For two decades, researcher John Gottman studied more than 2,000 married couples in different parts of the country. Do you know what he asserted? “A lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts [or problems] that are inevitable in any relationship.”
Talk about pressure. That’s right — how a couple fights can tell you a lot about how the success of their relationship. It makes sense when you think about it. It can be easy to stay in a relationship for the good times you have together, but if you don’t have successful strategies for how to manage the tough times — the tough times will really put a damper on the longevity of your relationship.
And it happens! If you want to stay with someone for more than the honeymoon phase (which only last about six months — two years), you need to know how to handle conflict that arises when your hormones are no longer the only reason that drives you to want to be around the person. Given you are two people (or at least multiple different people) in a relationship, you will have different needs, interests, and wants. You might be more introverted and they might be more extroverted. You might be more of a spender, and they might be more of a saver. You might love listening to pop music, and they might exclusively listen to country. How are you going to solve an issue like that?
Well, that’s what Gottman describes as a perpetual problem. 69% of relationships are unsolvable…yes, that means it’s a perpetual problem that will not be able to change. This might be confusing since the title of this is how to solve a relationship problem. But you can solve it, just by focusing on what you can control, which is:
- whether both partners can accept and live with the unsolvable issues
- how both partners choose to discuss and manage these issues
Now think about the dream couple or dream relationship in your mind. Maybe it’s your grandparents, or that cute social media couple, whomever. What Gottman is saying is that they — everyone in a relationship — have unsolvable problems. But it’s not the lack of problems that makes a healthy relationship, it’s the ability to resolve those problems, through communication and acceptance.
I might not be able to control that my partner always wants to watch a football game on Sunday, or when my partner sometimes forgets to introduce me to a friend of theirs. But I can control how I respond and communicate those issues to reach a compromise.
Your partner will never be perfect, because, in this lifetime, we are dating humans. And humans were made with flaws, quirks, and oddities. There is going to be some point of natural friction when you have a relationship with any other person, and knowing how to manage this will be critical to your relationship’s success.
Deciding which problems to accept
The first way I see how to “solve” the unsolvable problems within your relationship is by deciding what you can accept and live with. Whether you are in a relationship or not, think about the non-negotiables you would want in a partner. And strangely enough — think about the flaws you would be comfortable having in a partner. We encourage lists of traits we want in someone (e.g., smart, funny, attractive) — but what about normalizing the flaws in someone we would be willing to tolerate?
My friend is okay dating someone who shows up late to things because they are patient, often not in a rush, and had parents who were often late. I realized, when dating, I was okay with someone who is arrogant because at least it shows their confidence and I also love their intellectual charm. My other friend is okay with dating someone who is a workaholic because he likes an ambitious woman. And when I say we are “okay” with dating, I mean these “flaws” per se are not seen as non-negotiables to us. And these will look different for everyone. What matters is you’re being honest with yourself about if these are unsolvable problems you are okay with.
However, maybe your partner or relationship has “flaws” or “problems” you are uncomfortable with. Maybe they don’t trust you and get jealous easily or are even abusive and demeaning. For me, I decided I couldn’t be with someone of a different religion, and that ended my interest in someone.
In that case, the best decision may be to leave the relationship if the person can not change and/or if you decide those aren’t the kind of problems you want to have in your relationship. So you first solve perpetual challenges by deciding if the challenges are something you want to live with, and maybe even appreciate the inevitable differences between you and your partner. If you decide these are the perpetual problems you want to have, then accept them when you see them!
Now accepting problems doesn’t mean you don’t have communication around how to best manage and compromise on them. Conflict actually can serve a very helpful purpose. And it’s not conflict itself that can negatively break a relationship — it’s how the conflict is done. For some, having an honest, open conversation can actually make the relationship closer and breed greater and deeper vulnerability and connection between you and your partner.
Feeling seen and heard during a conflict can be a great feeling. You get things off your chest (which decreases resentment over time) and your partner hears you. It’s why overtime I have become a big fan of having hard conversations. It creates more trust, transparency, and connection in my relationship. You can reach a middle ground. Being able to manage perpetual problems by talking about how to handle them when they come up is key. Building good communication skills take practice, but this is important for solving these perpetual relationship challenges. Some tips include:
- Taking pauses and sharing authentically from the heart
- Reminding each other you’re on the same team
- Creating repair strategies after an argument (e.g., hugging, smiling and joking, playing a board game after, etc)
- Expressing understanding and empathy toward’s your partner (even if you don’t agree, you can still make efforts to see their POV)
You got this!
Relationships will always have problems and take work, but we can learn skills to better manage and resolve them. Wishing you the best perpetual relationship problems!
Want to buy me a coffee? https://ko-fi.com/purposeistolove (I’d be very, very thankful!)
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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