Advice For Every Problem
Leonardo da Vinci once said "simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication."
Likewise, in my own life, I have found that a simple solution will often take care of a variety of seemingly complex problems.
I have good news for you: your relationship problems may not be quite as complex as they appear and even if the issue itself is complex, the solution might be able to be summed up in less than a sentence.
If you are experiencing problems with your relationship, there is no need to jump the gun, put the cart ahead of the horse, or count the eggs before they hatch.
If you aren't up to date on all the metaphors that society has to offer, what I mean is this: don't allow your first attempted solution to be a complex attempted solution.
Start simple. Build from there.
And there are some simple fixes that will take care of the vast majority of your relationship problems.
Here are a few.
Try Listening Empathically
On their blog post Did You Know There Are 5 Levels Of Listening?, the Black Swan Group (a company that deals with negotiation and training) explains how even though you and I may hear the same words, we may understand those words differently.
It all depends on our level of listening.
Even though few people consciously think of this, many listeners display only the first level of listening: listening for the gist.
This means that the majority of people you speak with will listen until they understand more-or-less what you are trying to say.
Then they will tune you out.
Sadly, this is also the level of listening which is most common in our relationships as well.
We listen, but we do not truly hear.
We must therefore listen empathically. The Black Swan Group calls this "listening for their point of view."
We must not only hear the words that our partner is saying, but we must understand why they are saying those words and how those words make them feel. We have to grasp the idea behind the words.
What is making him say that?
Why does she feel that way?
How can I understand what you are experiencing?
To do that, we must eliminate distractions.
How familiar are you with the scene from the image above? You're getting a nice meal with your special someone when when you notice just how cute they look when their face is lit by a glowing screen.
Modern day couples are distracted.
And it's hardly their fault.
There's a lot to be distracted by. We are constantly connected to our work, to our freelance projects, to our friend's latest story...
This leads to a whole lot of listening for the gist of things.
This may be why you can't get over that one fight, or that one disagreement keeps coming up.
For all your self-praise of how great a listener you are, you're only getting the gist. You aren't getting your partner's heart.
To empathically listen, your entire being must be focused on one question:
How can I see this from their point of view?
If you are having relationship problems, try empathically listening. Don't just hear the argument. Don't just listen to their reasoning or feel out their emotions.
Understand how this affects your partner on their most basic level. See how their past, their identity, and their goals in life align with what your partner is saying to you.
You cannot solve the problem until you understand the problem. Listen empathically to know where you must strike.
Be The First To Apologize
"But it wasn't my fault!"
"They started this!"
I know, I know.
"It's not fair to me."
I understand that.
Ever had a fight that just won't go away, that just keeps bubbling up from time to time? That fight exists because you and your partner have different expectations on how to handle that situation.
And we must understand something about humans here: humans always want their way.
No matter how much they love you, care for you, or serve you, some part (maybe even a deep part) of that person would still love to have things go their way instead of yours.
Another thing we must understand about humans: when we don't get our way, we experience anger and disappointment.
Sometimes both of them.
Always one of them.
So next time you have a relationship problem, know that your spouse might be feeling some righteous (or unrighteous) fury and a just a pinch of disappointment.
And until these emotions are out of the way, you argument is going nowhere.
The best way to disarm anger and disappointment is to apologize.
Your apology may even be so unexpected that your SO takes a little unintended pause from their tirade.
Right or wrong, apologize. You can even apologize for something unrelated to the problem and it still works.
"Honey, I know you're upset about the rug and I just wanted to say that I'm sorry I didn't listen to you more before."
This is not manipulative. It is service.
What is manipulative is anger and disappointment. These emotions take hold of our minds and grow larger, consuming our entire thought process until they are dealt with.
A quick apology doesn't manipulate your partner. It frees your partner from anger and disappointment.
So the next time you and the babe start going at it, give a quick apology. Allow it to take root that you and your partner are on the same team here, working towards a common goal.
Don't deviate from that goal. Just remember that sometimes on our journey, we have to apologize for things that aren't our fault. Take that bullet for your love.
It'll work out much better in the end.
Give Compliments Freely
Let's be honest: no one hates being told that they're awesome.
And don't forget that you, dear reader, are pure awesomeness in its awesomest form.
You really are. And no one will ever hate to be reminded of what they're good at.
