How to Communicate When Your Partner Sees the Problem Differently

“Don’t worry! I’ve got the solution right here – all you have to do is stop worrying about how I lied to you and you’ll feel better. I promise I’ll never do it again. You just forget about it and the problem will go away! I do it all the time. See? It’s working already…..”

“No, no, no, no! That’s not going to work! We have to TALK about how we’re feeling. And I’m mad and hurt and scared and frustrated and wondering if we’re even going to make it through this. I know you only lied about having vacuumed downstairs when you actually didn’t, but if you lie about this, what else are you lying about???? HOW CAN I TRUST YOU NOW? We have to talk and talk a lot – I don’t think you understand how this makes me feel…..”

In my last post, I wrote about the difference between rational problem-solving and emotional problem-solving. Obviously, my example above is taking these styles to their (unproductive) extremes. As I discussed previously, individuals with contrasting approaches can easily become locked in a hurtful conflict.

So what is the solution to these types of conflicts?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is a time and place for everything. What this means is that if couples can understand, accept, and respect their different problem-solving styles, they are much more likely to get along. Here are several important points about each style:

Emotional problem-solving
1. Unpredictable
2. Difficult to control
3. Increases intimacy
4. Leads people to feel cared for

Rational problem-solving
1. Can feel cold
2. Distanced
3. Provides structure
4. Solves complex problems
5. Takes care of things in face of danger

The way a more understanding and respectful interaction would play out is first having each member of the couple absolutely recognizing that BOTH their individual styles have value. Second, they must accept there are certain times and situations where one style prevails over another.

For example, when high negative emotion (especially hurt feelings or conflict) is present, the emotional problem-solving style must be used FIRST. After emotions have calmed down, then and only then is it even possible to use rational problem-solving. On the other hand, when decisions need to be made about a complicated project or physical danger is present, then rational decision-making should be used (even if high emotion is present).

This post is, of course, a broad overview of a complicated topic. If you find yourself struggling with these issues in your relationship, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment or contact us with any questions. We’d love to talk with you further!