Living the Dream

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How to improve your communication skills: Problem solving October 6, 2007

So you’re ticked off at your intimate partner for something….maybe it’s a familiar problem rearing its ugly head once again, or perhaps it’s a new issue that just surfaced. Regardless of what it is or how often it happens, trying to find a solution can be difficult and stressful, and sometimes can even lead to additional problems. Sometimes just the thought of broaching the issue is tough. The Dream Team is here to help. Below are some guidelines for solving problems with your romantic partner. These may extend to other types of relationships as well.

1. Define and specify

Phrase the issue in terms of behaviors that are currently occurring or not occurring, or in terms of what needs to be decided.

Break down large, complex problems into several smaller & more manageable problems. Deal with each of these one at a time.

Make certain that both you and your parter agree on the statement of the problem, and are willing to discuss it.

2. Importance

Explain why the issue is important to you, and what you perceive the issues involved to be.

Explain what your needs are and that you would like to see them taken into account in the solution. DO NOT offer speicific solutions at this time.

3. Brainstorm possible solutions

Time to get creative! Brainstorm every possible solution, no matter how extreme, that you can think of. *Write them down on a piece of paper.* Each solution should be concrete and specificy the behaviors involved.

4. Decide on a solution

You and your partner should independently rate each solution from 1-3 in terms of how much you favor it (1=favor very much, 2=neutral/willing to try but skeptical, 3=dislike). Cross off solutions that both of you gave a 3, since these won’t work for either of you. If there are solutions that both of you rated a “1”, focus on these. Otherwise focus on solutions that one of you rated a “1” and the other rated a “2”. The best solutions will take both partners’ needs and preferences into account, and will be focused on the present and the futue. Do not focus on solutions that meet only your needs, even if your partner is willing to accept them. This could lead to resentment and/or withdrawal by your partner down the line. Do not dwell on the past – the solution should move your relationship forward. Do not accept solutions that you do not intend to follow through with, or one that will make you angry or resentful.

Once you have selected a solution, write it in clear, specific behavioral terms (if this has not already been done). Both you and your partner should verbally restate the solution in your own words to ensure that you each understand it in the same way.

5. Trial

Select a time frame during which to implement the solution on a trial basis. Both you and your partner should mark you calendars for the date when this trial period ends. Allow for several attempts at the new solution. Review the solution at the end of the trial period. If needed, revise the solution, taking into account what you learned during the trial.

All content from:

Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., & LaTaillade, J. J. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy. In Gurman & Jacobson (eds.). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. The Guilford Press: New York.