Get this. Some of your relationship problems have no solution.
That’s right. No matter how many fights you get into, or how many different ways you find of saying the same thing, you and your partner will not make it better. That thing you’ve fought about from the beginning of time? It will probably stick around until the end of time. It will stay bad, painful, annoying, or ridiculous, literally forever.
According to research, most of our relationship problems, 69% of them in fact, are unsolvable.
Why? Because, says relationship researcher John Gottman, they are based on deeply ingrained differences in personalities and needs. i.e.Olivia Pope herself couldn’t fix them.
So, how do you know if you're dealing with a perpetual problem?
According to Gottman:
- You continually discuss the same issue, spinning your wheels, feeling polarized and making no headway.
- Each of you is deeply entrenched in your position.
- Conversations about the issue end in feelings of rejection, frustration, pain, or betrayal.
- You show one another little humor, affection, or amusement when you discuss the topic.
- You feel increasing emotionally disengagement.
I’d like to add a few of my own here:
- You fantasize about joining a cult.
- You start researching how to build a time machine.
- You Google “putting a spell on someone.”
Um… This sounds awful. But it’s not. It’s actually totally OK.
You could use this information to ruin your day, your week, or your entire relationship… If you’ll never convince your boo to put their underwear in the hamper, why even bother… OR, you could see it as ultimately liberating you from a fight that could last a lifetime and take you down with it.
What I’ve found in my own work with couples, is that a world of hidden meaning exists just below the surface.
That fight you’ve been having about the way your father in-law sets the dinner table? Well, it's actually a sacred mystery, containing insight into your partner’s personal truths, values, core beliefs, childhood experiences and lifelong dreams.
Your argument about why you’re not having more sex? It’s probably about safety, power, contact, eroticism, or your inner critic.
These are beautiful presents, wrapped in newspaper that your puppy just peed on.
Option A, is to spend all of eternity bickering. Option B, is to spend some of eternity learning about your partner’s existential foundation.
As a couples therapist, it’s not my job to solve your problems, or declare which one of you is wrong, and who gets to gloat the entire car ride home.
What a couples therapist can do, is help you build the necessary relationship skills to manage both perpetual and solvable conflicts, and to improve the quality of your communication.
These are skills based on gentleness, compassion, and the ability to empathize with your sweetheart.
True masters, don’t go in for the kill.
The trick is to act as joint troubleshooters in the unsolvable. Shift your focus from trying to fix the problem (i.e. getting what you want), onto understanding the core issues, that are wrapped up with your partner’s deeply entrenched position.
You may never be on the same page about budget, PDA, or dirty dishes, but you can effect change at the more important level of building a relationship based on appreciation, affection and mutual respect. ESPECIALLY, during times of conflict.
You heard me. Not in spite of conflict, but because of it.
Here’s Gottman again, on what the real pros do:
- Have learned to soften the way they bring up an issue.
- They accept influence from their partner.
- They maintain about a 5-1 ration of positive to negative interactions during conflict.
- They consistently communicate acceptance of the other.
- They keep their level of physiological arousal low.
- They move gently toward compromise.
It’s not your job to fix the relationship. It’s the relationship’s job to fix you! So let it.
Lonely Forever? No Way.