My parents have been married for nearly 41 years, and while they’ve had their share of challenges, they seem to be particularly adept at handling stress in their relationship. Between 40-60% of all marriages today end in divorce, and many other relationships end before marriage so it is evident that many couples need to improve the way they handle relationship issues. Why are some couples able to navigate challenge and change with ease while others get stuck and spin their wheels? Resilient couples ask these four questions regularly: (1)
1) What other factors might have contributed to the problem?
You usually have a going-in position of what you think caused a particular problem, but many times you’re not seeing the situation with 100% accuracy. In order to broaden your perspective, brainstorm other causes by asking these questions:
• How did other people or other circumstances contribute to the problem?
• How did I contribute to the problem?
• What specific behaviors contributed to the problem?
We often tend to make generalizations about other people, like, “he’s so lazy.” Getting specific forces you to pinpoint the exact behavior causing the problem. In addition, it can be humbling, and hard to admit that you might be part of the problem. Conversely, you might be taking on too much and need to start delegating more to the other person. Until you have an honest understanding of what’s keeping you stuck, you’ll stay stuck.
2) If we shared this issue with another person, what would he/she see as potential causes?
Reaching out to other people can be a tough thing to do when you’re in a relationship, and admittedly, you want to be a little cautious in this area. It also might feel a little embarrassing and wouldn’t it just be easier to stay stuck in private? Our culture emphasizes keeping up appearances at all costs, but trusted friends, a family member, or even a relationship coach can be valuable resources. Getting different perspectives helps you to become solution-oriented and see an issue from multiple angles.
3) What parts of the problem can I directly control, influence, or leverage?
How much time and energy do you spend thinking about, worried about, and trying to change things that are outside of your control? You’re not going to change your partner into the perfect person you think he/she should be. You might never convince your significant other that you’re right about an issue, even though you know you are. Make a conscious effort to remain clear, confident, and controlled the next time you get into a disagreement. Greet your partner with a hug and a big smile at the end of the work day. Focus instead on what you can control, influence, or leverage.
4) What solutions have we not tried?
Resilient couples quickly move on to new solutions when others aren’t working. If you’re stuck, ask each other what other potential solutions haven’t you tried? Sometimes it’s trial and error – if solution A has failed, and solution B has failed, try solution C. If you are having a hard time coming up with alternative solutions, revisit Question #2 and find a friend or a coach to help you brainstorm additional solutions.
Relationships are complicated; in fact, I once heard them described as a “5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is all sky.” Many days feel like an obstacle course of challenges and decisions - some big; others, small. In order to maximize your staying power as a couple, use these questions to help you take a step back and reframe your approach in a more resilient way.
Paula Davis-Laack is a lawyer turned writer and stress and resilience expert specializing in stress, work, and lifestyle issues for high-achieving women. Connect with Paula via:
Her website: www.marieelizbethcompany.com
1. The 4 questions above were developed by Dr. Karen Reivich and appeared in an article in Health magazine entitled How to bounce back better by Jancee Dunn, September 2012 issue.