Do you ever notice in your arguments with your partner that sometimes you are discussing the same thing over and over and it never seems to be solved? Other times, do you notice it is new material and solvable problems? You’re not alone. In fact, research by Dr. John Gottman reveals that 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual problems. Wow, so two-thirds of our problems are never getting resolved? Do we just give up now? No. I’ll tell you why.
The Gottman Institute’s research not only revealed the types of problems we have, it also revealed that there are effective and ineffective ways to handle both the solvable and perpetual problems. The type of conflict requires a specific method of addressing it because you face different challenges. There are two types of problems, perpetual and solvable. The kicker is, what might be a solvable problem for one couple can be a perpetual problem for another.
Here is an example of a solvable problem. Vivian and Jim are planning a road trip to the big city and have a conversation about what activities they are going to participate on their trip. Vivian, who isn’t a huge fan of museums, suggests trying to knock all of them out in one day. Jim, a little more open to seeing the museums, argues that it won’t be enough time to really see the museums. Vivian agrees to start with the first museum and see how things go, with a goal of getting through the museums quickly. Jim agrees to try to get through the museums in one day if it is feasible and they find they can move through them quickly and still enjoy themselves.
Here is an example of a perpetual problem. Jim was on his way to pick up his wife to leave for a road trip when she called and said she was hungry because there had been no time to get lunch that day. Jim picked up a chicken ceasar salad from the 7-11, knowing Vivian liked that type of salad and thinking that he’d also be saving some time. When Vivian got into the car, she saw the salad and said, “Oh, I thought we were getting food from my favorite drive-thru?” and Jim responded, “Well, I tried to save time and I thought that you liked this kind of salad?” The issue here isn’t really the salad, is it? Their conversation reveals the issues are feeling considered for Vivian. It’s feeling acknowledged and appreciated for Jim.
What if things had happened like this… When Vivian saw the salad, she gave Jim a scowl and said, “Yuck, why did you get me that?” Jim retorted, “Nothing is ever good enough for you is it?” Here, we’ve got another layer of problems, revealing some hurt feelings and indicating that this might be a gridlocked issue, meaning, a perpetual issue that has been revisited again and again with no resolution.
First things first – The key here is figuring out what type of problem you’re dealing with so you know how to approach it. What kinds of problems do you face in your relationships? Are they perpetual or solvable? What do you do with them once you know what you’re facing?
Next week’s post will address a few specific strategies for overcoming hurt feelings and the four best predictors of relationship failure, according to The Gottman Institute.
If you’re working on creating a better relationship and could use some personalized help, contact me, Jemma Coleman, a licensed Gottman trained therapist to set up a complimentary 30 minute consultation.