Why Most Relationship Problems Can’t Be Solved
Relationships naturally ebb and flow. Even for the most intimate and closest of partners, communication can break down and devolve into conflict, leading to resentment and stress. How do you keep love alive even when you disagree? You probably have a few regular issues in your relationship that come up on a regular basis. One of you will bring it up, the other will respond, an argument follows and in the end nothing gets resolved. Rinse and Repeat. Over, and over again until you both start to wonder if you’ll ever see it the same way. Maybe it escalates to the point that you’re thinking that you have the kind of ‘irreconcilable differences’ that lead to splitting up.
Would it surprise you to learn that there is research that confirms that 69% of all disagreements between couples cannot be solved? These unsolvable problems are there because you are two different people with different points of view and different ways of seeing any situation. You grew up in different families and with different traditions and are sometimes poles apart about what you think is important and what is not important about living together as a couple and as a family.
If the research is true that 69% of all problems don’t have solutions, how do any of us create happy long-term relationships? With all this disagreement, it’s a mystery that any couple can stay in love after they fall in love.
The secret to living with unsolvable problems is to find a way to talk about them that keeps you connected to your partner. Couples counseling clients Javier and Mark did just that when they came to counseling after arguing again and again over how to spend their free time. Mark felt rejected when Javier didn’t want to volunteer to build houses with him for the local homelessness coalition. Javier was disappointed that Mark would rarely respond to his invitations to take their dog to the park together. It turns out that both of them were looking for ways to feel close to each other but each of them experienced closeness in different ways. Mark felt close to John when they were working on projects in a group setting. For Javier, spending time with Mark alone was most important.
As soon as this couple saw that they were both looking for ways to be closer, their fights about how to spend their time ended. They both understood that their personalities were different, but that their relationship goals were the same. With that understanding, their communication and conversations softened and they were able to give one another what each one needed.
For partners who feel they have unsolvable problems, the following are specific steps to staying connected:
- Get on the same team by recognizing that the two of you are not the problem. The difference between you is the problem. When you find a way to bridge to each other the difference will not matter. In fact, the act of bridge building will bring you together.
- Build the bridge by looking for solutions that solve your partner’s concerns. Things between Mark and Javier began to change when Mark was willing to explore activities just for the two of them, and John began to consider groups and projects they could enjoy in a group of friends.
- Challenge yourself to be flexible and try new approaches to building the bridge between your differences. Getting out the rut of the same old argument and looking at differences as an opportunity to understand and know each other better will always bring you closer.
In the end, you and your partner may have problems that seem unsolvable, but at least having “irreconcilable differences” won’t be one of them.
Wanda Sevey, MDiv, LMFT
Office Director, Voorhees and Lawrenceville, NJ Offices