Research shows that you have a higher chance of divorcing if your parent’s relationship ended in divorce. Unfortunately, relationship problem solving skills aren’t part of our formal education and many people haven’t had the kind of role models in their life to demonstrate the skills needed to keep a relationship healthy and happy.
Whatever the state of your relationship, good problem solving skills can be the difference between making things work and your relationship falling apart. You have to find a way, together, to make your relationship work. This may mean what works for one couple doesn’t work for you.
Here are 4 relationship handling skills for you to consider as a couple committed to making your relationship work.
You may have come across the terms conflict resolution, mediation and restorative intervention in the workplace. What they mean is a way of dealing with any conflict in a better way and reaching a resolution which all parties are happy with.
There are many responses to conflict including:
Talking about it
Ignoring the problem
Forcing a resolution
The problem with most of these responses is that the outcome generally isn’t one that both parties will be happy with.
Conflict resolution and restorative intervention are a series of steps which can be used in a relationship to enable both partners to find a mutually acceptable solution to conflict and to restore good terms. It does not focus on blame but looks for agreement that something has gone wrong and develops a way forward. It usually involves a mediator who is able to see both sides, ask questions and intervene if necessary.
It can be used in different circumstances, but is increasingly commonly used to try to avoid divorce or try to come to an agreement regarding the settlement of shared affairs after divorce. These are the steps that a mediator would go through with you:
Identify positions (what are each of you really saying)
Learn more about the true needs and desires of each partner
Ask clarifying questions for more information
Brainstorm possible solutions
Discuss how each solution would affect each of you and figure out possible compromises
Agree upon a solution
Re-evaluate solutions, if necessary
If you look at many of the problems that arise in your relationship you may see a common pattern – they aren’t about that particular issue at all but something much deeper – communication.
Arguments, disagreements and differences of opinion often boil down to the fact that we struggle to communicate well. We find it hard to put our own points across in an articulate, non emotional way and we forget to listen. The most basic communication can breakdown during difficult periods – look at your own relationship – do you take the time to talk and listen to your partner every day? Is it about something more meaningful than what you are going to buy at the supermarket that evening?
But how do you start to improve your communication?
Remember that men and women are different and have different approaches to communication – most women find it much easier than men to be emotionally open and honest. Give men the time and space to develop a more open way of communicating
Don’t try and communicate at times when one party is distracted, for example when the football is on or when you are trying to put the kids to bed
Find times and places that are comfortable and as peaceful as possible
Listen to your partner and give them your full attention
Physical closeness is important, sit next to each other and touch if possible
Look for non verbal signs that your partner is upset or uncomfortable such as crossing their arms (defensive)
Don’t rush – leave enough time for everyone to have their say.
Getting started can be difficult so try asking open ended questions. These are usually questions that require more than a one word response – usually with some explanation. For example if you say ‘Did you have a good day at work today’ the answer could easily be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If you say ‘What went well at work today?’ it encourages more of a dialogue and allows you to ask more follow on questions.
Remember in any discussion there are two points of view and yours may not be the only correct one.
Bear in mind that for good communication to become a part of your relationship you need it to be enjoyable and/or productive – don’t think you have to put the world to rights in one evening – chat about the things you enjoy doing together and grow towards emotionally deeper topics.
Our values and attitudes are often influenced by our own upbringing. However the world is a constantly changing place and what may have worked 30 years ago may no longer work as life becomes increasingly complex. The days of the male going out to work and the female staying home to run the house and manage the children is no longer the most common division of labour.
All relationships have to find a balance of roles and responsibilities that work for both partners. When both partners work, getting the balance right between earning money, managing the running of the house and bringing up children is extremely important.
What may appear to be day to day niggles in a relationships are often caused by issues of responsibility and fairness of workload. It is important to work together to keep the balance right.
Unfortunately in many cases, discussion about this issue usually takes place when things have become critical, when one of you is at the end of your tether and is more likely to be physically or emotionally exhausted.
But how do you get the balance right?
Take the time to sit down with your partner and express how you feel about your current roles. This is the easiest way to bring about change.
Chose a time when you are calm and not tired or angry.
Start by answering these questions independently, then as a couple discuss what you have written.
Do you have a main responsibility in the relationship? What is it?
What is your partner’s main responsibility in the relationship?
What are your additional responsibilities?
What are your partner’s additional responsibilities?
Are you happy with the allocation of those responsibilities?
Do you think you are both fulfilling your responsibilities?
Is one of you doing part of someone else’s responsibilities?
What changes do you think should be made to get the balance right?
The key to keeping the balance is to regularly revisit the sharing of responsibilities, particularly as things change and preferably before one partner feels their load is becoming unfair.
Control issues in relationships can cause huge problems, often associated with extremes of behaviour including intense anger which can sometimes spiral into abuse. So how do you identify that control is an issue in your relationship?
Can you or your partner answer yes to any of these questions?
Do you often get annoyed at your partner when they do things differently from you?
Do you frequently shout at your partner for expressing a different opinion to you?
Do you regularly get annoyed when your partner makes choices that you wouldn’t?
Do you often tell your partner they can’t do something, go out or dress in a certain way?
Do you ever make threats to try to change your partner’s behaviour?
If you or your partner find yourself answering yes to several or all of these questions then that person prefers to be in control and is, consciously or subconsciously, trying to control their partner.
Trying to control someone against their will is bullying. It can frequently have the opposite effect of that intended. Constantly trying to control someone creates an atmosphere of resentment and an unbalanced relationship, often resembling that of an adult and child. This unbalanced relationship can end in abuse if the controller uses physical and emotional abuse in an attempt to maintain control.
The underlying cause of control issues is often insecurity and fear. If you can control the other person then you can predict their behaviour and know how to react to it. Not being able to control a situation leaves some people feeling insecure and scared.
Generally the submissive partner will be the one feeling unhappy and be most likely to want to change the balance in the relationship and gain the skills to cope. However this is one of the hardest skills to develop and talk about because fear is at the root of the problem; the submissive partner fears the anger or actions of the controlling partner and the controlling partner fears losing control of the submissive.
So how do you address issues of excessive control by one partner?
It is important to involve your partner in establishing that there is a problem threatening your relationship and your determination to make a change.
Try to establish why one of you feels the need to dominate the other and why one partner allows themselves to be controlled. Can you talk about what are you afraid of?
Try to reverse the pattern, even if that means starting with something small.
The submissive partner may need training to help to rebuild their self confidence and gain more assertiveness skills.
Depending on how out of balance the relationship has become you may need professional input to get to the root of the problem.
Sometimes this requires getting help outside of the relationship through
The first step in solving relationship problems is to take stock of where you are now. This can be very difficult if you have spent a long time in the same relationship where well established behaviours appear to be the norm. It can also be very difficult to be objective and see your relationship from a logical standpoint when emotions are running high, but that is exactly what you need to do.