So many times, I have couples who state that they have the same fights over and over and over again. Each of them gets off track because their emotions escalate the situation. They drag the past into their argument, and nothing seems to ever get resolved.
Following is a template that will help you to resolve problems with less time and none of the hurt that accompanies the "old ways":
- Clearly identify the problem - Begin by clearly identifying the issue in one short sentence. Make sure that it is focused and is something that is actually "solvable". You therefore need to talk about the present and the future rather than the past. For example: "How can we share in the caring for our children" is solvable whereas "Your mother said something before we were married that still upsets me" can be a relationship-defeating challenge that will likely never get solved. Writing the issue down on paper will help you to stick to it.
- Write a list of options to consider - List every solution that you have. For example: if your tires are balding you might list a) do nothing; b) buy new tires c) buy used tires d) wait for a tire sale e) buy a new truck. Every option should be identified even if it seems inappropriate at the time. You may need to consult with someone to gather more information before you move to the next step.
- Analyze the possible positive and negative consequences of each option- This can easily be done by drawing a vertical line down the middle of a blank sheet of paper. At the top of one column mark "Positive" and under that begin listing the outcomes that you might enjoy if you chose to use this option. Mark "Negative" at the top of the right-hand column and under that list the risks or dangers or costs that this option might bring. Do this for each of the options that you have listed earlier.
- Choose one of the options to put into action - This might be difficult if you and your partner have different values or standards. In fact, you may need to take a break before making a final decision, consult with a professional or even set a date down the road when you will meet again to discuss this issue. Pushing the other person or thinking that you MUST do this immediately will likely raise the emotions and interfere with the process.
- Make a commitment to assume responsibility for consequences of the action - It is not acceptable to agree and then blame the other person if things don't go as well as planned. As a couple you are in this together. (And if you are making decisions about children, it is extremely important that the two of you agree or the next thing you know, your children will be playing you against each other).
- Evaluate the results of the action - Your plan may need to be tweaked a little or abandoned for another option. If you experienced success, however, then celebrate!
- Take responsibility for the next step in the process - Assume responsibility, make corrections, or start the process over again.
I have found that couples usually don't divorce because they have conflict. They divorce because they don't know how to deal with conflict. This template should help you to make decisions and resolve your conflicts in a healthy manner.
Oh, and don't worry if this feels a little awkward at first. A little practice and you will be able to do this with competence and ease!