For this reason, a compliment can be used in two ways: offensively and defensively. Both are necessary to repair some broken (or simply hurting) relationships.
"Offensive" compliments are so named for what comes after them. Let's say that your sig-oth has a habit that you absolutely despise.
She eats toilet paper, he uses kitchen utensils to scratch his belly button. Whatever. The habit doesn't matter.
Most people would probably be tempted to handle this the wrong way: head on. Blunt application of force. Swinging for the fences.
Yet the more successful method may be slightly less direct.
Open your difficult conversation with a compliment.
Compliment his or her work ethic, pet project, or whatever else you know that they are really proud of. Think of this as putting a little bit of oil on a squeaky door hinge. The purpose of this compliment is to get your SO in a good mood so they will be more likely to hear your concern.
But these compliments can also be used defensively.
"Defensive" compliments are named for what comes before them. Namely, an insult or difficult conversation.
Use these compliments to defuse a difficult or painful conversation. If things have been getting worse and worse, take a mental and emotional break by reminding your significant other and yourself of the reasons you're together.
Shoot a little compliment their way. You'll find that the steamrolling anger, frustration, and disappointment will subside and peace will once again begin to reign.
In that one compliment, you are reminding all parties involved that you are fighting for each other. And the more that you can both remember that, the better off things will be.
Do be aware that the ideal showstopper compliment is different for each person and remember: people do not necessarily want to hear the same things you do.
Be aware of what your partner would want to hear. Know his or her ideal and perfect compliment.
Excellent topics for a perfect compliment are often something that you know your partner works hard on, stresses over, or is passionate about. These are the compliments that really change the playing field in the midst of a dying or painful relationship.
Find The Real Problem
You've listened, you've apologized, you've complimented.
Now it's time to get down to business.
You need to have the ability to distinguish between symptoms and problems, causes and effects.
For example, let's say your partner is absolutely ripping you a new one for not cleaning the kitchen, then goes on a tirade about how your side of the bed is always so messy.
The problem is probably not the kitchen or the bed. It may not even be your messiness. Maybe the problem is that your partner sees your lack of cleanliness as laziness. Your partner thinks that if you're lazy in the little things, you'll be lazy in your relationship too.
Now that may seem like an extreme situation or a stretch, but I talk to people all the time who experience some variation on the situation above.
You never go out with me comes from a belief that you never want to have fun with them.
You didn't want to watch this movie with me comes from a deep-rooted fear that maybe you don't have the same interests and aren't that similar after all.
You seemed to give up really easily comes from the thought that maybe you'll give up on the relationship easily too.
See how that works?
Identifying the problem, not the symptom, is critical in any problem solving work. There are a few things you should do when trying to identify the true problem.
1. Identify the belief behind the statement
In the above example of your partner disliking your cleanliness habits, ask yourself "What do my cleanliness habits mean to him/her?"
Often, you'll find that whatever complaint you're receiving is a front for a larger, more pressing issue. In this case, your perceived laziness.
Ask yourself why your significant other values the thing that they are complaining about. Their answer will reveal the true minefield you're stepping in.
2. Listen for repetitive phrasing
Sometimes, your partner will tell you what the true problem is. If they keep repeating a word, phrase, or type of complaint, you can rest assured that your offenses reach the heavens.
3. Understand that their problems are different than yours
One problem I see people making a lot is that they are not able to truly grasp a single essential truth: other people experience life differently than you.
This means that they like and dislike different things.
This means that you may genuinely not understand why what you're doing is a problem. That. Is. Okay. You aren't them. They aren't you.
The most important thing is not the understanding, but the action taken. While it may not make sense to you that your messy bedside is an issue, go the extra mile and fix that for your special person.
You won't regret it.
Eliminate Conversation Killers
Ever tried to have a conversation, a serious chat maybe, and it keeps getting caught up by something?
Of course, the good old fashioned distraction of shouting kids, beeping phones, or an unhelpful environment is nearly always an issue, but there are hundreds of conversation killers that aren't just distractions.
They are barriers.
Let's say for example that every time you and the SO start going at it, you both begin to raise your voice. Before long you're in the shouting version of an MMA fight and (surprise surprise) both sides are losing.
Or maybe your partner keeps using phrases that you hate. "You always..." is a tough one. "You never..." is another. I don't feel like I always or never do much of anything.
