eating Sunday dinner watching the game while you are eager to have huge Sunday dinners with family and friends gathered ‘round. You accuse him of being antisocial and are angry because he won’t give up his game to come to the table. You have just failed to understand that this is an ingrained ‘habit’ from years of living in the same way – it is not a slap in the face to you or your family!
Solution: Understand Your Differences & Compromise
Once you understand that his reluctance to eat Sunday dinner with 15 people, 7 of whom are screaming children, isn’t a dislike of your family and friends. This is how he has spent Sundays as long as he can remember and his week feels ‘off’ if he doesn’t get to watch his weekly game in the solitude of his own living room or family room. That’s just what he is accustomed to and one of his favorite times of the week, just as yours is going to church and having a Sunday family get together. Make an effort to see Sundays through his eyes and communicate to him how you envision Sundays. If he is unwilling or reluctant to budge (perhaps the game isn’t on any other day of the week), you could offer to move your family meal to latter in the day or even to Saturday evening. Understand your differences and be willing to compromise whenever possible.
As you can see, the biggest ground rule for healthy relationships is learning to communicate. Understand that your partner is a totally different human being than you are with wants and needs of his/her own. Just because your wants aren’t satisfied doesn’t mean that your partner doesn’t love you or care enough to satisfy them. It may mean that you have not expressed them clearly enough to be acted upon or that your partner has no frame of reference because of a vastly different upbringing. Rather than accusing the other person of some imaginary slight, be open and honest in what you expect and above all, be willing to compromise. In a nutshell, that is Effective Problem Resolution for Relationships!