Approach to Problem-solving
The problem-solving approach outlined below can be used with any
type of problem. It is probably too cumbersome or involved for
most of the problems that couples face on a daily or weekly basis.
This strategy, however, should be implemented when the couple gets
stuck on a particular issue, or keeps having conflict over an issue.
Step One: Define the Problem – The
first problem-solving step is to define what issue will be addressed.
In some cases, the problem will be easy to define. In other cases,
it may be difficult to determine how specific or how broadly
to define the issue. As a couple, you may need to discuss whether
the issue should be limited to talking about one specific behavior
(not taking out the trash), or should address a broader issue
(the proper division of chores between a husband and wife).
Step Two: Identify the Underlying
Needs – One of the key reasons
that individuals may get stuck in problem-solving is that they
get invested in their own solution for a problem. The more invested
that each person becomes to his or her solution, the farther apart
the couple seems to be in solving the problem. Finding a common
ground can sometimes be accomplished by looking behind the solutions
to uncover the underlying needs. In one marital therapy case, the
wife angrily complained that her husband, a beekeeper, was often
late for dinner because he was tending to the hives on their farm.
She felt that he did not appreciate the effort she put into cooking
a nice meal when he was late. He responded that it was difficult
at times to pull away from what he was doing, and didn't mind if
the food was a bit cold. Her desire to have her husband arrive
on time for dinner reflected an underlying need to feel appreciated
for all of her work as a housewife. When the husband understood
this, he was able to find alternative “solutions” or ways of expressing
his appreciation to his wife, which in turn made her less angry
when he was occasionally late for dinner. In a similar manner,
clarifying the needs that you and your partner have regarding a
particular issue may open the door to alternative solutions that
neither of you had previously considered.
Step Three: Brainstorming – Once the need or needs have been identified,
the next step is to brainstorm possible solutions. During brainstorming,
both you and your partner should try to identify as many solutions
as possible, without worrying if the ideas are feasible or practical.
Brainstorming is meant to be a creative process, encouraging you
both to “think outside the box” and identify unconventional solutions
that may not have been previously considered. You should not critique
any idea or solution at this stage since an outrageous idea may
have some merit or provide the inspiration for another idea. Couples
need to be careful not to exit this step too quickly. You and your
partner should put time and energy into brainstorming ideas, considering
the problem (and possible solutions) from as many different angles
or perspectives as possible. Exploring how other couples have handled
similar issues can also facilitate brainstorming since they may
have an outlook or perspective much different from your own.
Step Four: Evaluate the Ideas – After
you have generated a sufficient number of ideas through brainstorming,
you can begin to evaluate the ideas. One way to do this is to
list the advantages and disadvantages for each idea. Outrageous
or unconventional ideas should not be immediately discarded since
they may have some merit, or could perhaps be modified into a
more realistic solution. After evaluating each option, you will
need to choose an option that seems to offer the best solution
to addressing both you and your partner's needs. Hopefully, you
will be able to identify a solution that seems to be a win-win
for both parties. Sometimes, finding an acceptable solution requires
compromise. Solutions that strongly favor one person's needs
over another's are less likely to be as successful as those that
require compromise from both individuals.
Step Five: Implement the Solution – In
this step, you will need to discuss the specifics of how to implement
the solution. Each of you, for example, will describe what you
will do to put the solution into practice. It is usually recommended
that the solution be implemented on a trial basis, and then the
results re-evaluated to see if the solution worked (see Step
Six). Therefore, you and your partner should agree on how long
to try the solution.
Step Six: Evaluate the Success of the Solution - The sixth step
is to evaluate if the problem has been successfully resolved. Are
both of you satisfied with the outcome? If not, you could consider
trying an alternative solution. Or, it may be necessary to go back
to an even earlier step to make sure the problem and needs have
been properly defined, or to brainstorm new solutions in the hopes
of identifying a better alternative.