When problem-solving everyday issues becomes a tug-of-war over who’s right and who’s wrong, then settling even the smallest of discussions becomes a battle. “A better alternative is what I call the win-win waltz,” says marriage expert Susan Heitler, Ph.D., author of The Power of Two. “We toss information back and forth, we have an ‘aha!’ moment, and we come up with solutions that work very well for both of us.”
You’ll also free yourself from the emotional and physical side effects of nasty fighting, such as feeling you’ve intimidated or dominated your mate — or that you’ve given in and given up on what you really want. You’ll have fewer tense times together, and actually improve your health. Couples who learn to solve problems constructively together cut their risk for stress-related health problems including depression, cardiovascular disease, and lowered immunity.
Step 1: Describe the Problem in a Few Words — and Let Your Partner Respond
The opening round in problem-solving involves getting your overview of the issue out on the table. Don’t let it smolder or expect your partner to guess!
You: “If we go to your parents’ house for the weekend, I won’t be able to get our tax return information together before the workweek starts.”
Your spouse: “My parents have been planning for this visit for months. I don’t think we can or should just cancel.”
Step 2: Look Together at Deeper Concerns
This is the exploration phase. Don’t try to “sell” your point of view to your spouse. And don’t try to solve the problem just yet. Do talk about underlying worries and issues that contribute to the problem you’re trying to solve. And do listen carefully to your partner’s concerns. Keep an open mind. Learn all you can about your own concerns and your partner’s. Your goal: See the big picture and form a mental list of both partners’ concerns. This is your common set of concerns that you’ll try to resolve in Step 3.
You: “I have a new deadline at work and meetings three nights this week, plus we promised to visit the neighbors on Tuesday night. The tax deadline is almost here. I’m afraid I’ll be up until 3 a.m. trying to do all this during the week. I’ll be grouchy and won’t do my best at work, and I won’t be very interested in socializing with our neighbors or contribute much to the meetings. I’m feeling squeezed.”
Your spouse: “I really want to see my parents before they leave for their vacation. I haven’t spent much time with them in several months. Plus, my mother invited my aunt and uncle over to see us, too. It’s important to me to be with my parents for more than a short visit, and to feel at home. I’d like you to see them, too, and be with me for the big family dinner.”