Or it may even be that you simply can't get enough time with your partner to work out these problems. Something is always coming up to get in the way of your good intentions.
Whatever it is that's blocking your communication with your partner, we are going to call it your conversation killer.
These conversation killers must be ruthlessly eliminated.
The best way I've found to take a conversation killer out of the mix is to establish clear rules and boundaries for the conversation.
This means that if you're having trouble getting time to talk about an issue, set a time and date. Make an appointment with your partner to get this done.
If you keep getting distracted, make a rule that absolutely nothing will come between your important time together. If it's kids, go on a date with just you two. If it's texts, emails, calls, etc., then make a rule stating no phones allowed.
If you and your partner begin raising your voice and shouting, decide to have the conversation in a public place where you wouldn't be caught dead yelling. Find a nice restaurant, a public (and crowded!) park, or even a house of worship.
Whatever you have to do, getting these conversation killers out of the way is priority number one.
Be Willing To Change
Have you ever heard that old saying that there are two sides to every argument and then the truth?
When in a repetitive relationship crisis, you will often find that your significant other believes that you have a problem.
You'll find that there may be two sides to this coin.
But I have great news for you.
Relationships can be amazing, rewarding experiences that can be matched by absolutely nothing else.
I also have bad news.
Relationships can be the most destructive things we can ever encounter in life.
The difference between the amazing, rewarding relationships and the painful, destructive ones can be simply stated: in the amazing, rewarding relationships, both partners are willing to do whatever it takes to make it work.
Both partners are willing to change.
This is a huge deal in a relationship because whether you are ready for it or not, one day you will wake up and your partner will not be like who they used to be.
Relationships must adapt with them.
The incredible relationships are made when both partners are willing to say "No matter what, whatever this takes, I'm hanging in here for and with you."
And to get to that point, you have to be willing to change yourself a bit.
Your partner hates that one habit? Change it.
Your partner thinks you don't communicate or communicate too much? Change it.
Your partner doesn't feel like you serve their needs in the best way possible? Change. It.
Humans have the incredible ability to adapt to our environment. Adapt to your relationship, be willing to change, and you'll find that your life with your partner gets more special every single day.
Some days will be more difficult than others, but you're in this for the long haul.
Be willing to change yourself for the benefit of your partner and best friend. You won't regret it.
Find, Agree On, And Implement A Solution
Once negative emotions have been removed from the equation, conversation killers have been eliminated, and the true problem found, it is now time to find, agree on, and implement a solution.
This is more difficult than it sounds.
For simplicity's sake, I'm going to divide this into two neat little subsections. One will be for finding and agreeing on a solution and the other will be for implementation.
Finding and agreeing on a solution
Here are a few tips you'll need to keep in mind and questions you'll need to ask yourself when you're at this stage of the problem solving arena.
1) Will this solution solve the problem, not just the symptoms?
2) Is this solution mutually agreeable?
3) Is this solution possible and realistic?
4) Is this a long or short term solution?
All of these questions are important and the yes or no ones need to be answered in the affirmative. If a solution doesn't solve the true problem, isn't mutually agreeable, or isn't possible/realistic, then it is not a helpful solution.
Ideally, long term solutions are better than short term ones.
Implementing a solution
When it comes to implementation, trial and error works well here. Not all implementation strategies that work for me will work for you and vice versa. I recommend trying different solutions to figure out what works for you and your partner.
That said, here are a few helpful strategies.
1) Once you have chosen what is believed to be the best solution, try it out for a trial run. Specify a period of time where this solution will be implemented.
2) After the trial run, come together once again to discuss what was liked and disliked about the solution. Determine whether or not it is an ideal solution.
3) If the solution was ideal, feel free to continue tweaking it. Do keep in mind that if it isn't broken, then it probably doesn't need fixing. If the solution was not ideal, repeat the first two strategies.
Since you've made it this far in the post, I'd like to offer some parting advice:
There is no relationship problem that cannot be overcome.
Your problem may feel like it doesn't have a solution, but it does. Keep hanging in there, keep working hard, and keep striving every day to be the person who your partner needs you to be.
Tell us in the comments below: what's been the biggest improvement in your relationship?
Thanks for reading.
Stay awesome. Have a great day.
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