Problem Solving for Couples

by Dr. Kevin Polk

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There are lots of reasons people get married. Obviously attraction has a lot to do with it. But once a couple settles into the notion of making a go of it as a couple, joint problem solving begins. The success or failure of this joint problem-solving venture goes a long way toward determining the success or failure of the marriage.

Now I am not trying to paint a marriage as some cold problem-solving venture between two people. As a matter of fact, that's one of the things you want to avoid. The point I am making is that any couple is going to be faced with hundreds of problems that will require thousands of decisions.

There are four basic steps to problem solving. It does not mater if you do it alone, as a couple, or with a group. The four steps are the same. As a couple you want to make very sure that you and your spouse are on the same step. Otherwise your problem solving efforts can run aground in a hurry. The steps are Defining the Problem, Generating Solutions, Deciding on a Solution, and Doing and Reviewing the Solution.

Defining is the gathering information stage. For example, you might be collecting brochures on new cars you might want to buy. Maybe you are checking out magazines. You are deciding what you need in a car. Generating solutions would be choosing several models that seem to fit the needs you defined. Then you would Decide on a car. After that you buy it and see how you like it.

So lets look at a couple buying a car. Let's say one partner is busy finding information about cars and the other partner is deciding which of three cars to buy. One is in Stage 1. The other is in Stage 3. When the car topic comes up there could be a conflict.

Successful couples figure out how to peacefully get on the same stage. Usually it's best to go back to Stage 1 or 2 in problem solving. More information is usually better. Then again, there are times when action needs to be taken. When it comes to couples the "right" stage to be in is the same stage. So work with your partner to get on the same stage of problem solving. You might come up with better solutions. You will come up with a better marriage.

Dr. Polk is a clinical psychologist. Get his free lessons in Creative Problem Solving at

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